Erik Prince recommends the MacArthur model for Afghanistan

Wednesday, June 7th, 2017

Afghanistan is an expensive disaster for America, argues Erik Prince. He recommends the MacArthur model:

The Pentagon has already consumed $828 billion on the war, and taxpayers will be liable for trillions more in veterans’ health-care costs for decades to come. More than 2,000 American soldiers have died there, with more than 20,000 wounded in action. For all that effort, Afghanistan is failing. The terrorist cohort consistently gains control of more territory, including key economic arteries. It’s time for President Trump to fix our approach to Afghanistan in five ways.

First, he should consolidate authority in Afghanistan with one person: an American viceroy who would lead all U.S. government and coalition efforts — including command, budget, policy, promotion and contracting — and report directly to the president. As it is, there are too many cooks in the kitchen — and the cooks change shift annually. The coalition has had 17 different military commanders in the past 15 years, which means none of them had time to develop or be held responsible for a coherent strategy.

A better approach would resemble Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s leadership of postwar Japan. Given clear multiyear authority, MacArthur made bold moves like repealing restrictive speech laws and granting property rights. Those directives moved Japan ahead by centuries. In Afghanistan, the viceroy approach would reduce rampant fraud by focusing spending on initiatives that further the central strategy, rather than handing cash to every outstretched hand from a U.S. system bereft of institutional memory.

Second, Mr. Trump should authorize his viceroy to set rules of engagement in collaboration with the elected Afghan government to make better decisions, faster. Troops fighting for their lives should not have to ask a lawyer sitting in air conditioning 500 miles away for permission to drop a bomb. Our plodding, hand wringing and overcaution have prolonged the war — and the suffering it bears upon the Afghan population. Give the leadership on the ground the authority and responsibility to finish the job.

Third, we must build the capacity of Afghanistan’s security forces the effective and proven way, instead of spending billions more pursuing the “ideal” way. The 330,000-strong Afghan army and police were set up under the guidance of U.S. military “advisers” in the mirror image of the U.S. Army. That was the wrong approach.

It has led to fatal and intractable flaws, including weak leadership, endemic corruption and frequent defections, which currently deliver the equivalent of two trained infantry divisions per year to the enemy. Further, barely 40% of Afghanistan’s U.S.-provided fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft are functional, leaving security forces without close air support, unable to resupply, medevac casualties, or move troops in a timely manner.

These deficits can be remedied by a different, centuries-old approach. For 250 years, the East India Company prevailed in the region through the use of private military units known as “presidency armies.” They were locally recruited and trained, supported and led by contracted European professional soldiers. The professionals lived, patrolled, and — when necessary — fought shoulder-to-shoulder with their local counterparts for multiyear deployments. That long-term dwelling ensured the training, discipline, loyalty and material readiness of the men they fought alongside for years, not for a one-time eight-month deployment.

An East India Company approach would use cheaper private solutions to fill the gaps that plague the Afghan security forces, including reliable logistics and aviation support. The U.S. military should maintain a small special-operations command presence in the country to enable it to carry out targeted strikes, with the crucial difference that the viceroy would have complete decision-making authority in the country so no time is wasted waiting for Washington to send instructions. A nimbler special-ops and contracted force like this would cost less than $10 billion per year, as opposed to the $45 billion we expect to spend in Afghanistan in 2017.

Fourth, Mr. Trump needs to abandon the flawed population-centric theory of warfare in Afghanistan. The military default in a conventional war is to control terrain, neglecting the long-term financial arteries that fund the fight, and handicaps long-term economic potential.

The Taliban understand this concept well. They control most of Afghanistan’s economic resources — including lapis, marble, gold, pistachios, hashish and opium — and use profits to spread their influence and perpetuate the insurgency. Our strategy needs to target those resources by placing combat power to cover Afghanistan’s economic arteries.


  1. Bob Sykes says:

    These suggestions are utterly delusional. We could not contain the Taliban with 100,000 troops. And the reason is simple. We are the Christian invaders, and the Taliban are the Muslim defenders of their own homeland. Our puppet regime in Kabul has no support, and the Taliban have the support of the largest tribe in Afghanistan, the Pashtun. They also have the support of Pakistan and have sanctuaries there.

    Then there are the other insurgent groups, the Haqqani (the second biggest, opium magnates), al-Qaeda and nowadays even ISIS. We invaded Afghanistan because of the al-Qaeda training camps there. So much for destroying ISIS and al-Qaeda. ISIS is fighting for control of the Philippines today.

    This is a lost war. We can continue to hang on for decades, and we can accumulate tens of thousands of dead Americans and hundreds of thousands of dead Afghanis, and we can level every town and village in the country, but we cannot win.

    Afghanistan is proof of the utter incompetence and insanity of our Deep State. One suspects that somehow Russia and/or China have a hand in this, duping the Deep State into a hopeless, endless war just to tie us down and bleed us.

  2. With the thoughts you'd be thinkin says:

    In addition or as an alternative try and restore the Monarchy.

    Or maybe partition it, hand the Pashtun bits to Pakistan, Turkic bits to their neighbouring Turkic stans, Tajiks bits to Tajikstan,form a Baluchi state, form a Hazara. Presumbably the Baluchi state will be loathed by both Iran and Pakistan, the Hazara will affliate with the Iranians, Turks will feud, etc. Perhaps there will even be a war or a series of them, it may even result in them both losing.–_circa_2001-09.jpg

    Finally maybe just stop participating in the gamblers fallacy and stop throwing good money after bad and just leave, deal with the PR hit.

  3. Adar says:

    The East Indian Company was dissolved in the aftermath of the Sepoy Mutiny. The British example was even better but you do question?

