Commentary Magazine


Topic: Karzai government

Flotsam and Jetsam

CONTENTIONS’ Max Boot takes Obama to task on his deadline for troop withdrawal: “The timeline is a real problem. I see no evidence that it has provided an incentive for the Karzai government to get serious about reform; if anything, it has led Karzai to try to strike deals (with Iran, Pakistan, even the Taliban) as a hedge against American withdrawal. The timeline has reinforced the feeling that the Taliban can wait us out.” Unfortunately, Obama’s Oval office speech reiterated the deadline.

Byron York takes exception to making 9/11 into a community-service day: “Turning it into another AmeriCorps project drains away its meaning, which remains as important today as it was on September 11, 2001 itself.” Well, that’s the objective of the president and those pushing community service.

Democrats don’t take Obama seriously any more. His tax-credit stimulus plan is a bust with his own party. “Even as Mr. Obama sought to unite his party around his political message and his policy agenda, there was evidence that endangered Democrats would go their own ways.” The list of Democratic opponents is sure to grow.

Will the Dems take a position? “Democrats are increasingly likely to punt the huge tax vote until a lame-duck session after the November elections. President Barack Obama is sending mixed messages about his demands, calling for a rollback of the top income tax cuts while stopping short of threatening to veto a compromise bill that would temporarily extend all tax cuts.” And to make sure they don’t have to take a vote, they are fleeing D.C. a week early.

The Washington Post editors take a look at Obama’s Iran policy and find that “the ultimate goal of Mr. Obama’s policy is not limiting Iran’s prosperity but stopping its enrichment of uranium and forcing its compliance with the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. By this measure, the administration has yet to produce tangible results.”

You didn’t take Obama at his word when he said that he would keep down health-care premiums, did you? Good: “Health insurers say they plan to raise premiums for some Americans as a direct result of the health overhaul in coming weeks, complicating Democrats’ efforts to trumpet their signature achievement before the midterm elections. Aetna Inc., some BlueCross BlueShield plans and other smaller carriers have asked for premium increases of between 1% and 9% to pay for extra benefits required under the law, according to filings with state regulators.”

The Cook Report takes a look at ten more Democratic House seats. All are moving the GOP’s way.

It would be nice to have an administration which takes our enemies’ ideological motivations seriously. Leon Panetta pronounces, “The enemy is defined not by any religion, but by their actions — their atrocities. They represent no culture, but rather contempt for all cultures.” This is daft and dangerous, but not unexpected for an administration that excises “Islamic fundamentalism” from its vocabulary

Obama isn’t likely to take Doug Schoen’s advice to heart: “President Obama’s increasingly harsh campaign to revive the sagging fortunes of the Democratic Party is almost certainly going to fail. Instead of attempting to further divide an already polarized America with attacks against the Republicans for both creating the economic problems we now face and failing to propose constructive solutions to them, the president should do what Bill Clinton did in 1995 when he succeeded in winning support from Newt Gingrich and the Republican Congress for a balanced budget.”

CONTENTIONS’ Max Boot takes Obama to task on his deadline for troop withdrawal: “The timeline is a real problem. I see no evidence that it has provided an incentive for the Karzai government to get serious about reform; if anything, it has led Karzai to try to strike deals (with Iran, Pakistan, even the Taliban) as a hedge against American withdrawal. The timeline has reinforced the feeling that the Taliban can wait us out.” Unfortunately, Obama’s Oval office speech reiterated the deadline.

Byron York takes exception to making 9/11 into a community-service day: “Turning it into another AmeriCorps project drains away its meaning, which remains as important today as it was on September 11, 2001 itself.” Well, that’s the objective of the president and those pushing community service.

Democrats don’t take Obama seriously any more. His tax-credit stimulus plan is a bust with his own party. “Even as Mr. Obama sought to unite his party around his political message and his policy agenda, there was evidence that endangered Democrats would go their own ways.” The list of Democratic opponents is sure to grow.

Will the Dems take a position? “Democrats are increasingly likely to punt the huge tax vote until a lame-duck session after the November elections. President Barack Obama is sending mixed messages about his demands, calling for a rollback of the top income tax cuts while stopping short of threatening to veto a compromise bill that would temporarily extend all tax cuts.” And to make sure they don’t have to take a vote, they are fleeing D.C. a week early.

The Washington Post editors take a look at Obama’s Iran policy and find that “the ultimate goal of Mr. Obama’s policy is not limiting Iran’s prosperity but stopping its enrichment of uranium and forcing its compliance with the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. By this measure, the administration has yet to produce tangible results.”

You didn’t take Obama at his word when he said that he would keep down health-care premiums, did you? Good: “Health insurers say they plan to raise premiums for some Americans as a direct result of the health overhaul in coming weeks, complicating Democrats’ efforts to trumpet their signature achievement before the midterm elections. Aetna Inc., some BlueCross BlueShield plans and other smaller carriers have asked for premium increases of between 1% and 9% to pay for extra benefits required under the law, according to filings with state regulators.”

