Visitors to Turkey are warned about developing a “Turkish muscle” – the extra belly fat that you get from eating too much Turkish food. Yet it’s the country’s desire to flex its foreign policy muscle that has, at times, proved worrisome. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s “Zero-Problems” foreign policy, which emphasizes regional engagement and outlines an active role in promoting Turkey’s interests on the world stage, is a far cry from Turkey’s past practice of isolating itself from its neighbors. But some of its recent diplomatic forays under this policy, especially the nuclear fuel swap deal with Iran and renewed relations with Syria, have led some in the West to query whether we are losing Turkey.
Earlier this month, I traveled to Turkey on a trip sponsored by the Rumi Forum and discussed the zero-problems policy with officials, parliamentarians, and community leaders, among others. Equally as interesting as learning more about the goals of this new assertiveness, though, was hearing about some of the speed bumps in the process of carrying it out – namely the challenge of working with coalition governments.
At the heart of the zero-problems policy is a desire for peace and stability, goals which political and business leaders alike understandably embrace with vigor. During the trip, contentious issues like Iran and Syria were explained in this context; its diplomacy with Iran helps prevent war in the region, engagement with Syria has economic benefits. Turkey’s desire for stability, though, also requires having stable partners to work with. Divided governments carry an inherent risk of being quite the opposite, and, as such, they constitute a significant impediment for Turkey. (more…)
My visit to Camp Leatherneck and the PRT at Lashkar Gah reinforced that Helmand is the land of extremes. Afghanistan’s largest and longest province, Helmand also produces most of the poppy in Afghanistan — making Helmand province a bigger producer of poppy than any nation in the world save its own.
Helmand is dominated by the Helmand river, which runs north-south from the Kajaki dam near Kandahar to Dishu in the south. The population of Helmand lives off and along the river and its canals and irrigation channels. Helmand’s border with Balochistan, Pashtun tribes, and poppy dominated economy made it largely Taliban controlled — until recently at least.
The mission of Marines in Helmand is to wrest control of the population centers from the Taliban. This is tough counterinsurgency fighting and the Marines have done amazing work turning the tide in key districts of Helmand, though the fight is far from over. The offensive which began with Marjah in 2009 continued district by district into the key towns of the Helmand including Nad Ali, Musa Q’ala, Garmsir, and now Sangin. Taliban resistance hasn’t disappeared by any means (even in Marjah) but don’t underestimate the ability of the Marines to clear and hold. With a density of forces now in place and a dismounted force, the results from the population are visible. People are getting out, engaging in commerce, and talking to Marines about needs and concerns. (more…)
Kandahar Air Field is a sprawling ginormous air base south of Kandahar City. It has a dusty acrid industrial feel. The international influence is everywhere. Tim Horton’s (the Canadian equal of Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks) is the best place for coffee and pastry. And why so many hockey rinks? Oh right. Canadians.
My visit to Kandahar is leg one of a two part trip that will also include RC (SW) and Helmand. The purpose of this southern swing is to see how civ-mil relations are up and down the chain of command… From Kabul/ISAF/IJC to the Regional Commands to the Task Forces to the PRTs and DSTs. Effective civ-mil coordination is a key part of the work we do and a critical tenant of COIN. As part of the civilian uplift, State and AID had now sought to parallel the military structure with civilian counterparts at the Regional Command, Task Force, and Battalion level. Was it working?
When a recent candidate in Colorado called a bike program a “well-disguised” plot to turn Denver into a “United Nations community,” it raised a few eyebrows. Unfortunately, it is not the only incident of the U.S. relationship with the United Nations becoming a campaign issue this election season, where a misguided distortion of our foreign policy is used for political ends. Candidates for Senate this year have called for voluntary funding only and the complete withdrawal of the United States from the United Nations.
But a poll released Friday demonstrates these stances are a miscalculation of the American sentiment towards the United Nations. Conducted by a bipartisan polling team, the research revealed that a majority of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents support the functions of the United Nations. Further, even when it came to the fiscal responsibilities of the U.S., 6 out of 10 Americans support paying dues to the United Nations in full and on time. The bipartisan support for the United Nations from the American public is reflected by our most experienced national security and foreign policy leaders: in a bipartisan statement released in 2008, former Secretaries of State and Defense, Republican and Democrat Senators, and National Security Advisors argued that American investment in the United Nations will “pay off substantially by helping to enhance our standing internationally and strengthen our ability to keep America safe and strong.” (more…)
There are encouraging signs that mil to mil relations between the Pentagon and the PLA are thawing. This week, after a freeze in relations that lasted nearly a year, Defense Secretary Robert Gates met with his Chinese counterpart, General Liang Guanglie, at the ASEAN “Plus” Defense Ministerial in Hanoi. At the meeting, Gates received an invitation to visit Beijing, probably sometime in the first half of next year, although the dates still have to be worked out. Separately, there have been reports of a meeting between Chinese and American officials on maritime security in Honolulu. Though limited, these are welcome developments as the Administration lays the groundwork for President Hu’s visit to Washington next year.