  4. Lu An Li says:

    MacArthur had the compliant and obedient Japanese to deal with. Easy to do with them. Impossible to do the same with the Afghan. “The best way to rule the Afghan is to do nothing.” — Zahir Shah.

  5. Graham says:

    It would be worth everyone’s time to consider what the US and its allies any longer have to gain by being in Afghanistan that could not be handled otherwise.

    Though the historical exercise about where it went wrong will remain interesting. There are disputes about whether the failure was the US ignoring the place 2003-6 or going in too hard into the South and with too many nation-building aspirations. Or variants of the two themes.

    I tend to think the latter was unnecessary and therefore the main mistake that set off the Taliban revival. There are plenty pro and con arguments.

  6. Redan says:

    After four tours in ‘Afghanistan’ I am sure of this:

    1 – There is no ‘Afghan’ or ‘Afghanistan’ nor will there be in the foreseeable future.
    2 – Many tribes, no nation.
    3 – They sit on a fortune in minerals but would rather wallow in blood and buggery than exploit resources.
    4 – Unruly, cruel, sly, narrow-minded.

  7. Mike Shupp says:

    Do things like MacArthur, eh? Okay, we drop two A-bombs, somewhere, for starters. Sure.

    Isn’t it wonderful what we learn from history?

  8. Bill says:

    We cannot change Afganistan. They order their society by marriage, not national politics. In the USA, 0.2 percent of marriages are between second-cousins or closer. In Afganistan, 42% of marriages are between second cousins or closer. “Nation-building” there is futile.

    So why have we spent $2.4 trillion in Afganistan?

    The United States Marine Corps Major General Smedley D. Butler (1881-1940) is perhaps most famous for his post-retirement speech titled “War is a Racket.” In the early 1930s, Butler presented the speech on a nationwide tour. It was so popular that he wrote a longer version as a small book that was published in 1935:

    “War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people.

    “Only a small ‘inside’ group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.

    “In the World War [I] a mere handful garnered the profits of the conflict. At least 21,000 new millionaires and billionaires were made in the United States during the World War. That many admitted their huge blood gains in their income tax returns. How many other war millionaires falsified their tax returns no one knows…

    “Out of war nations acquire additional territory, if they are victorious. They just take it. This newly acquired territory promptly is exploited by the few — the selfsame few who wrung dollars out of blood in the war. The general public shoulders the bill.

    “And what is this bill?

    “This bill renders a horrible accounting. Newly placed gravestones. Mangled bodies. Shattered minds. Broken hearts and homes. Economic instability. Depression and all its attendant miseries. Back-breaking taxation for generations and generations.”

    Top current war profiteers:

    1. Lockheed Martin (U.S.)
    Arm sales 2013: $35.5 billion, profit $3 billion
    Profile for 2014 Election Cycle
    CONTRIBUTIONS: $4,132,497 (ranks 44 of 16,793)
    LOBBYING: $14,581,80
    69 out of 109 Lockheed Martin lobbyists in 2013-2014 have previously held government jobs.

    2. Boeing (U.S.)
    Arm sales 2013: $30.7 billion, profit $4.6 billion
    Profile for 2014 Election Cycle
    CONTRIBUTIONS: $3,227,934 (ranks 67 of 16,793)
    LOBBYING: $16,800,000 (2014), $15,230,000 (2013) (ranks 10 of 4,065 in 2014)
    83 out of 115 Boeing Co lobbyists in 2013-2014 have previously held government jobs.

  9. Kudzu Bob says:

    If we’re going to follow the MacArthur model, then I strongly suggest that we should begin by replacing all the Afghans with Japanese.

  10. Isegoria says:

    The MacArthur model may depend on an earlier, unstated step — eliminating all the aggressive, militaristic members of the target society.

  11. The Taliban is a Pakistani proxy — it has headquarters in Quetta. ISI General Durrani along with Musharraf have repeatedly admitted supporting the Talibs. Osama bin Laden was found in Abbotabad close to a military academy in Pakistan. Mullah Omar the feared Taliban chief was killed in Pakistan.

    Meanwhile, American discussions of the Afghan war rarely have the word ‘Pakistan’ in them.

    If you want your head to explode, just peruse this Wikipedia entry.

  12. Sam J. says:

    With our aims, having the Pashtuns peaceable and part of a coalition government we will never get there. So we can either leave or exterminate them to the point that they cease to become troublesome. That we could do. Quarter off a region at a time, kill all the Men and old Women, then sell off the children and girls. I don’t think we want to do this so we might as well leave.

  13. Joseph Malgeri says:

    I watched a two-part interview with Erik on the Crooks and Liars site.

    For a while, it was a variation on this article, until the start of the second clip. There, he started talking about all the natural resources waiting to be exploited.

    Suddenly, his motives became clear. As a capitalist from a billionaire class, he knows there’s no way he can enter a sovereign nation to exploit it. He can’t count on a CIA-like venture to overthrow a legitimate ruler as was done in Iran, or in any number of other sovereign nations. There’s too much turmoil.

    He wants to ‘legitimize’ his seizure using tax dollars and the war as excuses. While an earlier commenter pointed out the religious aspects of the conflict as reasons why Prince’s ideas are nonsensical, Prince himself is not concerned about that. All he wants is the OK to enter into a country to exploit its resources, and pay whatever human military cost is needed. The humans, after all, are compensated for the risk — and he personally is not at risk. After all, he’s the viceroy.

    Our history of war after WWI demonstrates our ineptness in this arena. And, even after we withdraw from failure after failure, we return later to establish mutually beneficial economic ties –corporation to corporation, corporation to national government. The losers in all this are the civilians and soldiers, pawns all.

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