The Cook Report takes a look at ten more Democratic House seats. All are moving the GOP’s way.

It would be nice to have an administration which takes our enemies’ ideological motivations seriously. Leon Panetta pronounces, “The enemy is defined not by any religion, but by their actions — their atrocities. They represent no culture, but rather contempt for all cultures.” This is daft and dangerous, but not unexpected for an administration that excises “Islamic fundamentalism” from its vocabulary

Obama isn’t likely to take Doug Schoen’s advice to heart: “President Obama’s increasingly harsh campaign to revive the sagging fortunes of the Democratic Party is almost certainly going to fail. Instead of attempting to further divide an already polarized America with attacks against the Republicans for both creating the economic problems we now face and failing to propose constructive solutions to them, the president should do what Bill Clinton did in 1995 when he succeeded in winning support from Newt Gingrich and the Republican Congress for a balanced budget.”

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Time to End the Foreign Policy Contradictions

Richard Haass, after a brief, uncomfortable interlude over the Ground Zero mosque, returns to smart analysis that has been more characteristic of his recent writing. He hones in on many of the questions that a number of us raised yesterday:

[T]he president reiterated his commitment to ending the U.S. military presence in Iraq entirely by the end of 2011. But would this be wise? Doing so would increase the odds that Iraq would become far messier. Iraqis themselves realize this, and if and when a new government is formed, its leaders are likely to ask that tens of thousands of American troops stay on for an extended period. There is a strong case that the United States should be prepared to do so; Iraqis should be prepared not only to ask for this but to help pay for it.

And on Afghanistan, he, too, is bothered by the fact that the “calendar-vs.-conditions contradiction at the heart of U.S. Afghan policy remains: U.S. troops will begin to depart in less than a year, but the pace of withdrawals will be determined by the situation on the ground.” Many helpful onlookers have tried to square the circle. Robert Gates and Hillary Clinton cannot be faulted for at least trying to make sense of this. But Haass is right: the two parts of Obama’s formulation are mutually exclusive. You can’t promise to be both attuned to facts on the ground and begin bugging out. We can hardly blame the Karzai government for being uneasy.

On the budgeting front, we’ve criticized Obama’s false assertion that the defense budget is responsible for the pool of red ink, but Haass makes a separate point: Obama’s own budget is at odds with his national security policy: “[S]pending $100 billion or more a year in Afghanistan will make the process of cutting defense spending and reducing the deficit far more difficult. How, then, should the United States manage its need to restore its fiscal base and remain the world’s leading power?” This is the central fallacy underlying Obama’s directive to Robert Gates: go slash the Pentagon budget and win the war. Gates is struggling to cut other places within the defense budget — so then why aren’t we taking money from misbegotten domestic spending? By the way, one could conclude that Obama’s emphasis on VA spending is an effort to preempt the argument that we are “taking money from the troops.” He is (and from the weapons they will use), but he is loath to admit it.

In speeches and political campaigns, fundamental contradictions can be glossed over. But the essence of governing is to resolve those contradictions. And the measure of leadership is to articulate what is at stake in the given choices, act decisively, and then explain it to Americans as well as to allies and foes without equivocation. So long as the administration pretends these choices don’t exist, our policy lacks coherence and credibility.

Richard Haass, after a brief, uncomfortable interlude over the Ground Zero mosque, returns to smart analysis that has been more characteristic of his recent writing. He hones in on many of the questions that a number of us raised yesterday:

[T]he president reiterated his commitment to ending the U.S. military presence in Iraq entirely by the end of 2011. But would this be wise? Doing so would increase the odds that Iraq would become far messier. Iraqis themselves realize this, and if and when a new government is formed, its leaders are likely to ask that tens of thousands of American troops stay on for an extended period. There is a strong case that the United States should be prepared to do so; Iraqis should be prepared not only to ask for this but to help pay for it.

And on Afghanistan, he, too, is bothered by the fact that the “calendar-vs.-conditions contradiction at the heart of U.S. Afghan policy remains: U.S. troops will begin to depart in less than a year, but the pace of withdrawals will be determined by the situation on the ground.” Many helpful onlookers have tried to square the circle. Robert Gates and Hillary Clinton cannot be faulted for at least trying to make sense of this. But Haass is right: the two parts of Obama’s formulation are mutually exclusive. You can’t promise to be both attuned to facts on the ground and begin bugging out. We can hardly blame the Karzai government for being uneasy.

On the budgeting front, we’ve criticized Obama’s false assertion that the defense budget is responsible for the pool of red ink, but Haass makes a separate point: Obama’s own budget is at odds with his national security policy: “[S]pending $100 billion or more a year in Afghanistan will make the process of cutting defense spending and reducing the deficit far more difficult. How, then, should the United States manage its need to restore its fiscal base and remain the world’s leading power?” This is the central fallacy underlying Obama’s directive to Robert Gates: go slash the Pentagon budget and win the war. Gates is struggling to cut other places within the defense budget — so then why aren’t we taking money from misbegotten domestic spending? By the way, one could conclude that Obama’s emphasis on VA spending is an effort to preempt the argument that we are “taking money from the troops.” He is (and from the weapons they will use), but he is loath to admit it.

