Obama to Houston: We have a strategy

by David Isenberg | March 30th, 2009 | |Subscribe

Let the trumpets sound. And let the people rejoice. Let the heralds go forth and proclaim unto the world, we have a brand new bouncing baby strategy. Surely, our future victory in Afghanistan is now assured.

Well, before the heralds all get out of breath perhaps we should pause to consider this new strategy. For it is not as if we didn’t have one before. I’m sure that the Bush administration must have had something posing as a strategy in the six years we have been fighting in Afghanistan. Perhaps it was just hiding in one of Dick Cheney’s undisclosed locations.

But surely President Obama, like the Oracle of Delphi, will do better. Let us consider his vision.

A Regional Approach

For the first time the President will treat Afghanistan and Pakistan as two countries but one challenge. Our strategy focuses more intensively on Pakistan than in the past, calling for more significant increases in U.S. and international support, both economic and military, linked to Pakistani performance against terror. We will pursue intensive regional diplomacy involving all key players in South Asia and engage both countries in a new trilateral framework at the highest levels. Together in this trilateral format, we will work to enhance intelligence sharing and military cooperation along the border and address common issues like trade, energy, and economic development.

Building Capacity and More Training

For three years, the resources that our commanders need for training have been denied because of the war in Iraq. Now, this will change. The 17,000 additional troops that the President decided in February to deploy have already increased our training capacity. Later this spring we will deploy approximately 4,000 more U.S. troops to train the Afghan National Security Forces so that they can increasingly take responsibility for the security of the Afghan people.

In the President’s strategy, for the first time we will fully resource our effort to train and support the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police. Every American unit in Afghanistan will be partnered with an Afghan unit, and we will seek additional trainers from our NATO allies to ensure that every Afghan unit has a coalition partner.

Who could possibly be curmudgeonly enough to criticize it? Well, let me be that curmudgeon for a moment. Let’s see, give more help to Pakistan. Well true, we don’t want a nuclear armed state lapsing in chaos so we have a stake in keeping it unified. Of course, that was the same rationale that kept us aiding former President by coup d’état Pervez Musharraf for years, until his resignation last August, and look at how well that worked.

Even worse, nobody seems interested in considering that it was doubtful that al Qaeda would seek to move into Afghanistan as long as it is based in Pakistan and that escalating U.S. drone airstrikes or Special Operations raids on Taliban targets in Pakistan will actually strengthen radical jihadi groups in the country and weaken the Pakistani government’s ability to resist them. (more…)

Quick Reaction to Obama Speech on Afghanistan-Pakistan

by Raj Purohit | March 27th, 2009 | |Subscribe

I just finished watching the President lay out his strategy for Afghanistan-Pakistan and I found that there was much to like in the approach and just a couple of areas of concern.

First the positives: 
1. The President placed emphasis on the centrality of civil engagement (such as development and education) in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Significantly he asked for rapid passage of the bipartisan bill introduced by Sen. Lugar and Sen. Kerry bill ($1.5 billion a year to Pakistan for 5 years) as well as the Sen. Cantwell – Rep. Van Hollen bill that allows goods created in tribal economic zones to be shipped to the US duty free.
2. The President focused on engagement with the Taliban and crucially paired engagement with a focus on supporting local tribe level reconciliation in Afghanistan.
3. Another positive was the inference that the troop escalation will be oriented around the Killcullen strategy of protecting civilian development efforts. Protecting the “civilian surge” will be key.
4. President Obama underscored his support for increasing civilian capacity and more resources for State and USAID. He noted the importance of approaching the Afghanistan-Pakistan problem in a multilateral way and supported key roles for the UN, World Bank and IMF re: both Pakistan and Afghanistan.
5. He outlined a regional approach that includes engaging Iran and Central Asian countries. And without saying “Kashmir” he hinted that strengthening relationship between India and Pakistan was vital. Finally, and significantly, he called for an end to corruption in Afghanistan and underscored his support for democracy in Pakistan.
A couple of negatives that jumped out at me did not come from the speech but the reporting just before and after from the Pentagon:
1. It seems that there is going to be a continuation in the use of strike drones – which creates civilian resentment. 
2. The 17,000 troops committed pre-speech + the 4000 trainers announced today are seen by some at the Pentagon as insufficient and they want to see another 20,000 or so by year end.
Those are my initial thoughts — more from me later.

