Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Neocons Love Obama?

In order to balance out last week's Congressional Progressive Caucus event, today I infiltrated the first event run by a new "non-partisan" neoconservative think tank, the Foreign Policy Initiative, run by William Kristol, Robert Kagan, and others, entitled "Afghanistan: Planning for Success." Although they invited a few token non-neocons, such as John Nagl, Ashley Tellis (a Bush flunkie but not someone I would describe as a neocon) and Congresswoman Jane Harmon, it was mostly an opportunity to launch their new organization, feel important, and fawn over John McCain, who was the featured speaker.
Although the neocon scholars, Republican Congressman John McHugh, and Senator McCain were not present for the other presentations they seemed to be speaking from the same talking points (and might very well have done so). Each said that:
1) President Obama did the correct and courageous thing by continuing an intensive engagement with Afghanistan and Pakistan; but that:
2) Obama should have announced the full commitment of troops that General McKiernan has requested, not just the initial 17,000 (what Nagl called a "down payment"), no matter when they are actually sent, so that it cannot be said that more troops are needed because we are losing, and so Obama cannot be accused of what McCain called "LBJ-style incrementalism;"
3) The Afghan army needs to be increased far beyond the announced goal of 135,000 by 2011 to somewhere in the 200-250,000 troop level (with, of course, no suggestion as to how Afghanistan will pay for a standing army of that size);
4) Obama's political capital regarding war may fade, so he should be bolder now. Robert Kagan noted that an isolationist critique usually comes from the part out of power, although McCain patted his own party on the back saying that Republicans wouldn't lose their resolve and start attacking the AfPak strategy next year for political purposes (Kagan noted they would have "plenty" of other issues to run on), but said that because Speaker Pelosi comes from a very liberal district congressional Democrats might prove less reliable, or patient.
The members of congress also suggested greater engagement with congress, especially on the proposed benchmarks the president discussed on Friday.
Normally of course having neocons endorse your policy should give you pause (Walt asks "would you buy a used foreign policy from these guys?"), but in this case perhaps even the neocons can recognize a decent strategy. Jacob Heilbrunn speculates that the neocons are simply cozying up to Obama in an attempt to remain relevant. We shall see if they manage to refrain from criticism if things get difficult.

Inter-blog Relations

I'm all about good relations here at Smart Influence, so it is with great pleasure that I announce that some of my posts will also be cross-listed on The Reaction, a great liberal blog on current affairs run by Michael J. W. Stickling. It has a broader focus than Smart Influence, so check it out, the-reaction.blogspot.com
Thanks Michael!

Power Rules, by Les Gelb

I just returned from a Council on Foreign Relations book release event for Leslie Gelb's new book Power Rules: How Common Sense Can Rescue American Foreign Policy. I haven't read the book yet but from the talk the basic idea is a return to Machiavelli's principles of it being safer to be feared than loved, and that studying war is the only thing necessary. He discussed his belief that "soft power" isn't, that no country has changed its course because they liked America's beliefs or pop culture, and that power is the only thing that works in international relations. As a qualifier he stated that force is applied when power has failed, softening his statement somewhat.
He was asked directly about Pakistan and Afghanistan and, not surprisingly considering his recent op-ed in the New York Times, stated that he thought our efforts were a waste of time and that we should let Pakistan and Afghanistan settle their own affairs.
Gelb also compared Republicans' lack of discussion or criticism of President Bush's decisions to invade Afghanistan and Iraq to congressional Democrats' current lack of discussion of President Obama's foreign policy goals for Iraq and Afghanistan. Jim Arkedis over at All Our Might makes a similar point in a post today.
I most closely align myself with the realist school of international relations, but I strongly disagree with the idea that only "hard" military power works. Call it "soft power," "smart power," or, as Colin Powell and I prefer, "smart influence," long term engagement and interaction, the attractiveness of a culture, leaders, and values help avoid crises in the first place, make the first two D's of international relations, diplomacy and development, more likely to work and thus help avoid having to use the third, defense.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Helping Yglesias and Berry Understand Pakistan

