Commentary Magazine


Topic: Kabul

Confusion and Leaks Further Mar White House Afghan Policy

The Afghanistan policy review at the White House is getting more farcical — if that’s possible. It’s bizarre enough that every NSC meeting in this endless review is publicly announced and its contents are then leaked for public dissection in the next morning’s newspapers. Now we read in every major newspaper (see, e.g., in the Los Angeles Times, this) that Karl Eikenberry, the retired general who is the U.S. ambassador in Kabul, “has warned in classified cables against any further buildup of American forces in the country … saying that additional troops would be unwise because of the corruption and ineffectiveness of the Afghan government.”

One would think that the merits of this position would have been hashed out long ago (like, say, back in March, when the results of the last Afghan policy review were announced) and that President Obama would have concluded by now that we can’t simply write off Afghanistan because of the “corruption and ineffectiveness” of its government. But, no, Eikenberry’s cables seem to have landed with the impact of a mortar round in the White House and, if leaks are to believed, they have further reinforced the president’s tendency toward hesitation and doubt.

It does not exactly inspire confidence to read this account of the latest NSC meeting, from the New York Times:

A central focus of Mr. Obama’s questions, officials said, was how long it would take to see results and be able to withdraw.

“He wants to know where the off-ramps are,” one official said.

So the president is already looking to leave Afghanistan before he has even committed more forces? He’s more interested in an exit strategy than a strategy for success? What a terrible message to send to our troops and what a heartening message to send to our enemies.

It’s hard to know, of course, if this is an accurate reflection of what the man in the Oval Office is thinking — or simply a reflection of what the aides who are providing all these quotes for the media are thinking. Whatever the case, this bespeaks an extraordinarily chaotic and undisciplined White House decision-making process, with the president’s most senior advisers playing out their disagreements in public even after Gen. Stanley McChrystal had been chastised for making his own views known.

Whatever the president now decides, it will place one of our senior representatives in Kabul in a very difficult position. If the president decides to send a large number of additional troops, that will undermine the standing of Eikenberry. If he decides not to send those troops, he will undermine the standing of McChrystal. Either way, it will be harder for the two men to work together after their differences have been so publicly aired.

The Afghanistan policy review at the White House is getting more farcical — if that’s possible. It’s bizarre enough that every NSC meeting in this endless review is publicly announced and its contents are then leaked for public dissection in the next morning’s newspapers. Now we read in every major newspaper (see, e.g., in the Los Angeles Times, this) that Karl Eikenberry, the retired general who is the U.S. ambassador in Kabul, “has warned in classified cables against any further buildup of American forces in the country … saying that additional troops would be unwise because of the corruption and ineffectiveness of the Afghan government.”

One would think that the merits of this position would have been hashed out long ago (like, say, back in March, when the results of the last Afghan policy review were announced) and that President Obama would have concluded by now that we can’t simply write off Afghanistan because of the “corruption and ineffectiveness” of its government. But, no, Eikenberry’s cables seem to have landed with the impact of a mortar round in the White House and, if leaks are to believed, they have further reinforced the president’s tendency toward hesitation and doubt.

It does not exactly inspire confidence to read this account of the latest NSC meeting, from the New York Times:

A central focus of Mr. Obama’s questions, officials said, was how long it would take to see results and be able to withdraw.

“He wants to know where the off-ramps are,” one official said.

So the president is already looking to leave Afghanistan before he has even committed more forces? He’s more interested in an exit strategy than a strategy for success? What a terrible message to send to our troops and what a heartening message to send to our enemies.

It’s hard to know, of course, if this is an accurate reflection of what the man in the Oval Office is thinking — or simply a reflection of what the aides who are providing all these quotes for the media are thinking. Whatever the case, this bespeaks an extraordinarily chaotic and undisciplined White House decision-making process, with the president’s most senior advisers playing out their disagreements in public even after Gen. Stanley McChrystal had been chastised for making his own views known.

Whatever the president now decides, it will place one of our senior representatives in Kabul in a very difficult position. If the president decides to send a large number of additional troops, that will undermine the standing of Eikenberry. If he decides not to send those troops, he will undermine the standing of McChrystal. Either way, it will be harder for the two men to work together after their differences have been so publicly aired.

Read Less

Afghan Additions

News that the Pentagon is planning to add two more brigades (roughly 7,000 troops) in Afghanistan is welcome. It has been clear for a while that NATO didn’t have enough troops in the south to control a resurgent Taliban operating from secure areas in Pakistan. As the New York Times notes: “There are about 62,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, about 34,000 of them American, up from just 25,000 American troops in 2005.” The U.S. has been pressing our allies to do more, but so far our requests have not produced much–certainly not enough. The U.S. has already sent roughly 3,000 marines on a six-month assignment. More troops should be sent when they leave later this year.