In speeches and political campaigns, fundamental contradictions can be glossed over. But the essence of governing is to resolve those contradictions. And the measure of leadership is to articulate what is at stake in the given choices, act decisively, and then explain it to Americans as well as to allies and foes without equivocation. So long as the administration pretends these choices don’t exist, our policy lacks coherence and credibility.

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Petraeus on Afghanistan

This past weekend, General David Petraeus, the commander of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, granted interviews to the Washington Post, New York Times, and Meet the Press [here and here].

Acknowledging that the mission is at a stage in which “what you have to do is to start turning inputs into outputs,” Petraeus said that the new U.S. war strategy is “fundamentally sound.” He sees incipient signs of progress in parts of the south, in new initiatives to create community defense forces, and in nascent steps to reintegrate low-level insurgents who want to stop fighting. According to the Post:

Petraeus contends that the counterinsurgency strategy is showing momentum in Helmand province, where about 20,000 U.S. Marines and 10,000 British troops have sought to create inkblots of security in six key districts. Some areas, such as Marja, a former Taliban stronghold, have proved to be tougher to pacify … but other places, such as the districts of Nawa and Garmsir, are becoming more stable and may feature prominently in his year-end presentation to the White House.

He also said he is encouraged by developments in Arghandab district on Kandahar’s northern fringe, where two U.S. Army battalions have been engaged in an arduous mission to clear insurgents from pomegranate orchards and vineyards seeded with makeshift but lethal anti-personnel mines.

Petraeus points out that what we face is not a monolithic Taliban enemy; he describes it more like a crime syndicate. In the southern part of the country we face the Afghan Taliban; in the eastern part, the Haqqani network linked to the Taliban but not subservient to it. There are small elements of al-Qaeda, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and some Pakistani Taliban as well.

Petraeus, who appears intent on taking a harder line against corruption in the Karzai government than we’ve seen in the past, says his most significant accomplishment since arriving in Kabul has been to get President Karzai to endorse the creation of armed neighborhood-watch groups. He also argues against any precipitous withdrawal of forces in July 2011. When asked by NBC’s David Gregory how stifling the deadline is, Petraeus said this:

I don’t find it that stifling. I’m not bowed over by, you know, the knowledge that July 2011 is out there. In fact, the president has been very clear, Vice President Biden’s been very clear as well, more recently, that this is a date when a process begins that is conditions based. And as the conditions permit, we transition tasks to our Afghan counterparts and to security forces and, and in various governmental institutions, and that enables a responsible drawdown of our forces. … I think the president’s been quite clear in explaining that it’s a process, not an event, and that it’s conditions based. … I think that we will have an enduring commitment here in some fashion, the character of which may change over time as our Afghan partners can do more and we’re able to do less in certain areas, certainly.

Articulating traditional counterinsurgency doctrine, Petraeus went on to say, “At the end of the day, it’s not about [the Afghan people’s] embrace of us, it’s not about us winning hearts and minds. It’s about the Afghan government winning hearts and minds.” And when asked if the outcome is like Iraq, whether that constitutes achieving the mission, Petraeus said this:

Well, the outcome in Iraq is still to be written, but if you could reduce the level of violence by some 90 to 95 percent, as was the case in Iraq, to below a threshold which allows commerce and business and outside investment to take place, where there is an election that’s certainly at least elected representatives, and now you have to see if they can come together and form a government that is still representative of and responsive to the people, as was the previous one. If that can all be achieved there, that would be a reasonable solution here as well.

“It’s a gradual effort,” Petraeus told the Post. “It’s a deliberate effort. There’s no hill to take and flag to plant and proclamations of victory. Rather, it’s just hard work.”

It is indeed. But America is fortunate to have one of the greatest military commanders in its history now in the lead. If we give him the tools and the time, he and the American military can finish the job.

This past weekend, General David Petraeus, the commander of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, granted interviews to the Washington Post, New York Times, and Meet the Press [here and here].

Acknowledging that the mission is at a stage in which “what you have to do is to start turning inputs into outputs,” Petraeus said that the new U.S. war strategy is “fundamentally sound.” He sees incipient signs of progress in parts of the south, in new initiatives to create community defense forces, and in nascent steps to reintegrate low-level insurgents who want to stop fighting. According to the Post:

Petraeus contends that the counterinsurgency strategy is showing momentum in Helmand province, where about 20,000 U.S. Marines and 10,000 British troops have sought to create inkblots of security in six key districts. Some areas, such as Marja, a former Taliban stronghold, have proved to be tougher to pacify … but other places, such as the districts of Nawa and Garmsir, are becoming more stable and may feature prominently in his year-end presentation to the White House.