Matthew Yglesias at Think Progress and Patrick Berry at Democracy Arsenal have discussed ways to gain military cooperation, get the ISI under control, and maintain governance in Pakistan. I think they underestimate the potential for chaos and the value of stability. Yglesias states that:
The outsize role the military plays in Pakistani society is closely linked to Pakistan’s long-running conflict with India. A Pakistan that didn’t see the struggle with India as of paramount importance wouldn’t just turn its a large and powerful military establishment in a direction that’s more favorable to our policy objectives, it actually wouldn’t need such a large and powerful policy military establishment.
Certainly these military officers have spent their entire careers training and preparing to fight India. The ISI officers were raised not only on traditional intelligence tasks but also making contacts and funneling resources to the mujhadeen for the United States and likewise preparing Kashmiri groups to serve as proxy fighters against India. But it was also under a military leader, General Musharraf, that a peace deal on Kashmir was almost reached in secret.
Zardari is ineffective, with little control over the military, and probably on his way out. Sharif is a populist with close ties to many of the religious and militant groups. The recent events were, in the words of one of my Pakistani colleagues, a "triumph of civil society over authoritarianism" but also that "people power has defeated state power," with potentially revolutionary results. Do you really want to see the disastrous experiment from the Swat valley repeated in the whole country?
Ordinarily I, like most progressives, would applaud the triumph of people over authoritarian government, but not with nuclear weapons involved. Luckily the military is far and away the most stable institution in Pakistan, and Pakistanis value that and view it as an important element in society.
Sheer force of argument will not convince the Pakistani military to ignore India entirely. But if we reach out directly to the Pakistani military along with the unstable government and provide them incentives and benchmarks they may pleasantly surprise us. But we need to trust them a little more too. I've heard that night vision devices we have provided to the military are recalled once a month for counting to make sure they haven't been shipped to the Indian front and depriving the Pakistani troops of them for up to a week per month. That's no way to convince them we are allies.

Preview of Afghanistan Review

The National Security Council's Afghanistan review will be release publicly tomorrow and was briefed to senior members of Congress today, so predictably some details are leaking out. Apparently at least 4,000 troops will be added (on top of the 17,000 already headed there) in order to train the Afghan military and police. Benchmarks will be a large component, and Obama will try, yet again, to convince Pakistan that their biggest threat is the militants, not India.
I'll run something more in depth when the document is actually out, but a few initial comments:
1) I hope the benchmarks are for the Afghan government on corruption, training, and governance issues. Coming up with counter terrorism benchmarks are next to impossible. As we've found with the Predator strikes, one dead terrorist/insurgent does not necessarily equal one less terrorist, especially if civilians are killed as well.
2) What will happen if (and I predict when) Afghanistan fails to meet the proposed benchmarks? Would we just leave? How will that leave us any different then our current situation?
3) I sure hope all the smart people in the Administration have put their big heads together and come up with something better than convincing Pakistan that India is not their biggest threat. That hasn't worked, and I have no reason to believe it will this time.
In related news, Friend Of The Blog Jim Arkedis discusses the decision to widen Predator drone missile strikes in Pakistan to include terrorist/insurgent groups that have only attacked within Pakistan, not Afghanistan. He seems to think it's an effort to buy Pakistan's loyalty. The term Global War on Terror may be officially dead, but terrorism, and insurgencies, are still a global enterprise.

Dearth of Pakistani Leadership

Whenever one of my grad school professors, a retired Pakistani Brigadier, would discuss Pakistan he would say "I reserve the right to come in here tomorrow and tell you that everything I said yesterday is wrong" because facts change and events happen just that fast in Pakistan. With that caveat, here is my current take on Pakistani leadership.
President Asif Ali Zardari is the widower of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who took over the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) when his wife was assassinated after her return to Pakistan in December 2007. He is both corrupt, having been known as Mr. Ten Percent for the amount he supposedly embezzled when his wife was Prime Minister, and weak, having backed down several times during his rule.
Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif leads the egotistically-named Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz). He was deposed in a coup in 1999 following the failed attempt to use militants to take over part of Kashmir, which led to the Kargil War. Reportedly when briefed at the front on the operation his only question was "which way is India?" He is clearly shrewd, but his beliefs are eclectic. He is a populist leader who ordered the 1998 nuclear tests and has partnered with various religious groups and political parties, and once called for a return to Islamic law in Pakistan. At the same time he was close to the Clinton administration, so it is difficult to know how reliable an ally he might be now. He has led and won the populist push to reinstate the sacked Supreme Court Chief Justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry.
Zardari and Sharif are longtime rivals, but the only thing they hated more than each other was former President General Pervez Musharraf. Now that Musharraf has been forced out they are going head to head, and Zardari has blinked twice, allowing Sharif out of house arrest and agreeing to reinstate Chaudhry, who will almost certainly revers the decision to bar Sharif and his brother from running for office. Zardari's days as leader of Pakistan seem doomed.
The wild card is General Ashfaq Kayani, Musharraf's hand-picked successor as Army Chief. Although the United States is a strong proponent of democracy, military participation in politics is seen as normal in Pakistan. With Zardari ineffective bordering on incompetent, and Sharif with troubling ties to the very militants we are fighting, should the United States consider the possible advantaged of military rule in Pakistan?