It’s not only a question of more troops. Allied forces also aren’t as useful as they could be because they come with so many operational restrictions. The Dutch, Canadians, British, and Australians have been fighting hard in southern Afghanistan, but many others (e.g., the Germans) are prevented by their home governments from going in harm’s way. Even those NATO troops that are willing to fight don’t necessarily have the training or equipment needed to tackle a tough counterinsurgency. They lack, for instance, the CERP funds that U.S. troops are able to dole out in Iraq and Afghanistan to win friends. Also lacking are surveillance assets, airpower, and other “enablers” that the American armed forces have but most of our allies don’t. American and NATO officials have spent years cajoling European allies to send more of these critical systems (e.g., helicopters), but they have largely come up dry.

There is also a desperate need to increase the Afghan National Army from its current size of only 55,000. (Iraq’s army is 200,000-strong, and Afghanistan is bigger than Iraq.) Washington and Kabul asked NATO to pay for a substantial upgrade, but the members deferred the issue at their recent Bucharest summit, meaning in all likelihood that the U.S. will have to pay the lion’s share of the cost.

More broadly what is needed is a campaign plan and a command structure that can better coordinate disparate national elements to wage a cohesive counterinsurgency. That is something that General David Petraeus did as one of his first steps upon arriving in Iraq in 2007, and it sure to be a priority for him when he takes over Central Command, which shares responsibility for Afghanistan along with the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe.

Bret Stephens is right that “We’re Not Losing Afghanistan,” but there is no question that in the south, the situation has deteriorated in the past couple of years. The U.S. will have to make a greater effort to rescue the situation whether our allies are willing to do more or not. But it would certainly be nice if they stepped up their game, especially since the U.S. is carrying an even bigger load in Iraq.

News that the Pentagon is planning to add two more brigades (roughly 7,000 troops) in Afghanistan is welcome. It has been clear for a while that NATO didn’t have enough troops in the south to control a resurgent Taliban operating from secure areas in Pakistan. As the New York Times notes: “There are about 62,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, about 34,000 of them American, up from just 25,000 American troops in 2005.” The U.S. has been pressing our allies to do more, but so far our requests have not produced much–certainly not enough. The U.S. has already sent roughly 3,000 marines on a six-month assignment. More troops should be sent when they leave later this year.

It’s not only a question of more troops. Allied forces also aren’t as useful as they could be because they come with so many operational restrictions. The Dutch, Canadians, British, and Australians have been fighting hard in southern Afghanistan, but many others (e.g., the Germans) are prevented by their home governments from going in harm’s way. Even those NATO troops that are willing to fight don’t necessarily have the training or equipment needed to tackle a tough counterinsurgency. They lack, for instance, the CERP funds that U.S. troops are able to dole out in Iraq and Afghanistan to win friends. Also lacking are surveillance assets, airpower, and other “enablers” that the American armed forces have but most of our allies don’t. American and NATO officials have spent years cajoling European allies to send more of these critical systems (e.g., helicopters), but they have largely come up dry.

There is also a desperate need to increase the Afghan National Army from its current size of only 55,000. (Iraq’s army is 200,000-strong, and Afghanistan is bigger than Iraq.) Washington and Kabul asked NATO to pay for a substantial upgrade, but the members deferred the issue at their recent Bucharest summit, meaning in all likelihood that the U.S. will have to pay the lion’s share of the cost.

More broadly what is needed is a campaign plan and a command structure that can better coordinate disparate national elements to wage a cohesive counterinsurgency. That is something that General David Petraeus did as one of his first steps upon arriving in Iraq in 2007, and it sure to be a priority for him when he takes over Central Command, which shares responsibility for Afghanistan along with the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe.

Bret Stephens is right that “We’re Not Losing Afghanistan,” but there is no question that in the south, the situation has deteriorated in the past couple of years. The U.S. will have to make a greater effort to rescue the situation whether our allies are willing to do more or not. But it would certainly be nice if they stepped up their game, especially since the U.S. is carrying an even bigger load in Iraq.

Read Less

Must. Surrender. Somewhere.

