This article was written by two Fall 2011 Fellows in PSA’s Congressional Fellowship Program. All CFP articles are produced by bipartisan groups of Democrat and Republican Fellows that were challenged to develop opinion pieces that reach consensus on critical national security and foreign affairs issues.
For the vast majority of Americans, watching the last American boot leave Iraqi soil is nothing short of good riddance. The numbers have become seared in Americans minds: Nearly nine years. Nearly a trillion dollars spent. Nearly 35,000 US soldiers wounded. Nearly 4,500 US soldiers dead.
The long-term effect of the Iraq War is pretty obvious—a national sentiment for retrenchment—a streak of isolationism that is being espoused by both sides of the political spectrum. It’s hard not to watch Texas Republican Governor Rick Perry warn against “military adventurism” without comparing him to his predecessor.
But despite the desire to go inward, the simple fact is that if there was any hope for the US to go on the sidelines, that’s changed forever with the onset of the Arab Spring. The Arab Spring has reminded the world of the danger of failed states. With long-time dictators losing power, militant Salafists (not solely Al Qaeda) are looking to fill the vacuum.
But the Arab Spring also comes with a new challenge—a new type of interventionism.
In a world full of national security challenges, none demands more urgent focus than the conundrum that is Pakistan. For at least a decade, Pakistan has consistently been one of the top three national security worries for the United States with issues ranging from being a center of nuclear proliferation to its inability to prevent its territory from serving as a sanctuary for the Taliban/Al Qaeda alliance launching attacks against US troops in Afghanistan.
The recent killing of Osama Bin Ladin revealed at best, a Pakistani regime either unwilling or unable to be an effective ally in our ongoing battle against Al Qaeda. Troubling questions need to be answered. What did Pakistani officials know about Bin Ladin’s presence and when did they know it? How effectively have Pakistani national security officials used $20 Billion in US aid to combat Al Qaeda and the Taliban? Why is the main debate in Pakistan today focusing on the US “violation” of their sovereignty in attacking Bin Ladin instead of on their own failure to find him? Is Pakistan worthy of the designation of major non-NATO ally and the steady stream of financial assistance provided by the American people?
To answer these questions and fashion a long term and sustainable approach to relations with Pakistan, Congress should authorize and the President should support the creation of a “Commission on US-Pakistan Relations”. Precedents are available for quickly moving forward with just such an effort. (more…)
Nearly ten years ago, on a clear blue morning in New York City, the beginning acts of the worst terrorist attack on American soil were set in motion. The air filled with smoke, debris, and the endless sound of sirens as nearly 3,000 were killed. This past Sunday, with night already descended on the city, the air instead filled with the sounds of crowds cheering upon hearing the news that Osama bin Laden, the man responsible for those attacks, had been killed. As President Obama summed it up, “Justice has been done.” The New York Post put it more bluntly: “the son of a bitch is dead.”
The story behind the death of Osama bin Laden is exciting in itself: a small team of Navy Seals conducts a daring 40-minute raid, gets the most wanted man in the world, and scores a major victory against al Qaeda. But we should also be proud of the way our government worked for years, across administrations and agencies, to ultimately carry out this critical mission. The intelligence community, though much maligned, tirelessly spent six years unraveling OBL’s courier network to track him down. Once he was found, the military did its job with surgical precision. And the President exhibited decisive leadership when given the opportunity to take OBL out, choosing, after careful deliberation, a riskier operation than others on the table to make sure the job was finally done. (more…)
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced Friday that PSA Advisory Board member Marc Grossman has been appointed the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Ambassador Grossman assumes the post recently left vacant by the passing of former PSA Advisory Board member, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke. Secretary Clinton made the announcement during a speech delivered in Ambassador Holbrooke’s honor at the Asia Society in New York, during which she noted Grossman “knows our allies and understands how to mobilize common action to meet shared challenges.” From 2001-2005, Ambassador Grossman served as the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, the State Department’s third-ranking official. Throughout a distinguished career in public service spanning 29 years, Ambassador Grossman also served as the Director General of the US Foreign Service, Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, and U.S. Ambassador to Turkey.
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…)
Yesterday the Washington Post reported that Pakistan has requested more immediate assistance from the United States to help in the flood relief effort there. Floods have been inundating the northwest region of Pakistan, affecting more than 14 million people according to Pakistani officials. This is the same region of Pakistan that is home to many of the militants that continue to threaten American troops in Afghanistan and seek to maintain that area as a safe haven for al Qaeda. Although these floods are a tremendous humanitarian disaster, they also provide an opportunity to both assist those in need and demonstrate to the Pakistani people that the United States is a partner that they can count on.
A recent Pew poll shows that that this will be a steep hill to climb. Only 17 percent of Pakistanis had a positive view of the U.S. and 59 percent described the U.S. as an enemy. Recognizing that our efforts in Afghanistan will not succeed unless Pakistani militant safe havens are eliminated, this lack of support by the population is enormously troubling. There are a number of reasons for their negative views ranging from U.S. support for previous military dictators to the sporadic nature of U.S. engagement with the country.
The question now is, will we respond quickly enough? The Pakistani government has been unable to address this humanitarian disaster on its own. In this vacuum, militant groups have been rushing to seize this opportunity. So far the United States has sent six helicopters and pledged $55 million. Considering the task at hand and short time available to save lives, I question if this is the best effort we could muster. An important comparison case study is worth examining – the 2004 Asian tsunami. (more…)
Today, partisan bickering is taking precedence over sensible solutions to the AfPak conflict. Apparently, even the safety of American citizens is considered a side concern when it comes to the labor versus business debate that characterizes much of our domestic – and now foreign policy – discourse. Democrats say that they are on the side of the workers and Republicans say that unduly constraining business hurts us all. This debate between the parties has been going on for decades. Unfortunately, this debate is spilling over into the national security realm and we’re less safe because of it. It’s time for D’s and R’s to come together on a simple trade issue that can make a difference in the struggle against extremism.