Election for Head of IAEA

Elections to see who will replace Egyptian Mohamed ElBaradei as the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency are at a stalemate so far, locked between Japan's Yukiya Amano and South Africa's Abdul Samad Minty. Although I don't know much about either of the candidates themselves, I believe the choice would result in quite different directions for the IAEA.
A Japanese minister would likely be more concerned with countries interested in developing nuclear weapons capabilities, most prominently North Korea and Iran, and would take a hard line approach with them. For this reason Amano is preferred by the United States. The Bush Administration was frequently frustrated b ElBaradei's more diplomatic and nuanced approach toward Iran and North Korea.
A South African like Minty would probably be more focused on the goal of reducing existing levels of nuclear weapons and arms control measures. South Africa is the only country to have totally given up nuclear weapons (albeit partly because the white apartheid government didn't want to see their black successors have nuclear weapons), and remains a strong player in the Non-Aligned Movement, which actually expressed support for Iran's efforts to achieve nuclear power (though not weapons).
At a conference on over-the-horizon nuclear proliferation I helped run in 2007 a scholar suggested that one thing that might drive South Africa to re-develop nuclear weapons would be to express frustration at the state of the arms control/nonproliferation community, and potentially use them as a bargaining chip for future international treaties. (note, he didn't say this was likely, just possible).
All of this will have a profound impact on the focus and possible success of the 2010 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty renegotiation. This is one of those small decisions that could have a big impact on world events in the years to come.

Pakistani Government Aid to Militants

A front page article in Thursday's New York Times explores the support that Pakistan's government, specifically the S wing of the Inter-Service Intelligence, or ISI, is still providing to militant groups, including the Taliban, who are conducting attacks in Afghanistan. This support has continued despite repeated requests and high level visits from American and British officials.
These militant connections are partly to counter fears of Indian encirclement, since India has invested heavily in Afghan reconstruction, and most of the Pakistani military still sees India, not the militants, as their main threat and opponent, and Pakistan has a long history of using militants as proxy fighters against India, particularly in Kashmir. This connection fairly clearly led to the bombing of India's embassy in Kabul last summer.
A few key questions remain:
1) How closely was the ISI involved in last November's Mumbai attacks by Lashkar-e-Taiba? Was it just intelligence sharing and protection, as Pakistani officials claim, or was the whole thing a proxy attack planned by Pakistani military, or even civilian, leadership?
2) How deep do the connections between ISI and the militants run? Is it largely the work of a "few bad apples" who maintain their ties, or something much bigger?
3) What can the United States/coalition do to entice Pakistan to renounce support for these groups and leaders? Certainly just sending the Predator drones into Quetta and elsewhere in Baluchistan is possible (and being debated--watch for news of expanded strikes in the next few weeks), but is it worth the cost?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Congressional + Progressive + Afghanistan = Predictable Results

I just attended a Congressional Progressive Caucus event entitled Afghanistan: A Road Map for Progress "Historic Perspective on Afghanistan, its People and their Cultures" and found it to be pretty much exactly what you would expect from the title. Three experts discussed the topic, members of Congress stopped in briefly between votes to not listen to the experts and discuss how important they and this project are and how many times the have been to Afghanistan and how the military is not the answer.
The experts themselves weren't half bad. Afghani journalist Nabi Misdaq gave a very good introduction of Pashtunwali, which the Representatives should have been around for, preferably six or seven years ago. Kennedy Administration staffer William Polk discussed a book he wrote on how counter insurgency never works and so we should just get out now, saying "any increase of our presensce will not be effective," and that we are "asking for another Vietnam." Retired Foreign Service Officer Edmond McWilliams disagreed, saying we need a full-scale counter insurgency campaign in order to secure the population.
Missing was any direct discussion of actual policy, such as whether to go for the minimalist counterterrorism (CT) approach of merely trying to make sure Afghanistan does not fall back to being a safe haven for terrorists or to try the full-on, long term, expensive counterinsurgency (COIN) and trying to develop Afghanistan into a unified, democratic, functioning country. Too bad; a discussion of which option is more progressive would have actually been interesting.

