I like and recommend Anthony Cowden’s post at RealClearDefense which purportedly asks questions about our present national strategy in Afghanistan but I would say is actually a critique of our lack of a practical strategy. Here are some of the questions he poses:
- Is pride an appropriate national interest?
- To what degree should past efforts be relevant in crafting a new strategy?
- Are the consequences of a rapid exit predictable? Are they unacceptable?
- What does history have to teach us about fighting in Afghanistan?
- What are the conditions that the strategy is based on?
- Is the U.S. seriously considering a negotiated settlement with the Taliban?
- Why does the term “counterinsurgency” not show up in this strategy?
but it makes me uncomfortable, too. For one thing I believe that Capt. Cowden misuses the term “wicked problem” and does not establish that Afghanistan is a wicked problem. Here’s his definition:
However, Afghanistan is a wicked problem – one that is not simply complicated but also complex and with no clear solutions – and wicked problems tend to defy strategies.
Wicked problems are best addressed through leadership, and one of the core leadership skills necessary to address wicked problems is to ask a lot of questions.
is just plain wrong. With a wicked problem the best you can do is create a process. It’s not a matter of leadership. It’s a matter of objectives.
Wicked problems are problems without solutions, generally because the requirements change as the old requirements are addressed or because for one party caught up in a wicked problem to succeed the other party must fail and neither party has the ability to prevail outright. As an example I would say the dispute between the Israelis and Palestinians is a wicked problem.
Is Afghanistan a wicked problem? I don’t think so. Any problem from which you can just walk away is not a wicked problem. Our problem in Afghanistan is that we don’t want either to win or lose. That’s not a wicked problem. That’s pigheadedness.