Let’s consider what Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama might now be saying if over the past six years George Bush had done precisely what the Democrats claim he should have regarding Afghanistan and Iraq. If the U.S. had beefed up forces in Afghanistan and ignored Saddam Hussein, I imagine the Democratic argument (as extrapolated from current policy positions) might go something like this:

We have now spent six years bogged down in George Bush’s Afghan war, while Saddam Hussein continues to build his palaces on the graves of innocent Iraqis. We’re locked into an endless commitment in Afghanistan, refusing to let the Afghan people shape their own post-Taliban futures, while intelligence reports continue to come in that Saddam Hussein is not only working on weapons of mass destruction, but associating with and even training the types of people who attacked us on September 11. We have leveled to dust a nation without the resources or operational knowledge to attack the U.S., while we’ve let Saddam Hussein’s Iraq build its deadly arsenal and expand its lethal network of associates. How does this make the U.S. look in the eyes of the world? And why should our allies tolerate it? Why should you, the voting public? I intend to restore our standing in the global community by beginning immediate troop drawdowns in Afghanistan and facing the real threat represented by dangerous regimes such as Iraq. America needs a real leader, not someone who won’t go into Iraq because his father had thought it would be too tough for America to handle.

As is happened, things took a different course. We went into Iraq while continuing to fight in Afghanistan. We’ve had our formidable challenges in both theaters, but the point is the Democrats can always plug in proper nouns as needed and make an argument like the one above. Which they’ve done. We know from Hillary that it’s too late to win in Iraq, and from Obama that we need to withdraw from Iraq immediately and pick up the pace in Afghanistan. We must, you see, stop fighting somewhere.

But how is this surrender argument to be maintained in the face of continued success in Iraq? This question will get tougher and more crucial for whichever Democrat is nominated to go up against John McCain. Well, today Ted Rall has a piece at Yahoo News which may suggest a new direction in such surrender mad-libs: We need to pull out of Afghanistan after all.

By any measure, U.S. troops and their NATO allies are getting their a–es kicked in the country that Reagan’s CIA station chief for Pakistan called “the graveyard of empires.” Afghanistan currently produces a record 93 percent of the world’s opium. Suicide bombers are killing more U.S.-aligned troops than ever. Stonings are back. The Taliban and their allies, “defeated” in 2001, control most of the country–and may recapture the capital of Kabul as early as this summer.

And, anyway, Afghanistan is the wrong place to fight the war on terror:

Afghanistan’s connection to 9/11 was tertiary. At the moment the first plane struck the South Tower of the World Trade Center, most of Al Qaeda’s camps and fighters were in Pakistan. As CBS News reported on January 29, 2002, Osama bin Laden was in a Pakistani military hospital in Rawalpindi on 9/11. The Taliban militia, which provided neither men nor money for the attacks, controlled 90 percent of the country.

Ta-da!

So, it’s time to pull out of Afghanistan and fight in Pakistan. And then when we’re there? Well, we’d be ignoring Saudi Arabia, naturally. And once we’re in Saudi? We’d be insensitive cowboys treading on holy sand and ignoring the terror financing that comes from the UAE. And once there? We’d be turning against a “non-political” ally and economic partner. And on, and on, and on. The arguments will continue to chase the U.S. around the globe, and the U.S. will continue to act prudently, if imperfectly, to marginalize or destroy the enemies of liberal democracy. The very fact that America prevents the worst threats from materializing is what allows for this silly rhetorical fill-in-the-blanks game to begin with.

Let’s consider what Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama might now be saying if over the past six years George Bush had done precisely what the Democrats claim he should have regarding Afghanistan and Iraq. If the U.S. had beefed up forces in Afghanistan and ignored Saddam Hussein, I imagine the Democratic argument (as extrapolated from current policy positions) might go something like this:

We have now spent six years bogged down in George Bush’s Afghan war, while Saddam Hussein continues to build his palaces on the graves of innocent Iraqis. We’re locked into an endless commitment in Afghanistan, refusing to let the Afghan people shape their own post-Taliban futures, while intelligence reports continue to come in that Saddam Hussein is not only working on weapons of mass destruction, but associating with and even training the types of people who attacked us on September 11. We have leveled to dust a nation without the resources or operational knowledge to attack the U.S., while we’ve let Saddam Hussein’s Iraq build its deadly arsenal and expand its lethal network of associates. How does this make the U.S. look in the eyes of the world? And why should our allies tolerate it? Why should you, the voting public? I intend to restore our standing in the global community by beginning immediate troop drawdowns in Afghanistan and facing the real threat represented by dangerous regimes such as Iraq. America needs a real leader, not someone who won’t go into Iraq because his father had thought it would be too tough for America to handle.

As is happened, things took a different course. We went into Iraq while continuing to fight in Afghanistan. We’ve had our formidable challenges in both theaters, but the point is the Democrats can always plug in proper nouns as needed and make an argument like the one above. Which they’ve done. We know from Hillary that it’s too late to win in Iraq, and from Obama that we need to withdraw from Iraq immediately and pick up the pace in Afghanistan. We must, you see, stop fighting somewhere.

