Bipartisanship on Development Policy: Make it an Imperative

by Taylor Jo Isenberg | September 30th, 2010 | |Subscribe

Last week at the Millennium Development Goals Summit, President Obama outlined his Presidential Policy Directive on Global Development in front of a world audience declaring,

“my national security strategy recognizes development not only as a moral imperative, but a strategic and economic imperative.”

This week the administration shored up the three pillars of foreign policy framework- defense, diplomacy, and development- with a star-studded conference held by the USGLC where Secretary Gates, Secretary Clinton, Secretary Geithner, USAID Administrator Shah, and Chief Executive Officer of the Millennium Challenge Corporation Daniel Yohannes came together to reinforce the elevation of development to an equal status with defense and diplomacy in our foreign policy apparatus.

While the devil is in the details, the overarching development strategy has bipartisan backing and the cross-community support necessary to make the initial steps in reforming our system to meet our security needs and moral obligations as a leading power. Many prominent figures from both sides of the aisle have voiced their support for development as a major component of our foreign policy, the most influential coming from the military and business communities. The development community has enthusiastically backed the administration’s strategy that “changes the way we do business,” focusing on sustainability, broad-based economic growth, and investment in long-term development while continuing short-term relief. (more…)

Notes on Asia’s Changing Demographics

by Alexis Collatos | September 29th, 2010 | |Subscribe

Earlier this morning, the National Bureau of Asian Research held a launch event for the newest volume of their Strategic Asia series, “Asia’s Rising Power and America’s Continued Purpose.” One of the most interesting presentations at the event was that of Nicholas Eberstadt, who discussed the changing demographics in the Asia-Pacific region.

Eberstadt’s talk highlighted an important point: when debating the long-term future of the Asian strategic system, American academics and policymakers tend to ignore demographics in favor of factors such as economic growth, political stability, bilateral relationships, territorial disputes and military expenditures. The exceptions to this, of course, are studies on China, India and Japan, countries whose population statistics have received some attention, primarily from economists trying to predict their economic growth. But these studies tend to focus only on the country in question, instead of taking into account how the demographic changes of that country might impact the balance of power of the Asian system.  Looking at the demographics of individual power players does not give a comprehensive picture of the region’s shifting dynamics as a whole. More worthwhile is an expansive look at which countries are growing in population and which are shrinking. (more…)

The Kabul Consensus

by Jessie Daniels | September 27th, 2010 | |Subscribe

Earlier this month, fears of a run on Kabul Bank – and perhaps a collapse of the country’s entire banking system – shook Afghanistan after details emerged about the bank’s management, namely its high stakes poker-playing chairman Sher Kahn Farnood and his alleged speculation in the Dubai real estate market with bank money.  Add to that the close relationship between the bank officials and major political figures, including President Karzai’s brother, and the aura of rampant corruption filled the air.  Once again, something was rotten in the state of Afghanistan.

And then there was the fallout: Depositors withdrew more than half of the bank’s cash assets.  Police and security forces, which make up part of the 250,000 government employees who receive their salaries from the bank, didn’t get paid. Concerns grew about the future of foreign investment in Afghanistan as its largest commercial bank teetered on the edge of crisis.  In response, the Afghan Central Bank took over Kabul Bank, which was deemed “too important to fail.”

The U.S., quick to rule out an American bailout of the bank, focused instead on bolstering regulation and transparency in order to strengthen the commercial banking system.  Officials called for a purge of the bank’s management and a full-scale investigation into the matter.  The Treasury Department sent a team of technical advisers to assist with the situation. (more…)

Parliamentary Elections in Afghanistan: Observations from the Ground

by James Prince | September 24th, 2010 | |Subscribe

The Afghanis and the global community will be sorting out the effects of the September 18 Parliamentary elections for weeks if not months.  Reports from the Independent Election Commission, and thousands of local and international observers, including those deployed by Democracy International (of which I served as a short term observer), will no doubt be mixed.  Nine years after the U.S. – led invasion and months after the American military “surge”, much of the country remains in the control of insurgents.  For up to date election-related information check the Democracy International website www.afghan2010.com.