He also said he is encouraged by developments in Arghandab district on Kandahar’s northern fringe, where two U.S. Army battalions have been engaged in an arduous mission to clear insurgents from pomegranate orchards and vineyards seeded with makeshift but lethal anti-personnel mines.

Petraeus points out that what we face is not a monolithic Taliban enemy; he describes it more like a crime syndicate. In the southern part of the country we face the Afghan Taliban; in the eastern part, the Haqqani network linked to the Taliban but not subservient to it. There are small elements of al-Qaeda, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and some Pakistani Taliban as well.

Petraeus, who appears intent on taking a harder line against corruption in the Karzai government than we’ve seen in the past, says his most significant accomplishment since arriving in Kabul has been to get President Karzai to endorse the creation of armed neighborhood-watch groups. He also argues against any precipitous withdrawal of forces in July 2011. When asked by NBC’s David Gregory how stifling the deadline is, Petraeus said this:

I don’t find it that stifling. I’m not bowed over by, you know, the knowledge that July 2011 is out there. In fact, the president has been very clear, Vice President Biden’s been very clear as well, more recently, that this is a date when a process begins that is conditions based. And as the conditions permit, we transition tasks to our Afghan counterparts and to security forces and, and in various governmental institutions, and that enables a responsible drawdown of our forces. … I think the president’s been quite clear in explaining that it’s a process, not an event, and that it’s conditions based. … I think that we will have an enduring commitment here in some fashion, the character of which may change over time as our Afghan partners can do more and we’re able to do less in certain areas, certainly.

Articulating traditional counterinsurgency doctrine, Petraeus went on to say, “At the end of the day, it’s not about [the Afghan people’s] embrace of us, it’s not about us winning hearts and minds. It’s about the Afghan government winning hearts and minds.” And when asked if the outcome is like Iraq, whether that constitutes achieving the mission, Petraeus said this:

Well, the outcome in Iraq is still to be written, but if you could reduce the level of violence by some 90 to 95 percent, as was the case in Iraq, to below a threshold which allows commerce and business and outside investment to take place, where there is an election that’s certainly at least elected representatives, and now you have to see if they can come together and form a government that is still representative of and responsive to the people, as was the previous one. If that can all be achieved there, that would be a reasonable solution here as well.

“It’s a gradual effort,” Petraeus told the Post. “It’s a deliberate effort. There’s no hill to take and flag to plant and proclamations of victory. Rather, it’s just hard work.”

It is indeed. But America is fortunate to have one of the greatest military commanders in its history now in the lead. If we give him the tools and the time, he and the American military can finish the job.

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Pakistan Eyes Afghanistan as Obama’s Deadline Looms

All you need to know about the corrosive impact of President Obama’s deadline for withdrawal from Afghanistan can be found buried deep in this page-one New York Times story:

[T]he Pakistanis say they have chosen this juncture to open talks with Mr. Karzai because, even before the controversy over General McChrystal, they sensed uncertainty — “a lack of fire in the belly,” said one Pakistani — within the Obama administration over the Afghan fight.

“The American timetable for getting out makes it easier for Pakistan to play a more visible role,” said Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, the spokesman for the Pakistani Army. He was referring to the July 2011 date set by Mr. Obama for the start of the withdrawal of some American combat troops.

The Pakistani role here is not positive; they are trying to get the Karzai government to strike a deal with the Haqqani network, one of the most murderous factions of the Taliban. Such a deal may make sense in the long run but only after the Haqqanis feel defeated; at the moment, they are feeling anything but. And Obama’s deadline, as much as anything else, is giving them confidence that they can prevail.

All you need to know about the corrosive impact of President Obama’s deadline for withdrawal from Afghanistan can be found buried deep in this page-one New York Times story:

[T]he Pakistanis say they have chosen this juncture to open talks with Mr. Karzai because, even before the controversy over General McChrystal, they sensed uncertainty — “a lack of fire in the belly,” said one Pakistani — within the Obama administration over the Afghan fight.

“The American timetable for getting out makes it easier for Pakistan to play a more visible role,” said Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, the spokesman for the Pakistani Army. He was referring to the July 2011 date set by Mr. Obama for the start of the withdrawal of some American combat troops.

The Pakistani role here is not positive; they are trying to get the Karzai government to strike a deal with the Haqqani network, one of the most murderous factions of the Taliban. Such a deal may make sense in the long run but only after the Haqqanis feel defeated; at the moment, they are feeling anything but. And Obama’s deadline, as much as anything else, is giving them confidence that they can prevail.

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Is the Afghan Gold Rush Good News for Obama or Afghanistan?

Over the past few years, some left-wing critics of the Bush administration may have wondered whether Washington would have prioritized the war in Afghanistan over the one in Iraq if, instead of being a mountainous wasteland, Afghanistan had been sitting on vast oil deposits. While the idea that the war in Iraq was fought for oil was a cherished leftist myth, there seemed little reason to fight in Afghanistan from a Marxist economic perspective.