But how is this surrender argument to be maintained in the face of continued success in Iraq? This question will get tougher and more crucial for whichever Democrat is nominated to go up against John McCain. Well, today Ted Rall has a piece at Yahoo News which may suggest a new direction in such surrender mad-libs: We need to pull out of Afghanistan after all.

By any measure, U.S. troops and their NATO allies are getting their a–es kicked in the country that Reagan’s CIA station chief for Pakistan called “the graveyard of empires.” Afghanistan currently produces a record 93 percent of the world’s opium. Suicide bombers are killing more U.S.-aligned troops than ever. Stonings are back. The Taliban and their allies, “defeated” in 2001, control most of the country–and may recapture the capital of Kabul as early as this summer.

And, anyway, Afghanistan is the wrong place to fight the war on terror:

Afghanistan’s connection to 9/11 was tertiary. At the moment the first plane struck the South Tower of the World Trade Center, most of Al Qaeda’s camps and fighters were in Pakistan. As CBS News reported on January 29, 2002, Osama bin Laden was in a Pakistani military hospital in Rawalpindi on 9/11. The Taliban militia, which provided neither men nor money for the attacks, controlled 90 percent of the country.

Ta-da!

So, it’s time to pull out of Afghanistan and fight in Pakistan. And then when we’re there? Well, we’d be ignoring Saudi Arabia, naturally. And once we’re in Saudi? We’d be insensitive cowboys treading on holy sand and ignoring the terror financing that comes from the UAE. And once there? We’d be turning against a “non-political” ally and economic partner. And on, and on, and on. The arguments will continue to chase the U.S. around the globe, and the U.S. will continue to act prudently, if imperfectly, to marginalize or destroy the enemies of liberal democracy. The very fact that America prevents the worst threats from materializing is what allows for this silly rhetorical fill-in-the-blanks game to begin with.

Read Less

Trouble in Afghanistan

Wretchard at the Belmont Club runs a long, insightful piece today on the Robert Gates/NATO fracas. Wretchard’s closing paragraphs make an excellent point:

Robert Gates’ remarks ripped have the lid off a simmering disagreement between NATO allies and the US over Afghan strategy. The differences are not simply over troop levels and counterinsurgency competencies but at the level of basic national interest. For some NATO countries there is nothing in Afghanistan worth fighting at all for except the maintenance of good diplomatic relationships with America and the preservation of the Atlantic Alliance. But that will only go so far; and at any rate America can be counted on to carry the load alone because in contrast, the United States which directly suffered the September 11 attacks, sees a victory in the Afghan/Pakistani theater as a matter of vital interest. Therefore the US will carry on regardless. Even Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama periodically declare their commitment to winning in that theater. The US and the European NATO countries may differ even in their conception of victory. For the US, victory is defined as creating and maintaining friendly governments in both Kabul and Islamabad by defeating al-Qaeda and its allies. For the Europeans it may mean bringing the Taliban to power in exchange for giving up its support of al-Qaeda.

Which side of the debate is correct I leave the reader to decide. But so far as I can tell this is what the debate is about.

You can read the whole thing here.

Wretchard at the Belmont Club runs a long, insightful piece today on the Robert Gates/NATO fracas. Wretchard’s closing paragraphs make an excellent point:

Robert Gates’ remarks ripped have the lid off a simmering disagreement between NATO allies and the US over Afghan strategy. The differences are not simply over troop levels and counterinsurgency competencies but at the level of basic national interest. For some NATO countries there is nothing in Afghanistan worth fighting at all for except the maintenance of good diplomatic relationships with America and the preservation of the Atlantic Alliance. But that will only go so far; and at any rate America can be counted on to carry the load alone because in contrast, the United States which directly suffered the September 11 attacks, sees a victory in the Afghan/Pakistani theater as a matter of vital interest. Therefore the US will carry on regardless. Even Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama periodically declare their commitment to winning in that theater. The US and the European NATO countries may differ even in their conception of victory. For the US, victory is defined as creating and maintaining friendly governments in both Kabul and Islamabad by defeating al-Qaeda and its allies. For the Europeans it may mean bringing the Taliban to power in exchange for giving up its support of al-Qaeda.

Which side of the debate is correct I leave the reader to decide. But so far as I can tell this is what the debate is about.

You can read the whole thing here.

Read Less

Talking with the Taliban

Today, after face-to-face negotiations in Afghanistan with the Taliban, South Korean officials announced a tentative arrangement to free nineteen South Koreans, who were seized on July 19. Seoul said that more discussion would be needed before the hostages, Christian aid workers, actually would be released. The Taliban has already killed two of the hostages and freed two others. The State Department’s Christopher Hill, acting on behalf of President Bush, had recently pledged support for South Korea’s efforts to negotiate with the kidnappers.