But these steps are unlikely to lead to the kind of comprehensive security relationship that the U.S. wants with China. Rather, a form of limited engagement and competition is more likely to be the new norm. The Chinese are still angry over the $6.4 billion arms deal with Taiwan, and they are irritated by U.S. offers to mediate the dispute over the Spratley islands in the South China Sea, which they consider a “core” national interest. This summer’s joint U.S.-South Korean exercises in the East China Sea, did nothing to ease tensions either. Many people in the Chinese leadership feel encircled by the U.S. These moves only reinforce their fears. (more…)
I’m in Kabul! I inspect the city on my drive from the airport. It seems pretty similar to my last visit with one big annoying exception: traffic. There are just more cars on the road now (both Afghan and expat) and the result is close to gridlock. The 30 minute drive from the airport turns into total nightmare as protests at Kabul University completely paralyze Mayor road. We end up bailing out of the car, flagging down a taxi, and heading to the Gandamack for dinner. I suppose traffic is actually a good thing. It either shows that more Afghans are buying cars, more are out and showing confidence in the regime, or the civilian surge has had a secondary effect of gridlock. Overall the impression is a more busy and vibrant Kabul.
Our initial meetings feature a variety of senior civilian and military officials representing State, USAID, ISAF, RC-South, and Task Force Raider. Our discussions go quickly to the issues at hand: are we winning? If so, why? How is the civ-mil collaboration working?
The general consensus from those on the ground is that we are making progress in security and the population is responding at a local level, especially in the south. (more…)
Over the past week, Taliban militants in western Pakistan have bombed and set fire to dozens of tankers carrying oil to U.S. forces in Afghanistan. The seemingly daily trend of attacks on NATO fuel supply convoys has been ongoing since Pakistan closed a key border crossing in retaliation to a U.S. helicopter strike within its airspace. This recent surge in violence highlights the increasingly precarious reliance on fossil fuels as the single most critical strategic linchpin of U.S. military success. With the soaring costs – in both dollars and lives – of the military’s dependence on oil becoming ever more apparent, there has never been a more urgent time to accelerate the transition to renewable energy use on the battlefield.
Even before the recent wave of attacks, a study by the Army Environmental Policy Institute found that for every 24 fuel convoys to Iraq or Afghanistan, one soldier or civilian involved in the transport was killed. On top of the risk, the economic costs of the military’s dependence on oil are staggering. Although the military purchases gasoline at a relatively cheap price, transporting a gallon of fuel to a forward operating base can cost up to $400. Moreover, the sheer scale of the military’s energy expenses ($20 billion in 2008) leaves it particularly vulnerable to oil price volatility, as just a $10 uptick in the price of a barrel of oil costs the Department of Defense about $1.3 billion. These factors, in addition to the strategic challenges and indirect costs associated with importing foreign-produced oil rather than using American-made renewables, make the military’s current energy practices dangerous, inefficient, and ultimately unsustainable. (more…)
Of the numerous oral and written comments on my Afghan election blog post, ninety percent or so seemed to express a similar sentiment: that it was remiss not to mention that conducting electoral exercise alone is a worthy achievement for Kabul. As one observer colleague wrote in the Richmond Times Dispatch “[t]he simple fact that voting took place at such a scale was significant, given the Taliban’s campaign to intimidate voters or stop elections altogether…Hundreds of other small acts of violence did occur. However, there was no single, massive attack.”
The American-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the budding Afghan security services can point to this lack of cataclysmic attack as a positive achievement under extremely difficult circumstances. Regardless, conclusions about the Afghan election should be withheld pending the processing of the thousands of reported allegations of irregularities, affects of widespread intimidation, and the announced results. The Independent Election Commission said Tuesday it was postponing release of the preliminary election results until at least October 17. The true test of the September election, as it is for all elections, is if a parliament can assume office and govern as a legitimate representative of the electorate.
There was some good news from Afghanistan this week. (more…)
My perspective is that of a stability operations policy wonk and pre-deployment training leader. I’ve been working and thinking about conflict and stability since the early 1990s when I was at OSD and as a Director on the NSC Staff. Bosnia and Kosovo were the conflicts du jour and though these are worlds apart from Afghanistan, many of the challenges, shortcomings, and frustrations we face today were just as plainly visible then.
About five years ago, I started working extensively with the military on Iraq and Afghanistan pre-deployment training. My company provides the field experts, curriculum, and training to the military on what is essentially “smart power” — the interagency/PRT/whole of government tools in the Iraq and Afghan tool kit. We also support the training of PRT civilians. My company has extensive field experience in Afghanistan although I do not. With another trip under my belt, I can pretend to be as smart as my trainers!
Let’s see if I can remember what I learned on my last visit, in Spring 2009. That trip focused on meetings in Kabul and RC-East in the last days of GEN McKiernan’s command of ISAF. The first Obama strategy review was still underway. (more…)
Can you hear that grinding noise? That’s the sound of an overused, overextended military breaking down. We seem to spend a lot of our time deliberately avoiding our gaze from obvious trouble signs. But for those who care to observe reality the warning signs are plentiful.
Consider just a few news reports in the past week.
New York Times
September 30, 2010
Four Suicides In A Week Take A Toll On Fort Hood
By James C. McKinley Jr.
HOUSTON — Four veterans of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan died this week from what appeared to be self-inflicted gunshot wounds atFort Hood in central Texas, raising the toll of soldiers who died here at their own hands to a record level and alarming Army commanders.
So far this year, Army officials have confirmed that 14 soldiers at Fort Hood have committed suicide. Six others are believed to have taken their own lives but a final determination has yet to be made. The highest number of suicides at Fort Hood occurred in 2008, when 14 soldiers killed themselves, said Christopher Haug, a military spokesman.
About 46,000 to 50,000 active officers and soldiers work at the base at any given time, making this year’s suicide rate about four times the national average, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates at 11.5 deaths per 100,000 people. (more…)
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.