But with the news today that the United States has newly discovered nearly $1 trillion in mineral deposits in Afghanistan, paranoid left-wing fantasy-spinners won’t be the only ones rushing to reevaluate the conflict there. According to U.S. officials quoted in the New York Times:

The previously unknown deposits — including huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium — are so big and include so many minerals that are essential to modern industry that Afghanistan could eventually be transformed into one of the most important mining centers in the world, the United States officials believe. An internal Pentagon memo, for example, states that Afghanistan could become the “Saudi Arabia of lithium,” a key raw material in the manufacture of batteries for laptops and BlackBerrys.

While these discoveries may represent a great hope for the future of Afghanistan – and a way for its people to shake off the notion that the only viable careers involve bloodshed or opium-growing — the chances that it could also create even more mischief, mayhem, and misery for that country are all too apparent.

The national government of President Hamid Karzai and local warlords will bitterly fight for control of the new mining opportunities. And don’t think the Taliban won’t be prepared to contest the areas where riches are under the ground.

And the potential for trouble from foreigners storming into the region to exploit these resources is also considerable. Except in this case, it won’t so much be a Yukon-style gold rush with wily prospectors straight out of a Jack London novel but, as the Times noted, a neighboring Chinese government looking to expand its sphere of influence.

Though the discoveries made by a team of Pentagon officials and American geologists – working from new maps charted by the United States Geological Survey – have produced results rightly considered both “amazing” and “promising,” the article goes on to state the difficulties of developing resources in a country with no heavy industry or mining infrastructure. A bloody war won’t make it any easier. But the really troubling aspect of this announcement is why the administration chose to leak the story — especially when even the preparations for mining for these minerals are clearly in the distant future, and when the Afghanistan government is far from ready to make such preparations.

The answer may come within the story itself: “The Obama administration is hungry for some positive news to come out of Afghanistan,” even though the announcement may complicate both the war and Washington’s delicate relations with the Karzai government. While the story was bound to come out sooner or later, it could be that this administration, which is such a ferocious foe of leaks to the media from government sources, let this particularly strategic piece of information slip to bolster its sagging poll numbers and to gain new support for the war.

Over the past few years, some left-wing critics of the Bush administration may have wondered whether Washington would have prioritized the war in Afghanistan over the one in Iraq if, instead of being a mountainous wasteland, Afghanistan had been sitting on vast oil deposits. While the idea that the war in Iraq was fought for oil was a cherished leftist myth, there seemed little reason to fight in Afghanistan from a Marxist economic perspective.

But with the news today that the United States has newly discovered nearly $1 trillion in mineral deposits in Afghanistan, paranoid left-wing fantasy-spinners won’t be the only ones rushing to reevaluate the conflict there. According to U.S. officials quoted in the New York Times:

The previously unknown deposits — including huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium — are so big and include so many minerals that are essential to modern industry that Afghanistan could eventually be transformed into one of the most important mining centers in the world, the United States officials believe. An internal Pentagon memo, for example, states that Afghanistan could become the “Saudi Arabia of lithium,” a key raw material in the manufacture of batteries for laptops and BlackBerrys.

While these discoveries may represent a great hope for the future of Afghanistan – and a way for its people to shake off the notion that the only viable careers involve bloodshed or opium-growing — the chances that it could also create even more mischief, mayhem, and misery for that country are all too apparent.

The national government of President Hamid Karzai and local warlords will bitterly fight for control of the new mining opportunities. And don’t think the Taliban won’t be prepared to contest the areas where riches are under the ground.

And the potential for trouble from foreigners storming into the region to exploit these resources is also considerable. Except in this case, it won’t so much be a Yukon-style gold rush with wily prospectors straight out of a Jack London novel but, as the Times noted, a neighboring Chinese government looking to expand its sphere of influence.

Though the discoveries made by a team of Pentagon officials and American geologists – working from new maps charted by the United States Geological Survey – have produced results rightly considered both “amazing” and “promising,” the article goes on to state the difficulties of developing resources in a country with no heavy industry or mining infrastructure. A bloody war won’t make it any easier. But the really troubling aspect of this announcement is why the administration chose to leak the story — especially when even the preparations for mining for these minerals are clearly in the distant future, and when the Afghanistan government is far from ready to make such preparations.

The answer may come within the story itself: “The Obama administration is hungry for some positive news to come out of Afghanistan,” even though the announcement may complicate both the war and Washington’s delicate relations with the Karzai government. While the story was bound to come out sooner or later, it could be that this administration, which is such a ferocious foe of leaks to the media from government sources, let this particularly strategic piece of information slip to bolster its sagging poll numbers and to gain new support for the war.

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Yemen — the New “Good War”?