President Obama said he believes the “Afghans have done a commendable job in setting up as best as they can a structure for a fair and important election.”  This understated sentiment certainly does not do justice to the tremendous, and perhaps overwhelming, challenges facing the Karzai administration.  A significant number of polling centers did not open or closed early due to Taliban attacks.  I counted at least twelve mortar attacks, a firefight, and a Taliban truck blaring threats to anyone who voted in one contested provincial capital.  Even the Afghan security forces were unable to deploy to many polling sites.  Over three thousand formal complaints, allegations of fraud, intimidation, and technical problems further degraded the poll’s legitimacy in the minds of many voters. (more…)

So much for Mr. Nice Guy: Decreasing Chinese Soft Power in Southeast Asia

by Alexis Collatos | September 23rd, 2010 | |Subscribe

In a 2004 speech, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao summarized the basic tenets of China’s ‘Peaceful Rise’ doctrine: the growing power and clout of China, he said, “will not come at the cost of any other country, will not stand in the way of any other country, nor pose a threat to any other country.”

If only China’s neighbors still believed him. Earlier this year, China declared the South China Sea, which is partially claimed by Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Brunei, to be part of China’s “core interest” of sovereignty, similar to regions such as Taiwan and Tibet on which China sees no room for negotiation.  China’s statement followed closely on the heels of past aggressive Chinese actions in the disputed waters, which have included seizing Vietnamese fishing boats, ordering foreign oil companies not to work with Vietnam on maritime oil exploration projects, planting a Chinese flag on the ocean floor, and training guns on an Indonesian naval ship. Needless to say, from the perspective of the other five nations that share territorial claims on parts of the Sea, these actions look anything but peaceful.

China’s southern neighbors are right to be worried. The past year  has produced a number of indicators that Chinese regional policy is shifting away from its previous strategy of soft-power projection to a more assertive, hard-line position.   (more…)

Africom Now: Security and Development Policy in Africa

by Taylor Jo Isenberg | September 22nd, 2010 | |Subscribe

With the third day underway for the United Nations Summit on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), much of the news coverage is focused on the international celebrities out in force in New York and the progress (or lack thereof) towards achieving the goals designed to end extreme poverty.  Yet as the UN Summit was beginning this week, twelve members of al Qaeda’s North African wing (AQIM) were killed after clashing with Mauritanian military forces, Kenya voiced their growing concern about the international community’s neglect of the security situation in Somalia, anxiety rose over al Qaeda’s headway in Uganda, and Sudan’s upcoming referendum has resulted in rigorous diplomatic efforts to prevent a potential war between north and south. In all of these situations, the shaky security situation impedes international efforts to promote progress through sustainable development. As Obama takes the stage today to discuss his Presidential Study Directive for Global Development (PSD-7), we need to assess how we form and implement policy in Africa to address the interrelated nature of security and development in the 21st century.

(more…)

The Chart of Failed Assumptions

by Dr. Tammy S. Schultz | September 22nd, 2010 | |Subscribe

“This is what worries me most,” General Peter W. Chiarelli confided at a September 22, 2010, meeting at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative DC think tank.  I had asked a question that I’ve posed to other high ranking generals, admirals, and policymakers with similar results.  The Army, the U.S. Marine Corps, and, indeed, the nation is banking on the U.S. military’s operational tempo (the pace of deployments, which has been quite high since 2003) dropping, which should allow dwell time (the period that soldiers and Marines are not deployed) to increase.

The hope that operational tempo will drop, however, rests on at least three key strategic assumptions:

(1) Troop levels in Iraq will remain relatively low, which means that things will not hit the fan in Iraq and require redeployment to the area.  Could we really stand by if Iraq implodes?

(2) Troop levels in Afghanistan will begin to come down next year, which means that we will begin to reap the rewards of that surge and can begin withdrawal.  Alternatively, we see little payoff for the surge and begin leaving regardless. (more…)

Afghanistan’s Abu Ghraib

by Brian Vogt | September 21st, 2010 | |Subscribe

General William Tecumseh Sherman said, “War is Hell”.  While that’s certainly true for soldiers, recent reports demonstrate that it has also become the reality for a number of innocent civilians.  Just a few days ago the outlook for civilians in Afghanistan took a sharp turn for the worse.  A Washington Post article described how a Stryker brigade in Afghanistan is accused of killing innocent Afghans for sport.  This gruesome and appalling story could be the Abu Ghraib of Afghanistan and the military would be smart to learn from its previous mistakes.