As a condition of the release of the remaining nineteen, South Korea confirmed (as it had previously announced) that it would withdraw its 200 non-combat troops from Afghanistan. Seoul also said it would stop all missionary activity in the country. The Taliban said that South Korea would withdraw all South Koreans from Afghanistan. The South Koreans did not meet the two most important Taliban demands: the payment of a ransom and the release of Taliban prisoners held by Kabul.

Read More

Today, after face-to-face negotiations in Afghanistan with the Taliban, South Korean officials announced a tentative arrangement to free nineteen South Koreans, who were seized on July 19. Seoul said that more discussion would be needed before the hostages, Christian aid workers, actually would be released. The Taliban has already killed two of the hostages and freed two others. The State Department’s Christopher Hill, acting on behalf of President Bush, had recently pledged support for South Korea’s efforts to negotiate with the kidnappers.

As a condition of the release of the remaining nineteen, South Korea confirmed (as it had previously announced) that it would withdraw its 200 non-combat troops from Afghanistan. Seoul also said it would stop all missionary activity in the country. The Taliban said that South Korea would withdraw all South Koreans from Afghanistan. The South Koreans did not meet the two most important Taliban demands: the payment of a ransom and the release of Taliban prisoners held by Kabul.

The South Korean government has, in reality, not given up anything. It had already banned its citizens from traveling to Afghanistan. The Taliban also conceded little. It would have risked even more international condemnation if it had executed the remaining nineteen hostages, who over time would have become a liability in the hands of their captors. Their release, therefore, avoided a dilemma for the Taliban.

The whole incident, of course, further weakened the Karzai government. Yet it also demonstrated once again the inability of today’s democracies to defeat Islamic militants. Despite what they say, elected leaders these days will negotiate with thugs, fanatics, and terrorists.

In a peaceful world, presidents’ making deals with criminals, although deplorable, may not result in lasting injury to the international system. Yet President Bush tells us we are involved in a global death match with terrorists. If we are, in fact, fighting for civilization—which I believe we are—then Bush’s facilitation of the negotiations with the Taliban makes all of us appear feckless.

Either we are involved in an existential struggle or we are not. President Bush should let us know, and act accordingly.

Read Less

The Clintonites’ Silver Bullet

Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon, both Clinton-era staffers on the National Security Council, have a short, sharp, sensible op-ed in the New York Times today. They make a good point—that the CIA should be more involved in the special-operations business—but they also self-servingly distort history along the way.

Benjamin and Simon point to the chronic difficulties the U.S. military has created for itself in mounting commando raids against terrorist targets. The occasion for their piece is the revelations now coming out about an aborted 2005 operation against a terrorist haven in Pakistan’s lawless tribal region to capture or kill Ayman al-Zawahri, al Qaeda’s No. 2 leader.

The Pentagon, they note, through its bureaucratic processes, “added large numbers of troops to conduct additional intelligence, force protection, communications and extraction work. At that point, as one senior intelligence official told [the Times], ‘The whole thing turned into the invasion of Pakistan,’ and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld pulled the plug.”

This episode, Benjamin and Simon tell us, is reminiscent of trouble faced by the Clinton administration. “The Clinton White House repeatedly requested options involving ground forces that could hunt and destroy terrorists in Afghanistan.” But repeatedly, they write, “senior military officials declared such a mission ‘would be Desert One,’ referring to the disastrous 1980 effort to free American hostages in Iran. When the Pentagon finally delivered a plan, the deployment envisioned would have been sufficient to take and hold Kabul but not to surprise and pin down a handful of terrorists.”

This is true. But it is also false. It provides only half the picture. For, even as the Clinton administration was contemplating military action against al-Qaeda safe havens, it was also planning much narrower commando operations, conceived and planned by the CIA, to seize Osama bin Laden—precisely the kind of raid Benjamin and Simon are recommending now.

Read More

Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon, both Clinton-era staffers on the National Security Council, have a short, sharp, sensible op-ed in the New York Times today. They make a good point—that the CIA should be more involved in the special-operations business—but they also self-servingly distort history along the way.

Benjamin and Simon point to the chronic difficulties the U.S. military has created for itself in mounting commando raids against terrorist targets. The occasion for their piece is the revelations now coming out about an aborted 2005 operation against a terrorist haven in Pakistan’s lawless tribal region to capture or kill Ayman al-Zawahri, al Qaeda’s No. 2 leader.

The Pentagon, they note, through its bureaucratic processes, “added large numbers of troops to conduct additional intelligence, force protection, communications and extraction work. At that point, as one senior intelligence official told [the Times], ‘The whole thing turned into the invasion of Pakistan,’ and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld pulled the plug.”