Yemen’s importance as a terrorist base appears to be growing. It is the place where Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (the Nigerian airline bomber) was radicalized and where Major Nidal Malik Hasan’s spiritual guide, Anwar al-‘Awlaki, lives. This chilling warning reads entirely plausible: “Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, charged with the attempted Christmas Day bombing of Northwest Airlines flight 253, told FBI agents there were more just like him in Yemen who would strike soon.”

No doubt this will cause the usual chorus to chant that Afghanistan is the “wrong war” (remember when Iraq was the “wrong war” and Afghanistan was the “right one”?) and that we should really be focused on Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia–all those countries where we don’t currently have ground troops. This critique has a certain plausibility but it is not clear what its implications are. Those who make these arguments are not advocating that we invade Yemen, Pakistan, or Somalia. So what, precisely, do they want us to do? Pretty much what we’re already doing: providing aid to the governments in question in fighting the jihadists while also conducting a few covert strikes of our own.

The question is whether drawing down in Afghanistan would make it easier or harder to prosecute the war on terrorism on other fronts. On the plus side, there is no denying that certain ISR assets (intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance) are tied up in Afghanistan (and Iraq) that could be useful elsewhere–although there are sharp limitations to how much intelligence gathering we can do over the sovereign territory of other states. But this marginal advantage is more than counterbalanced by the larger consequences of defeat in Afghanistan, which would have devastating implications not only for the poor people of Afghanistan but also for the wide struggle against violent extremism.

Having (in their own minds at least) already defeated one superpower in Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden and his confederates would be immeasurably boosted if they were able to claim that they had then defeated the sole remaining superpower too. Such a victory for the jihadists would undoubtedly help recruiting all over the world and make states like Pakistan and Yemen even less likely to cooperate with the United States because they would be in mortal fear of al Qaeda and other radical jihadists. A defeat for the Taliban in Afghanistan would by no means make the wider terrorist threat disappear but it would certainly decrease its magnitude. Assuming that the Karzai government can stabilize its control over Afghanistan, this will deny the terrorists a huge staging ground for attacks elsewhere. In the process of defeating the terrorists, we will also wind up killing or incarcerating a lot of them. It’s true that terrorists are replaceable, but still it will be a setback for them to lose so many hardened operatives–and not only in Afghanistan. One of the key advantages gained by our presence in Afghanistan is that it makes it easier to target terrorist lairs in Pakistan. If we scuttle out of Afghanistan, it is doubtful that the government of Pakistan will extend the same kind of anti-terrorist cooperation we receive today.

We cannot ignore the terrorist threat emanating from Yemen or other states but nor should we use this undoubted danger as an excuse to lose the war of the moment–the one NATO troops are fighting in Afghanistan. Winning the “war on terror” will require prevailing on multiple battlefields–Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, the Philippines, and a host of other countries, including, for that matter, Western Europe and the United States. The methods and techniques we will use in each place have to be tailored to the individual circumstances. Few countries will require the kind of massive troop presence needed in Afghanistan or Iraq. In most places we will fight on a lesser scale, using Special Forces and security assistance programs. But because a lower-profile presence may work elsewhere doesn’t mean that it will work in Afghanistan–or would have worked in Iraq. We know this because the Bush administration already tried the small-footprint strategy in Afghanistan. It is this strategy that allowed the Taliban to recover so much ground lost after 9/11–territory that can only be retaken by an influx of additional Western troops. There is no reason why we can’t fight and prevail in Afghanistan even as we are fighting in different ways in different countries.

Yemen’s importance as a terrorist base appears to be growing. It is the place where Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (the Nigerian airline bomber) was radicalized and where Major Nidal Malik Hasan’s spiritual guide, Anwar al-‘Awlaki, lives. This chilling warning reads entirely plausible: “Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, charged with the attempted Christmas Day bombing of Northwest Airlines flight 253, told FBI agents there were more just like him in Yemen who would strike soon.”

No doubt this will cause the usual chorus to chant that Afghanistan is the “wrong war” (remember when Iraq was the “wrong war” and Afghanistan was the “right one”?) and that we should really be focused on Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia–all those countries where we don’t currently have ground troops. This critique has a certain plausibility but it is not clear what its implications are. Those who make these arguments are not advocating that we invade Yemen, Pakistan, or Somalia. So what, precisely, do they want us to do? Pretty much what we’re already doing: providing aid to the governments in question in fighting the jihadists while also conducting a few covert strikes of our own.

The question is whether drawing down in Afghanistan would make it easier or harder to prosecute the war on terrorism on other fronts. On the plus side, there is no denying that certain ISR assets (intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance) are tied up in Afghanistan (and Iraq) that could be useful elsewhere–although there are sharp limitations to how much intelligence gathering we can do over the sovereign territory of other states. But this marginal advantage is more than counterbalanced by the larger consequences of defeat in Afghanistan, which would have devastating implications not only for the poor people of Afghanistan but also for the wide struggle against violent extremism.