New York Times Follows My Lead

Today's New York Times addresses the same topic I wrote about a month ago and draws largely the same conclusion: the United States should set a goal of reducing its nuclear arsenal to 1,000 deployed warheads as an example to other current and potentially nuclear-weapons powers.
Mr. Bush and then-President Vladimir Putin signed only one arms-control agreement in eight years. It allowed both sides to keep between 1,700 and 2,200 deployed warheads. Further cuts — 1,000 each makes sense for the next phase — would send a clear message to Iran, North Korea and other wannabes that the world’s two main nuclear powers are placing less value on nuclear weapons.
I won't go in to a Colbert-esque rant about "who's snubbing me now" but it is nice to have gotten there first. The Times focuses more on Russia, North Korea, and Iran and fails to address the example it would set for India and Pakistan, especially in advance of the 2010 NPT conference. Next time their editorial board should call me for my opinion!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Obama's Pro-War advisors

John Mearsheimer--guest posting for Stephen Walt--makes an interesting point: none of President Obama's senior foreign policy advisors publicly opposed the Iraq War at the time.
The Bush administration is principally responsible for these twin disasters, but the fact is that most of the Democratic Party's foreign policy experts -- certainly the more senior ones -- supported President Bush's decision to invade Iraq and to do massive social engineering across the Middle East. Consider, for example, Hillary Clinton, Richard Holbrooke, and Dennis Ross -- three key players on the Obama team. They were all strong supporters of the Iraq war, and they had little inkling that we would end up getting bogged down in Iraq or that we would squander our initial success in Afghanistan. In fact, not one of Obama's principal foreign policy advisors opposed the Iraq war, although the president did. It seems that almost all of the senior foreign policy experts in the Democratic Party have been "marinated in the [same] inside culture" as their Republican Party counterparts. What this effectively means is that Obama and the country will have to depend on a group of individuals who helped create the Afghanistan and Iraq disasters -- albeit in a small way -- to get us out of them. That is not a reassuring thought.
Ah yes, the one dissenter, the President himself. I certainly applaud him for his opposition to the Iraq War, and think it may have been the biggest factor in helping him win the Democratic primary, I wonder why Obama hasn't been able to surround himself with more people who shared his foresight/concerns about the war. The President has so far largely left foreign policy to his admittedly capable senior advisors while he attempts to deal with the global financial crisis, but the fact that alternative voices have not been included on a senior level (see the Chas Freeman affair) is somewhat disturbing.
One reason I became interested in national security during my undergraduate days is that during the discussion prior to the Iraq War most Democrats either rolled over and agreed with the Republicans, or disagreed simply based on party without offering alternative policies or explanations. I'm proud to be a part of the growing group of younger progressive national security experts.

Steinberg Discusses U.S.-India Nuclear Deal

Yesterday at Brookings Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg discussed the U.S.-India Nuclear Deal and the future of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT), saying:
"Both the United States and India have the responsibility to help to craft a strengthened NPT regime to foster safe, affordable nuclear power to help the globe's energy and environment needs, while assuring against the spread of nuclear weapons."
No, it's nothing earth shattering and in fact is pretty standard language, but it's the first major comments on the Deal from the new administration. As senators both President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton voted for the deal last September with little comment, but since then little progress has been made. Both Russia and France--taking advantage of last year's waiver for India by the Nuclear Suppliers' Group--already have designated sites in India where they will build nuclear power plants. No U.S. companies currently have been assigned sites for a plant. I don't expect any action on that front until after the Indian elections, since any interaction with the U.S. government makes political headlines in India, but we should note that France and Russia are getting a head start.
Steinberg's comment itself is of course right on point. It will be interesting to see if the Administration starts dropping more comments to try to smooth the way for progress in the 2010 Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Cricket, Terrorism, and South Asia

I've said it before, you don't mess with cricket in South Asia. First came the attack on the Sri Lankan national cricket team in Pakistan (which had the Pakistani street pointing fingers in all directions, including India, based on evidence that India's team backed out of the match).
Now India has announced that the second year of the wildly-popular Twenty20-format Indian Premier League will have to be held outside of India because all security forces are needed to protect the five rounds of Indian elections, to be held between April 10 and May 24. The league features the best cricketers from around the world--including Pakistanis (and American-style cheerleaders). The tournament will now take place in either South Africa or England.
Cricket is a matter of national and regional pride in South Asia. Even during times of intense crisis cricket went on, and cricket diplomacy even proved to work when nothing else could. The fact that security threats have forced the popular league out of the country should inspire the people throughout South Asia to turn strongly against the militants who threaten their national pastimes.

Cost-effective counterinsurgency

An article in today's New York Times notes that many of the former Sunni insurgents the U.S. and Iraqi governments were paying not to fight still do not have real jobs.
After months of promises, only 5,000 Awakening members — just over 5 percent — have been given permanent jobs in the Iraqi security forces. Those promises were made last year when Iraq was flush with oil money.
Many fighters join insurgencies because they are unemployed and are paid to fight. In those circumstances it makes sense to offer alternative jobs--especially if the jobs are doing something that contributes to everyday life, such as building roads or other infrastructure. It can be much cheaper to pay someone not to fight than to have to defeat them. But we need to follow through on those commitments. People won't wield shovels forever, and certainly not with no pay.