Here’s what is happening. The Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) region of Pakistan borders Afghanistan. It’s the home base of Al Qaeda and the many of the Taliban insurgents that stream across the porous border with Afghanistan and attack our troops and destabilize Afghanistan. Osama Bin Laden is thought to be hiding away in this remote tribal region. Many believe that if a future 9/11-type attack happens on the United States, its origin will likely be this remote tribal region in Pakistan.
FATA is also one of the poorest and most disenfranchised regions of Pakistan. The literacy rate in FATA is just 17.42 percent, compared to 43.92 percent in the rest of the country. It scores quite poorly on most all socioeconomic indicators – and that’s in comparison to the rest of Pakistan, which is not particularly wealthy to begin with. FATA residents are also marginalized from the political life of their country. They have no elected representatives in a provincial or national assembly who can legislate on local concerns. In this environment, it’s not surprising that extremists have had an easy time recruiting for their cause. No, poverty and marginalization don’t cause terrorism, but they can contribute to an environment where extremism is more likely to take hold. (more…)
Amid the intense domestic coverage of the health care debate came a reminder of the hope that even hardened global figures have for the Obama Presidency and its ability to transform global affairs.
In the hours after Congress acted last Sunday, the White House announced that King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia was one of the first two global leaders to call and congratulate Obama on his domestic victory.
Now, it is reasonable to assume that the Saudi leader was not particularly concerned about health care reform itself but recognized that its passage would strengthen Obama domestically and perhaps reignite his desire to be remembered as a transformative President not simply at home but also abroad.
In 2008 Obama ran a campaign that, in part, portrayed his very election as a step towards resetting U.S. relations with the international community. Further more, by illustrating his understanding of specific hot button issues ranging from Indo-Pakistani disagreements in Kashmir to the harm caused by the Bush administrations “war on terror”, Obama suggested that he would prioritize tackling the policy matters that had corroded relations between the U.S. and the Muslim world and thus undermined U.S. national security.
His early actions as President, from the appointment of Middle East envoy Mitchell to his historic Cairo speech, collectively suggested that Obama was looking to move beyond simply the reset offered by his election and was seeking a fundamental realignment between the U.S. and the Muslim world that would transform the international arena.
Last week the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations released a new report that called on the U.S. to better engage religious communities in the conduct of its foreign policy. Although foreign policy analysts frequently acknowledge the integral role of religion in conflicts and peacemaking around the world, the reality is that too often religious communities are not engaged in U.S. policy decisions. Last Tuesday task force members met with Obama administration representatives to present the findings of the report. If heeded by this administration, this advice could, in the long run, substantially strengthen our hand in achieving our national security goals. This report’s prescriptions are particularly applicable to how the United States deals with madrassas in the Muslim world.
The report states
Religion has been a major force in the daily lives of individuals and communities for millennia. Yet recent data show that the salience of religion is on the rise the world over. Once considered a “private” matter by Western policymakers, religion is now playing an increasingly influential role—both positive and negative—in the public sphere on many different levels….. What is needed is an informed and coherent framework that allows actors within and outside government to better understand and respond to religiously inspired actors and events in a way that supports those doing good, while isolating those that invoke the sacred to sow violence and confusion.
This inability to fully understand religion and the role it plays in international relations has been characteristic of both Democratic and Republican administrations. When speaking of her 2006 book, the Mighty and the Almighty, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said,
As a practitioner of foreign policy, I certainly come from the generation of people who used to say, “X problem is complicated enough. Let’s not bring God and religion into it.” But through my being in office, and as I explored the subject much further in writing “The Mighty and the Almighty,” I really thought that the opposite is true. In order to effectively conduct foreign policy today, you have to understand the role of God and religion.
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Last week the State Department released its Afghanistan and Pakistan Regional Stabilization Strategy. There is much to like in this comprehensive document that seeks to elevate development and diplomacy efforts alongside that of defense. Although the troop increase announced in December by President Obama will be integral to success, for too long the military has overshadowed development and diplomacy in this part of the world. They are all part of the solution. We’re now moving in the right direction, but there’s more to be done to get the Pakistani public on board.
The strategy in Afghanistan focuses on reconstruction and development, improved governance, rule of law, and an expanded civilian presence. The Pakistan component deals with the recently passed Kerry-Lugar-Berman legislation that devotes $7.5 billion over 5 years to Pakistan. It also emphasizes security assistance, communications, and strengthening people-to-people ties. The strategy isn’t just a list of impressive goals, but rather it lays out measurable milestones that we should all use to hold the U.S. government accountable.
This all sounds great. So what’s missing? Here’s my concern, particularly related to Pakistan. Poll after poll reports that the Pakistani public continues to harbor strong anti-American sentiment. For example, in an August poll by the Pew Global Attitudes Project, 64% of Pakistanis viewed the U.S. as an enemy. Only 22% of Pakistanis felt that the U.S. takes their interests into account when making foreign policy decisions. There were many references in the strategy about the commitment to a long-term partnership with Pakistan. Although the Pakistani government might have agreed, I’m quite concerned that the Pakistani people are not yet convinced. (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.