Having (in their own minds at least) already defeated one superpower in Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden and his confederates would be immeasurably boosted if they were able to claim that they had then defeated the sole remaining superpower too. Such a victory for the jihadists would undoubtedly help recruiting all over the world and make states like Pakistan and Yemen even less likely to cooperate with the United States because they would be in mortal fear of al Qaeda and other radical jihadists. A defeat for the Taliban in Afghanistan would by no means make the wider terrorist threat disappear but it would certainly decrease its magnitude. Assuming that the Karzai government can stabilize its control over Afghanistan, this will deny the terrorists a huge staging ground for attacks elsewhere. In the process of defeating the terrorists, we will also wind up killing or incarcerating a lot of them. It’s true that terrorists are replaceable, but still it will be a setback for them to lose so many hardened operatives–and not only in Afghanistan. One of the key advantages gained by our presence in Afghanistan is that it makes it easier to target terrorist lairs in Pakistan. If we scuttle out of Afghanistan, it is doubtful that the government of Pakistan will extend the same kind of anti-terrorist cooperation we receive today.

We cannot ignore the terrorist threat emanating from Yemen or other states but nor should we use this undoubted danger as an excuse to lose the war of the moment–the one NATO troops are fighting in Afghanistan. Winning the “war on terror” will require prevailing on multiple battlefields–Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, the Philippines, and a host of other countries, including, for that matter, Western Europe and the United States. The methods and techniques we will use in each place have to be tailored to the individual circumstances. Few countries will require the kind of massive troop presence needed in Afghanistan or Iraq. In most places we will fight on a lesser scale, using Special Forces and security assistance programs. But because a lower-profile presence may work elsewhere doesn’t mean that it will work in Afghanistan–or would have worked in Iraq. We know this because the Bush administration already tried the small-footprint strategy in Afghanistan. It is this strategy that allowed the Taliban to recover so much ground lost after 9/11–territory that can only be retaken by an influx of additional Western troops. There is no reason why we can’t fight and prevail in Afghanistan even as we are fighting in different ways in different countries.

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Obama Finally Resolute on Afghanistan?

As President Obama prepares to deliver his West Point address tonight, most indications are positive — surprisingly so, given the public hand-wringing from the White House that has characterized this debate over the past three months. Barring a last-minute change of heart, the president will announce the dispatch of at least 30,000 troops to Afghanistan along with the expectation that our allies will provide at least 5,000 more. According to this New York Times article, Obama “has decided to expedite the deployment … over the next six months, in an effort to reverse the momentum of Taliban gains and create urgency for the government in Kabul to match the American surge with one using its own forces.” It may not be logistically possible to dispatch 30,000 extra troops by the summer of 2010, but it’s a good sign that Obama is setting this as a goal. It means he is taking to heart the warnings from General McChrystal that “success will require a discrete ‘jump’ to gain the initiative, demonstrate progress in the short term, and secure long-term support.”

The key question now is, how much resolve will Obama signal in the address itself? If he spends too much time talking about “off-ramps” (i.e., situations under which reinforcements might be canceled), “benchmarks” that the Karzai government must meet “or else,” or “exit strategies,” he will undo some of the positive impact of his courageous decision to substantially increase the number of American troops on the ground.

Thus, it is worrisome to read in another Times leak that Obama will announce “that he will begin to transition American forces out of Afghanistan beginning in July 2011″ — a curious message to send while announcing a major increase in our war effort. That gives the troops who will be arriving only a year to get the job done, which may or may not be enough time. A far better time line would be “performance-based,” as it was in the case of the Iraq surge: Obama should announce that the troops will stay as long as necessary to get the job done. Even if he has already settled on a time line for withdrawal, he should keep it quiet, lest he encourage the Taliban to simply wait us out.

Nevertheless, despite that disturbing detail, it sounds as if it will be a policy that all those who see the need to prevail in this important war effort can and should support. I will, of course, stay tuned for the speech itself and report back with an initial reaction once I’ve had a chance to hear the president’s words. But I imagine that the nuances won’t become apparent until a few days after the administration has performed its background briefings and Secretary of Defense Gates, the Joint Chiefs Chairman, Admiral Mullen, and other key leaders have testified on Capitol Hill.

As President Obama prepares to deliver his West Point address tonight, most indications are positive — surprisingly so, given the public hand-wringing from the White House that has characterized this debate over the past three months. Barring a last-minute change of heart, the president will announce the dispatch of at least 30,000 troops to Afghanistan along with the expectation that our allies will provide at least 5,000 more. According to this New York Times article, Obama “has decided to expedite the deployment … over the next six months, in an effort to reverse the momentum of Taliban gains and create urgency for the government in Kabul to match the American surge with one using its own forces.” It may not be logistically possible to dispatch 30,000 extra troops by the summer of 2010, but it’s a good sign that Obama is setting this as a goal. It means he is taking to heart the warnings from General McChrystal that “success will require a discrete ‘jump’ to gain the initiative, demonstrate progress in the short term, and secure long-term support.”