The United States military has gone to great lengths in Afghanistan to prevent civilian casualties thanks to Petraeus’s counterinsurgency doctrine.  The doctrine recognizes that this war is not just about winning on the battlefield.  It’s about winning the hearts and minds of the Afghan population.  I wrote here about the complaints of some soldiers that this doctrine is too restrictive.  So far the discussion has primarily been about the degree to which lethal force endangers innocent civilians who might be in proximity to fighting between coalition forces and insurgents.  With these recent revelations, it seems that an even larger problem is at hand.

In January through May of this year, members of the 5th Stryker Combat Brigade, Infantry Division formed a “kill team” and followed through on plans to murder innocent Afghan civilians… for fun.  In some cases they covered up these murders by faking grenade attacks that supposedly came from the civilian attackers.  Military documents describe three murders conducted by this group.  What is even more disturbing is the reports of bravado and pride in these killings that harken back to the repulsive photos that emerged from Abu Ghraib.  Soldiers serving in Kandahar province have been charged with dismembering and photographing corpses and hoarding a skull and other human remains. (more…)

Women in Afghanistan: Scaling up their ambitions while the world scales back its hopes

by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon | September 17th, 2010 | |Subscribe

At the same time the United States is scaling back its goals for Afghanistan, women in the country are scaling up their own ambitions. In arenas ranging from medicine to the military, from small business to civil society, women are speaking up for themselves and tackling ever-larger aspirations. While problems loom large in a country in which female literacy rates struggle to top 15 percent and rampant insecurity leads many families to keep their daughters and wives indoors, women are making progress. Though their efforts are often overlooked as the world trains its focus on the exits in Afghanistan, they are, quietly and slowly, creating change in their families and their country.

In a box of a building on an Afghan Army base, 29 young women in olive-green uniforms study finance and logistics. They are part of the Afghan National Army’s first Officer Candidate School class for women.

Coming from provinces all across the country, including those in the grip of an increasingly strong anti-government insurgency, these aspiring Army officers say they are determined to serve their country — and to prove to men that women can contribute.

“We have faced so many wars and so many restrictions on women and now the day has come where women have joined the military,” said Shima, a young woman from the Taliban stronghold of Ghazni. “We have to think about the equality of men and women just like other nations where women fight for their countries.” (more…)

Operation New Dawn and the Future of Iraq: Observations from the Ground

by James Prince | September 16th, 2010 | |Subscribe

I have been a regular visitor to Iraq since the early 1990’s.  Traveling around Iraq the past few weeks, it’s been difficult to find remnants of the optimism (outside the booming Kurdish region) that had been trending upward in the last few years and led to an unusually high voter turnout during elections last March.  The increase in violence following the drawdown in our “combat” troops combined with not having a government for half a year has become reminiscent for Iraqis of the uncalm that ushered in previous bouts of civil war.

Six months after the parliamentary elections in Iraq and two weeks since President Obama addressed the nation to declare that the U.S. had “met our responsibility” in Iraq, Vice President Biden landed in Baghdad with a plan to break the political stalemate.   Even many of the outspoken anti-American elements greeted the news with a sigh of relief.  It is about time. The Americans “did not forget about us like they did Pakistan after the Soviet war,” one prominent Shia told me.  I got the feeling that he and his friends would be just as happy being part of an opposition party as that of a ruling coalition as long as a legitimate government assumed the reins – averting another civil war. The formerly occupied are calling for the old occupiers to help facilitate the transition.

The military occupation, by all accounts, had run its course.  The surge seemed to work.    American troops served more as lucrative targets than effective peacekeepers. The main political plank of all the primary parties dealt with who best to continue the trend toward rule of law and provision of government services following the end of U.S. military rule. (more…)

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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.