This episode, Benjamin and Simon tell us, is reminiscent of trouble faced by the Clinton administration. “The Clinton White House repeatedly requested options involving ground forces that could hunt and destroy terrorists in Afghanistan.” But repeatedly, they write, “senior military officials declared such a mission ‘would be Desert One,’ referring to the disastrous 1980 effort to free American hostages in Iran. When the Pentagon finally delivered a plan, the deployment envisioned would have been sufficient to take and hold Kabul but not to surprise and pin down a handful of terrorists.”

This is true. But it is also false. It provides only half the picture. For, even as the Clinton administration was contemplating military action against al-Qaeda safe havens, it was also planning much narrower commando operations, conceived and planned by the CIA, to seize Osama bin Laden—precisely the kind of raid Benjamin and Simon are recommending now.

But what happened? It was not the military which screwed up the operation by beefing up the forces until it turned into a full-scale invasion of Afghanistan. It was the Clinton administration itself which called off the CIA action, out of fear that bin Laden would be killed—in violation of an executive order banning assassinations.

The 9/11 Commission Report contains a wealth of detail on this episode, including a remarkable kabuki dance of finger-pointing, with CIA Director George Tenet accepting most of the blame while implicitly suggesting that Sandy Berger, the National Security Council (NSC) chairman, should have been more vigorous in pressing ahead:

Impressions vary as to who actually decided not to proceed with the operation. [Richard] Clarke [NSC Counterterrorism] told us that the CSG [an interagency Counterterrorism Security Group] saw the plan as flawed. He was said to have described it to a colleague on the NSC staff as “half-assed” and predicted that the principals would not approve it. “Jeff ” [the CIA Counterterrorist Center Chief] thought the decision had been made at the cabinet level. [James] Pavitt [assistant head of the CIA Directorate of Operations] thought that it was [Sandy] Berger’s doing, though perhaps on Tenet’s advice. Tenet told us that given the recommendation of his chief operations officers, he alone had decided to “turn off” the operation. He had simply informed Berger, who had not pushed back. Berger’s recollection was similar. He said the plan was never presented to the White House for a decision.

Yes, it would be a good idea to make greater use of the CIA in the realm of special operations. But those advancing this recommendation would have done well to note that when they and the administration they served tried to fire this silver bullet themselves, they had a lot of trouble loading it and in the end could not bring themselves to squeeze the trigger.

Read Less

Right for the Wrong Reasons

I hesitate to disagree about Afghanistan with Rory Stewart, who has spent a lot more time there than I have. A former British officer and diplomat, he walked across the entire country shortly after the fall of the Taliban, a madcap escapade gracefully chronicled in his book, The Places in Between. He now runs an NGO, the Turquoise Mountain Foundation, which is rebuilding the ancient heart of Kabul, where he lives.

On today’s New York Times op-ed page, Stewart has a provocative article entitled “Where Less is More.” His argument is that it would be counterproductive to act as the Democrats suggest by pulling out of Iraq and beefing up the foreign troop contingent in Afghanistan. I agree with this conclusion, but am dubious about his reasoning: namely, that sending more troops to Afghanistan would simply produce a backlash among nationalist Afghans.

Read More

I hesitate to disagree about Afghanistan with Rory Stewart, who has spent a lot more time there than I have. A former British officer and diplomat, he walked across the entire country shortly after the fall of the Taliban, a madcap escapade gracefully chronicled in his book, The Places in Between. He now runs an NGO, the Turquoise Mountain Foundation, which is rebuilding the ancient heart of Kabul, where he lives.

On today’s New York Times op-ed page, Stewart has a provocative article entitled “Where Less is More.” His argument is that it would be counterproductive to act as the Democrats suggest by pulling out of Iraq and beefing up the foreign troop contingent in Afghanistan. I agree with this conclusion, but am dubious about his reasoning: namely, that sending more troops to Afghanistan would simply produce a backlash among nationalist Afghans.

There is no doubt that nationalist resentment exists, but polling suggests that the biggest cause of that resentment in Afghanistan (as in Iraq) is not the presence of foreign troops per se, but the failure of the troops to provide basic security. In both places the U.S. strategy focused on training indigenous forces and trying to hand off responsibility to them as soon as possible. We know what a disaster that turned out to be in Iraq. It’s worked out a bit better in Afghanistan for a variety of factors but, given how long it takes to develop capable police and military forces, the only way to boost security in the short-term is to send in more foreign troops. That’s what NATO has done in southern Afghanistan, and I think it’s too early to say, as Stewart does, that this deployment has been a failure.

