Monday, August 24, 2009

Bad Analogies Lead to Bad Outcomes

I am not a huge fan of Frederick Kagan nor do I regularly read or link to the Weekly Standard, but the piece today on the ill fit of the Soviet analogy for understanding NATO in Afghanistan is on target.

While Afghanistan is a hard place for outsiders to operate, thinking that NATO is akin to the Soviet invasion is a fallacy. The two efforts are very, very different. There are some parallels but not so many as to make the situations identical. Analogies only work so far, but differences among situations need to be compared with the similarities. Yes, the Soviets and the NATO folks are foreigners, but the Taliban are not the Mujaheddin either. Karzai, for all of his flaws, is not the Socialist that the Soviets tried to put in place. Collateral damage is a problem for NATO operations, but was not for the Soviets--they didn't care too much about it.

I can go on and on about this, but NATO is not the Soviet Union, in its motivations, its strategies, its tactics, and perhaps not in the outcome.


Vladimir said...

And at what point does arguing "but we're different" lead to failing to learn lessons of the past? Perhaps the only difference that matters between then and now is that a super power isn't acitively supporting the insurgency.

Steve Saideman said...

One of the key points is that people argue that NATO/US should keep the number of the troops on the ground low so as to avoid the Soviet experience. But having too few troops is precisely part of the problem. Bad analogy leads to bad policy.

And there are other key differences:
--While there are complaints about collateral damage now, the use of force against civilians is of a completely different scale than before.
--Taliban as an alternative is much less legitimate than the forces arrayed against the Soviet Union since the Afghans have experienced the Taliban.

I could go on, but the point is that learning the wrong lessons can be dangerous and self-destructive.

What lessons should we learn from the Soviet experience, other than do not send troops to Afghanistan?