Why? Because the concept of operations employed had not yet shifted to outpost-and-outreach mode. But this is a change that has been getting under way in the form of "village stability operations" (VSO) in which small numbers of Americans man outposts and fight alongside friendly Afghans. Everywhere these have been established, Taliban influence has been undermined. Ironically, President Hamid Karzai made a request during his visit last week that we begin to close down our small outposts. This would be a big mistake.
Keeping small numbers of U.S. and U.S. allies' forces deployed around the country, building indigenous defense capabilities where they are most needed -- all enabled and protected by U.S. air supremacy -- is the way to defeat the Taliban even as our overall numbers of troops deployed to Afghanistan are drawn down to quite low levels. For the long term, the "zero option" being bruited about is a bad idea -- e.g., see Iraq, where we are now completely gone and al Qaeda has returned. But a "nonzero option," with somewhere around 10,000 stay-behind troops, should work just fine.
And if there is a way to salvage the endgame in Afghanistan with small numbers of soldiers employing the methods honed in Anbar province six years ago, there is a larger lesson as well: We can remain active and engaged in the world using the Obama Doctrine of economy of force, rather than the "overwhelming force" called for by the Powell Doctrine. Colin Powell's vision, honed by his experiences in Vietnam, is both too costly and, increasingly, ineffective for dealing with the insurgent networks that have bedeviled so much of the world since 9/11. It is interesting that Hagel's formative experience was in Vietnam too. But it seems he took a different lesson from that war. It was a conflict characterized by repeated "surges" that eventually brought troop levels up above 500,000 -- all to no avail, as the enemy quickly learned to slip the heavy punches thrown by the Americans in their "big-unit" war.
So, whether the issue is the surge in Iraq, the looming drawdown in Afghanistan, or the size of the defense budget, Hagel's views offer insights that all should hear -- and should spark useful, long-overdue debate about military and security affairs. His clear agreement with what I see to be an emergent Obama Doctrine makes it possible to pursue a consistent, quite innovative strategic path in this age of irregular wars.
As to those in the Senate who will point to the possibility of larger conflicts that might come, demanding ever greater defense expenditures, let me just close by reminding that history is replete with examples of small forces that regularly defeated much larger ones in major wars. From the Greeks at Salamis in 490 B.C. to the Israelis in the Six-Day War of 1967 and beyond, outnumbered forces have often prevailed. The outcomes of wars are determined far less by how much you have and far more by how you fight. It is a lesson well worth heeding in this age of perpetual conflict. A lesson that Chuck Hagel learned over 40 years ago, and which clearly still informs and guides him today.