He writes that “the foreign presence has provoked a wide Taliban insurgency.” But isn’t it equally, if not more likely that the Taliban insurgency was growing in any case, and that the presence of more NATO troops has blunted the effects of that insurgency? We know that the much-ballyhooed “spring offensive” of the Taliban fizzled out. We’re not sure why, but a good part of the explanation is probably preemptive action on the part of a larger NATO force.

That said, I think Stewart is right to argue that it’s generally better to minimize the presence of foreign troops and to rely on local allies as much as possible. But while correct as a general prescription for the Global War on Terror, it’s hard to know whether that is the best solution to Afghanistan’s particular problems. Absent a substantial degree of foreign support, the government in Kabul risks being overwhelmed by jihadists with secure bases across the border in Pakistan. Relying simply on “intelligence, pragmatic politics, savvy use of our development assistance, and on special forces operations,” as Stewart suggests, may not be enough to hold the Islamist onslaught at bay.

Whatever the case, it doesn’t change the fact that a pullout from Iraq would not strengthen our efforts in Afghanistan. A “redeployment” from Iraq would be seen by the world as a defeat for America and a victory for al Qaeda and Iran. They would be emboldened to step up their attacks in Afghanistan, while our allies and our own troops there would be disheartened. In such circumstances, with America reeling from its worst military defeat since 1975, I doubt that there would be much political support back home for a heightened commitment to Afghanistan, regardless of whether or not it makes military sense. At worst, then, Stewart is right but for the wrong reasons.

Read Less

China’s Arms Trail

China is secretly supplying large quantities of small arms to the Taliban in Afghanistan (and to insurgents in Iraq), according to a report in Friday’s Washington Times. Iran is paying for the shipments of these sniper rifles, bullets, rocket-propelled grenades, and components for roadside bombs. The article claims that China, at its own suggestion, even transported some of the materiel to avoid interdiction. The arms in question are of recent design and may have been delivered as recently as three months ago.

This is by no means the first report of links between China and the Taliban. On or soon after September 11, 2001, Beijing signed an economic and technical assistance agreement with the Taliban, and in the weeks following the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, China built a communications system for Kabul. Allied forces found Chinese munitions in Afghanistan following the Taliban’s defeat, and there have been scattered reports of such dealings over the past decade. (The Chinese embassy declined comment on the Washington Times report.)

Read More

China is secretly supplying large quantities of small arms to the Taliban in Afghanistan (and to insurgents in Iraq), according to a report in Friday’s Washington Times. Iran is paying for the shipments of these sniper rifles, bullets, rocket-propelled grenades, and components for roadside bombs. The article claims that China, at its own suggestion, even transported some of the materiel to avoid interdiction. The arms in question are of recent design and may have been delivered as recently as three months ago.

This is by no means the first report of links between China and the Taliban. On or soon after September 11, 2001, Beijing signed an economic and technical assistance agreement with the Taliban, and in the weeks following the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, China built a communications system for Kabul. Allied forces found Chinese munitions in Afghanistan following the Taliban’s defeat, and there have been scattered reports of such dealings over the past decade. (The Chinese embassy declined comment on the Washington Times report.)

The article also states that Beijing has rebuffed American attempts to stop the recent arms shipments by denying any knowledge and then asking for intelligence on the transfers. This is China’s standard tactic when confronted with claims of its duplicitous conduct. If Beijing can track down three Falun Gong practitioners in a remote upland village in Gansu province, how can it not know about a decade of arms sales to the Taliban by its state-owned factories?

Chinese weapons are killing American soldiers. The Bush administration, incredibly, is letting Beijing get away with it. This year, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has cited repeatedly Iran’s supplying arms to Iraqi insurgents and to the Taliban, but he has not said one public word about China’s involvement. If the Chinese believe they can commit hostile acts against the U.S. with impunity, it is largely because of Washington’s lack of response to their belligerent conduct.

Last Tuesday, President Bush dedicated a memorial in Washington to the victims of global Communism with a stirring speech. Yet it is wrong for him to deliver inspirational words about the casualties of that murderous ideology and not to say anything about China’s creating more of them—especially when the new ones are American men and women in uniform.

Read Less

Via Romana

Until April 2006, Italy was America’s staunchest ally in Europe after Tony Blair’s Great Britain. The Italian government supported the war in Iraq, despite its unpopularity in Italy, and sent troops there to participate in the post-war efforts to stabilize the country. Ex-PM Silvio Berlusconi was a regular guest at the White House, and even visited President George W. Bush at his ranch in Crawford, Texas—a privilege extended only to the nation’s closest allies. But in April of last year a Center-Left coalition unseated Mr. Berlusconi; now, scarcely a year later, the once-friendly relations between Italy and the U.S. have gravely deteriorated.