The key question now is, how much resolve will Obama signal in the address itself? If he spends too much time talking about “off-ramps” (i.e., situations under which reinforcements might be canceled), “benchmarks” that the Karzai government must meet “or else,” or “exit strategies,” he will undo some of the positive impact of his courageous decision to substantially increase the number of American troops on the ground.

Thus, it is worrisome to read in another Times leak that Obama will announce “that he will begin to transition American forces out of Afghanistan beginning in July 2011″ — a curious message to send while announcing a major increase in our war effort. That gives the troops who will be arriving only a year to get the job done, which may or may not be enough time. A far better time line would be “performance-based,” as it was in the case of the Iraq surge: Obama should announce that the troops will stay as long as necessary to get the job done. Even if he has already settled on a time line for withdrawal, he should keep it quiet, lest he encourage the Taliban to simply wait us out.

Nevertheless, despite that disturbing detail, it sounds as if it will be a policy that all those who see the need to prevail in this important war effort can and should support. I will, of course, stay tuned for the speech itself and report back with an initial reaction once I’ve had a chance to hear the president’s words. But I imagine that the nuances won’t become apparent until a few days after the administration has performed its background briefings and Secretary of Defense Gates, the Joint Chiefs Chairman, Admiral Mullen, and other key leaders have testified on Capitol Hill.

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More in Afghanistan

Democrats have a point when they say that the Iraq War has caused us to lose focus on Afghanistan. But that isn’t an argument for scuttling out of Iraq. Among other things, a defeat in Iraq would make our task in Afghanistan much tougher. It is an argument for doing more in Afghanistan.

Even as the situation in Iraq has been improving, things seem to be getting worse in Afghanistan. The Karzai government looks weak and ineffectual (hence the rumors that America’s Afghan-born ambassador to the UN, Zalmay Khalilzad, is exploring a run to succeed Karzai), while the Taliban and Al Qaeda are looking stronger thanks to their sanctuaries in the tribal areas of Pakistan.

NATO is having a hard time meeting its responsibilities in the south because so few of its members are willing to fight. The Canadians, British, Australians, and Dutch are welcome exceptions, but attempts to get the Germans and other nations to step have gotten nowhere. Even the Canadians and others who are willing to fight are having trouble doing so because of equipment shortages. This Financial Times article gives a good overview of the parlous state of the south.

Since attempts to get NATO do more are likely to prove unavailing, that leaves only one serious option: sending more American troops. The administration has already decided to send 3,200 more Marines, but a working group at the American Enterprise Institute is calling for a much larger commitment. According to this article, the AEI group, headed by historian Fred Kagan, is recommending a surge of three extra brigades (probably around 15,000 troops) in 2008-2009. That will put further stress on the overstretched armed forces, but it should be doable, especially with five surge brigades leaving Iraq.

That surge, recall, was originally outlined by this same AEI group and drew much ridicule in the rest of Washington. But the Iraq surge has worked and so should the Afghanistan surge—especially if it is accompanied by some of the other steps recommended by the AEI group, including working to bolster the counterinsurgency effort in Pakistan.

Democrats have a point when they say that the Iraq War has caused us to lose focus on Afghanistan. But that isn’t an argument for scuttling out of Iraq. Among other things, a defeat in Iraq would make our task in Afghanistan much tougher. It is an argument for doing more in Afghanistan.

Even as the situation in Iraq has been improving, things seem to be getting worse in Afghanistan. The Karzai government looks weak and ineffectual (hence the rumors that America’s Afghan-born ambassador to the UN, Zalmay Khalilzad, is exploring a run to succeed Karzai), while the Taliban and Al Qaeda are looking stronger thanks to their sanctuaries in the tribal areas of Pakistan.

NATO is having a hard time meeting its responsibilities in the south because so few of its members are willing to fight. The Canadians, British, Australians, and Dutch are welcome exceptions, but attempts to get the Germans and other nations to step have gotten nowhere. Even the Canadians and others who are willing to fight are having trouble doing so because of equipment shortages. This Financial Times article gives a good overview of the parlous state of the south.

Since attempts to get NATO do more are likely to prove unavailing, that leaves only one serious option: sending more American troops. The administration has already decided to send 3,200 more Marines, but a working group at the American Enterprise Institute is calling for a much larger commitment. According to this article, the AEI group, headed by historian Fred Kagan, is recommending a surge of three extra brigades (probably around 15,000 troops) in 2008-2009. That will put further stress on the overstretched armed forces, but it should be doable, especially with five surge brigades leaving Iraq.

That surge, recall, was originally outlined by this same AEI group and drew much ridicule in the rest of Washington. But the Iraq surge has worked and so should the Afghanistan surge—especially if it is accompanied by some of the other steps recommended by the AEI group, including working to bolster the counterinsurgency effort in Pakistan.

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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.

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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.

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