Possible bipartisan principles on Afghanistan?

by Brian Vogt | March 24th, 2009 | |Subscribe

As the Obama team comes out with its strategy on Afghanistan, there has been much discussion on what are the appropriate next steps for the country.  Some of the attention on this blog has been on the question of whether or not more troops are the answer.   Chris Preble has provided some well thought out arguments here as to why additional troops are not the answer.  I, on the other hand, am willing to consider this as one component of a broader change in strategy.  However, rather than focus on these differences, I’d like to start by proposing some guiding principles that might be able to guide a future strategy.  I present these principles as suggestions and look forward to a discussion on their merits:

1.  The ultimate goal in Afghanistan is to create an environment that does not provide sanctuary for Al Qaeda and others who seek to attack the United States.

2. An integral part of the long term solution in Afghanistan is dealing with the safe havens across the border in Pakistan.

3.  Afghan forces must be the face of the counterinsurgency effort.  The top priority of US and other foreign forces in Afghanistan should be to provide training to Afghan security forces and to provide security in areas that allows Afghan government institutions and security forces to assert control and provide stability.

4.  We must not rely solely on a military approach.  A key element of ensuring that Al Qaeda does not make a resurgence in the long run is the development of local government institutions that are responsive to the needs of the citizenry.

5.  Substantial foreign aid investments and civilian expertise must be provided to Afghanistan, but the receipt of such aid must be accompanied by government reform that reduces corruption and tied to benchmarks that ensure effective utilization.  Aid and civilian expertise will not be effective unless they are provided in a secure environment. (more…)

The Freedom Agenda (Part V)

by James Poulos | March 23rd, 2009 | |Subscribe

In his latest response, Matt raises a number of important issues and makes necessary a few clarifications on my part. Firstly, in calling for a New World-Machiavellian approach to foreign relations, what I may have accomplished by way of rhetorical flavor might have mislead in its implied particulars. Recently, at Culture11 and elsewhere, I have agreed by implication with Matt’s contention that no “amount of U.S. pressure is likely to change the internal political dynamics of Russia, China, Iran, Syria, North Korea, or even Venezuela.” Actually, in the case of Pakistan, I suggested that even success at the margins in altering the domestic politics of foreign states might do little to ‘solve’ the wider regional and international problems they pose. More democracy, as we well know from the Hamas ordeal, is often counterproductive—at least in the short term—to U.S. interests. And there is something especially unfortunate about ginning up liberal cliques (often U.S.-educated) in foreign countries of interest, only to see them unable to take and keep power, freely and fairly, to a degree that admits of real progress for the ‘freedom agenda.’ (I’m thinking here of the long, awkward dramas in Georgia and Ukraine.)
(more…)

Go Small in Afghanistan

by Christopher Preble | March 20th, 2009 | |Subscribe

I had the privilege of speaking at an event sponsored by the Smith Family Foundation Wednesday evening in New York City, and this forced me to focus for the past week on the question of what we should be doing in Afghanistan, the topic of the evening’s debate. I raised the subject here over a month ago, but did not come to a firm conclusion. Brian Vogt, sensing my desire to narrow our focus, warned that “if we end up setting our sights too low, we risk returning to the very situation there that led to the rise of the Taliban and Al Qaeda in the first place.”

That is a fair point, but I have concluded that the risks that the Taliban will retake power, and further allow al Qaeda to openly resume operations there, have been overstated. We can continue to pursue our core objectives in Afghanistan without an enormous military presence on the ground. Accordingly, rather than increasing the size of the U.S. military presence in that country, we should instead be looking for ways to draw down.

I have been moving in this direction for some time. We went into Afghanistan in October 2001 for perfectly good reasons: to seriously degrade al Qaeda’s ability to pull off another 9/11; to remove the Taliban from power; and to send a message — “don’t do this, don’t even think about it” — to any other government foolish enough to harbor terrorists intent on killing Americans. We accomplished all of these tasks within the span of a few months, and military force played a relatively small role. Much of the fighting on the ground was done by the Taliban’s sworn enemies inside of Afghanistan, with some guidance from a few hundred U.S. personnel, many of whom did not wear a uniform.