First, Prodi’s government made good on its promise to withdraw Italian troops from Iraq. Then came last summer’s war in Lebanon. Though Italy pledged troops for the new UNIFIL, Foreign Minister Massimo D’Alema’s excessive display of affection for Hizbullah MP Hussein Haji Hassan during a visit to Beirut did not help matters between Italy and the U.S. Italy was elected to one of the rotating seats on the UN Security Council with America’s blessing, but the U.S.-backed candidate from the Latin American bloc—Guatemala—failed to obtain Italy’s support in the face of Venezuela’s challenge. Despite Condoleezza Rice’s personal call to D’Alema to express American concern, Italy abstained. Thus, while a constant stream of Europe’s other Center-Left ministers has visited Washington, Prodi and D’Alema have been left to wait in Rome.

Read More

Until April 2006, Italy was America’s staunchest ally in Europe after Tony Blair’s Great Britain. The Italian government supported the war in Iraq, despite its unpopularity in Italy, and sent troops there to participate in the post-war efforts to stabilize the country. Ex-PM Silvio Berlusconi was a regular guest at the White House, and even visited President George W. Bush at his ranch in Crawford, Texas—a privilege extended only to the nation’s closest allies. But in April of last year a Center-Left coalition unseated Mr. Berlusconi; now, scarcely a year later, the once-friendly relations between Italy and the U.S. have gravely deteriorated.

First, Prodi’s government made good on its promise to withdraw Italian troops from Iraq. Then came last summer’s war in Lebanon. Though Italy pledged troops for the new UNIFIL, Foreign Minister Massimo D’Alema’s excessive display of affection for Hizbullah MP Hussein Haji Hassan during a visit to Beirut did not help matters between Italy and the U.S. Italy was elected to one of the rotating seats on the UN Security Council with America’s blessing, but the U.S.-backed candidate from the Latin American bloc—Guatemala—failed to obtain Italy’s support in the face of Venezuela’s challenge. Despite Condoleezza Rice’s personal call to D’Alema to express American concern, Italy abstained. Thus, while a constant stream of Europe’s other Center-Left ministers has visited Washington, Prodi and D’Alema have been left to wait in Rome.

The refinancing of Italy’s mission in Afghanistan proved to be another point of contention. Though Italy’s presence in Herat and Kabul is appreciated, Americans have been growing resentful of the unwillingness of the Italian government to commit troops to the fight against the Taliban in the south. Italy is not alone in its reluctance—Germany and Spain also have not committed military resources to the south. But a recent article by the ambassadors to Italy of six NATO countries whose troops are fighting—and dying—in southern Afghanistan irked the Italian foreign minister. The article called on Italy not to disengage. D’Alema called it “inopportune.”

In the last three weeks, Italy further tarnished its government’s credibility with the U.S. Under pressure from Rome, the Afghan government agreed to let five Taliban terrorists loose in exchange for an Italian hostage, Daniele Mastrogiacomo, a correspondent for La Repubblica. The Prodi government’s deal with the Taliban did nothing for Mastrogiacomo’s Afghan driver and interpreter, who were beheaded.

In a twist of fate, Kabul then arrested Rahmatullah Hanefi, the local point man of an Italian NGO called Emergency, headed by the renowned leftist radical Gino Strada, who had mediated the hostage release. The Afghan government accused Hanefi of double-dealing with the Taliban. Defending his associate, Strada retorted that Hanefi was beyond reproach: he had performed honorably last fall, when he delivered the Taliban a substantial sum of money for the release of another Italian hostage. Relying on Strada—who equates Bush with Osama bin Laden and considers the U.S. the chief perpetrator of international terrorism—proved to have been a terrible error. Italy now stands accused of bringing about the release of terrorists, of having sacrificed two Afghans to rescue one Italian, of having damaged Hamid Karzai’s government, and of having emboldened the Taliban.

Even outside the theater of the global war on terror, Italy’s government shows a new hostility to America. When a joint venture of AT&T and Mexico’s America Movil sought to buy a stake in Italian telecommunications giant Telecom, government ministers raised the banner of the “national interest” to prevent the company from falling into foreign hands. Prodi said he would be happy if Telecom were to remain under Italian ownership, though he promised no interference. D’Alema went a little farther, expressing his hope for an “Italian initiative” to keep Telecom from a foreign take-over and hinting that the parliament could override market considerations.

In less than a year, Prodi and D’Alema have caused, more or less, a complete breakdown in Italo-American relations. Is it any wonder that they are still waiting for an invitation to the White House?

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.