Recently there has been a lot of talk by pundits, politicians, analysts, and the general public about our involvement in Afghanistan. It has been energized by the downsizing of our Iraq footprint, the change of command there (Patraeus over McCrystal) and the realization that we have been there nine years with rising casualty rates and significant dollar outlays with little positive impact after the first of those nine years. I believe that this talk is generally unstructured and would suggest that using the same analysis model used by the military and civilian national security community at the strategic level would be helpful.
The model is known as “ends, ways, and means,” where ENDS = WAYS + MEANS. Ends are defined as the strategic outcomes or end states desired. Ways are defined as the methods, tactics, and procedures, practices, and strategies to achieve the ends. Means are defined as the resources required to achieve the ends, such as troops, weapons systems, money, political will, and time. The model is really an equation that balances what you want with what you are wiling and able to pay for it or what you can get for what you are willing and able to pay.
Regarding Afghanistan, if you solve the equation from left to right, stating specifically the end “your desire, you then must identify what ways and means would be required to achieve that end. (One basic question in addressing the ends is whether we are conducting counter terrorism or counter insurgency operations.) You would have to identify how many U.S. casualties you are willing to suffer (to date 1064 KIA), how much money you are willing to spend (now at $7 billion per month), how reliable the Karzai government is as a partner, and what role the Taliban, Pakistan, India, and our allies are willing and able to play and for how long. Solving the equation from right to left, you would identify the ways and means you are willing and able to generate and thus establish the “end” they are able to achieve.
I would submit that a rigorous, intellectually honest exercise of this model explains the frustration we now feel with Afghanistan. If we state unambiguously a worthy “end,” we may be unable or unwilling to generate the ways and means to achieve it. If we honestly state the ways and means we are willing and able to generate, the end they deliver may be suboptimal at best and an outright loss at worst. Two questions then may emerge. One, do we want to lose sooner or do we want to lose later? Two, do we want to lose big or do we want to lose small? Referencing Alexander the Great, Britain, and Russia, Afghanistan has never provided happy endings.