Since that time, we have continued to chase al Qaeda, but many of these operations now take place in Pakistan where we deliberately do not have (and should not have) a large and obvious military footprint. Most of the greatest successes scored against al Qaeda since 9/11 — including the snatch-and-grab operations that netted Khalid Sheik Mohammed and Ramzi bin al Shibh, or the missile strikes that killed Mohammed Atef and Qaed Salim Sinan al-Harethi — have not relied on large numbers of U.S. troops. Meanwhile, our attempt to create, “some sort of central Asian Valhalla over there,” in Robert Gates’ memorable phrase, will surely fail.

(more…)

re: NI Envoy Named – Sudan/Darfur Envoy next? UPDATE

by Raj Purohit | March 18th, 2009 | |Subscribe

Well, some more good news. The Sudan/ Darfur envoy is going to be announced as early as today and the choice is Gen. Scott Gration, a former air-force pilot and Africa specialist. He advised candidate Obama on Africa policy and traveled with him to the continent in 2006. A Darfur activist noted the following from Gration’s DNC speech:

“In 2006, I went with Senator Obama to Africa, and experienced firsthand the leadership that America needs. In the shadow of Nelson Mandela’s prison cell, I saw a leader with the understanding to build new bridges over old divides. That leader is Barack Obama. In Nairobi, I saw a leader with the courage to confront corruption directly with the president of Kenya. In Chad, I saw a leader who listened to the stories of refugees from Darfur – a leader committed to end that genocide…..”

As I said earlier, the President has outlined a vision for Africa, let’s hope that the appointment of Gration is the start of a rapid push to build out the Africa team so that the people are in place to develop and execute policies based on that vision.

NI Envoy Named – Sudan/Darfur Envoy next?

by Raj Purohit | March 17th, 2009 | |Subscribe

A few years ago I spent a fair bit of time working on the challenges facing Northern Ireland. I was happy to have the opportunity to play a small role on the issue and quickly came to understand that the NI Envoy had a key role to play in efforts to secure the peace in that area.

Today, Ben Smith (via Toby Harnden) let us know that Mark Tuohey is likely to be named the NI envoy by President Obama. This seems to be a good fit, Harnden let us know that Tuohey’s credentials include the fact that he “advised the Patten Commission on policing – a subject that remains a thorny issue in Northern Ireland.” Smith also suggests that the President “heard” the concerns raised by the Irish-American community when they responded negatively to “candidate Obama’s” suggestion that an envoy would not be needed. Whether that is true or not, as far as I’m concerned, this appointment is a good move from the President and worthy of praise. Having said all of that, it is also fair to say that this decision got me thinking about another part of the world I care about – Africa.

It struck me today that there are other regions of the world where the need to name an envoy is probably more acute than NI. One area that comes to mind immediately is Sudan/Darfur and another is the Congo.

Now, I understand that the question of an envoy for Sudan/Darfur is under active consideration within the administration (Darfur activist and actor George Clooney noted that a review was under way last month after his White House meeting with the President and Vice President) and Sen. Clinton suggested today that an appointment would be made within days.

This is without question good news, but as I read today’s announcement, which comes on the heels of important policy steps and appointments re: the Middle East and Central-South Asia, I was left with a feeling that the administration is falling behind the curve when it comes to Africa.

I wanted to test this sentiment and spoke to a few friends and colleagues with an Africa focus and it is fair to say that there is a growing sense among progressive foreign policy types that the administration’s Africa policy and appointments are in fact behind schedule.

Perhaps this critique seems harsh considering we are still within the first 100 days so let me be clear about one thing. I absolutely believe that the President has a lot on his plate and his priorties must be the economy, energy and Iraq-Afghanistan-Pakistan. BUT it is also important to note that the President has built an all-star foreign policy team precisely, one would suspect, to ensure active engagement in areas where he cannot focus at this time.

If you believe that this true, and I do, it seems fair to say that the President is being let down a little by his team. During the campaign he laid out his approach to a range of Africa centric challenges and now his team needs to build on that vision. It is time for the Secretary of State and the foreign policy group to develop and execute not only a Darfur/ Sudan policy but a broader strategy for Africa as quickly as possible – there are a range of crises that require US led multilateral attention quickly including those in Sudan/Darfur, the Congo, Somalia and Zimbabwe.

