I’ve accumulated several items about the “civilian surge” (or lack thereof) that I’ve meant to post for a while now. Fortunately (not really), not much seems to be happening on that front.
The first is a post at World Politics Review by the excellent David Axe [EDIT: It was actually Andrew Bast. Axe, however, wrote a similar piece at WPR focusing on medical assistance in Afghanistan. I meant to link to both and somehow conflated them.] Bast’s theme is the increasing shortfall in diplomats for Afghanistan, part of the broader difficulty the State Department is encountering in filling its “hardship positions” around the globe. State can’t deploy diplomats against their will, unlike the military, and the hardship posts get harder every year. What’s worse, even State’s recent hiring spree might not solve the problem–as Bast says, “an onslaught of new hires will do little to remedy the emerging shortage of mid-career, experienced professionals.”
The Times reports that 575 of the year-end target of 974 aid workers are currently on the ground in Afghanistan. That’s not a great ratio, but the good news is that Obama’s paying attention to the problem–or so says a “senior official”. Unfortunately, “senior officials” also say that the “military [is] likely to do much of the civilian work in the foreseeable future, at least until Afghanistan is more secure.” If that’s so, what’s the best-case scenario for the civilian surge? Is showering aid and expertise on Kabul (and a few other secure areas) the way to go?
The Kabul question is what worries Spencer Ackerman. Our advisers are all holed up in Kabul at the same time that COIN proponents like CNAS’ John Nagl are recommending that we focus on local improvements as a kind of end-run around the corrupt and weakly legitimate Karzai government. If we don’t have the capacity to do that, Ackerman wonders, then what of McChrystal’s warning that “ISAF cannot succeed without a corresponding cadre of civilian experts to support the change in strategy and capitalize on the expansion and acceleration of counterinsurgency efforts”?
In The New Republic, Steven Metz has a simple answer: it won’t happen. The military, he writes, is so desperate to “off-load nation building” that it’s convinced itself that the civilian surge is a done deal–but every report on Afghanistan for five years has included the same call for increased civilian capacity, and it hasn’t happened. “We would need many thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of advisers with linguistic skills and cultural knowledge willing to leave home and live under risky conditions for years at a time.” That doesn’t look like it’s in the cards, so we’re left with a question analogous to those being asked about the troop surge: would a few hundred aid workers (or a few thousand troops) be a drop in the bucket in a country as large and diverse as Afghanistan?