Mrs. Obama: The military has bigger problems than families using food stamps

by David Isenberg | March 16th, 2009 | |Subscribe

Last week Michelle Obama made her first major trip as First Lady, to visit with military families at Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, North Carolina.

In an interview on ABC’s Good Morning America she said she chose the occasion to highlight an issue near and dear to her heart, the struggles of our nation’s military families.

OBAMA: You know, this, this is an important issue for me. And it started taking shape on the campaign trail. I, I think I was like most Americans, pretty oblivious to the life of, of military families. Sort of taking it for granted. I just assumed that if we care about our troops and we send them to war, that naturally, we’d be taking care of their families. … You know, these are people who are willing to send their loved ones off to, perhaps give their lives, the ultimate sacrifice. But yet, they’re living back at home on food stamps. It’s, it’s not right. And it’s not where we should be as a nation.

Of course, this is the sort of thing one would expect a First Lady to say, especially considering that, back when he was a candidate, Barack Obama was criticized for his lack of military service.

Still, regardless of motivation, Mrs. Obama’s words are most welcome. Despite all the blather about supporting out troops since the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq U.S. military personnel and their families, a much more important aspect of the military, since the inception of the All Volunteer Force, still live largely in a world apart from the larger civilian world.

But Mrs. Obama might want to note that although the families of those on active duty often have it tough those on active duty often suffer even more. Consider some of the news in the past month.

In Kentucky Fort Campbell officials struggling to stem a recent increase in military suicides hope family members will be able to spot signs that soldiers may be depressed and hesitant to seek help from the Army.

Eight Fort Campbell soldiers have killed themselves since the beginning of the year. Suicides in the Army have increased yearly since 2004 as soldiers deal with longer and repeated tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Officials at Fort Campbell declared a “state of emergency,” and the Army has also made suicide prevention training mandatory for soldiers and leaders to combat the trend. (more…)

Moral Hazard and the Olive Branch

by Michael Landweber | March 16th, 2009 | |Subscribe

The latest trend in media coverage of the Obama Administration seems to be to ask variations on the question, “Is he doing too much?” Most of these stories focus on the ambitious domestic agenda, but the scope of the suggested foreign policy overhaul, particularly when it comes to rethinking bilateral relationships, is no less dizzying.

Less than two months into the Administration, President Obama and Secretary Clinton have telegraphed their intention to change the landscape surrounding some of our most troubled relationships.  Clinton went to China on her first trip and emphasized cooperation over conflict.  Just a couple of weeks later, she sat down with her Russian counterpart and pledged to “reset” the relationship, despite handing FM Lavrov a red button that read “overload” in Russian.  While in Israel, Clinton dispatched two envoys to talk to Syria.  Same trip — invitation extended to Iran to sit down in the same room with Clinton and discuss Afghanistan.  Now, throw in the Congressional changes to the Cuba travel policy that Obama has supported.

For those scoring at home, that’s one member of the Axis of Evil, two A of E wannabes and our two biggest headaches on the Security Council.  I’ve personally blogged about the need to reach out to Iran, Syria and Cuba, and PSA recently put out a statement about renewing the U.S.-Russia relationship.  So I would humbly suggest to the media that the question is not whether Obama is doing too much, it is whether any of the other countries will respond as he hopes they will.

There is a question of moral hazard here.  When presented with an open hand, will these countries see any consequences in responding with a clenched fist?  After Bush’s belligerence, will they view Obama’s openness as a free pass to do as they wish?  They may view the transition to Obama in the U.S. as insulation from any real risk regardless of their actions.

(more…)

The Freedom Agenda R.I.P.? Part IV

by Matt Eckel | March 13th, 2009 | |Subscribe

I appreciate James’s latest piece. His examination of some of the philosophical underpinnings of the “New World/Old World” relationship, and how that colors foreign policy debates around the issue of democracy promotion and America’s global mission, is extremely important. Understanding the visceral difficulty that Americans have relating to naked autocracy – a difficulty that can often be papered over only through willful ignorance or factual gymnastics when the exigencies of politics render such relationships unavoidable – is critical to comprehending the lens through which most American decision makers view foreign policy. I wonder, though, if James doesn’t situate the axis of opinion on an improperly skewed plane. (more…)

Next Page »

All blog posts are independently produced by their authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of PSA. Across the Aisle serves as a bipartisan forum for productive discussion of national security and foreign affairs topics.