Monday, April 27, 2009

More Reading on Pakistan

I highly recommend Nicholas Schmidle's piece in Slate on "How to Save Pakistan." He argues for treating the FATA and NWFP as lost causes and focusing on preserving the rest of Pakistan (and its nuclear weapons) by using a containment strategy. Send the $1.5 billion a year in civilian aid to Punjab, not the Pashtun areas, and demonstrate that development and modernization (and cooperation with the West) is better than Islamic law. Meanwhile the Taliban's internal bickering and harsh policies will reflect poorly on them, and cause the population to turn against them.
Juan Cole answers Stephen Walt's questions about why opinions differ on whether Pakistan is in danger of collapsing. Cole argues that ethnic differences between the Pashtun Taliban and the Punjabis and Sindalese who make up 85% of Pakistan's population create a natural fault line for potential Taliban advance.
The NYT's breathless observation that there are Taliban a hundred miles from Islamabad doesn't actually tell us very much, since Islamabad is geographically close to the Pushtun regions without that implying that Pushtuns dominate or could dominate it. It is like saying that Lynchburg, Va., is close to Washington DC and thereby implying that Jerry Falwell's movement is about to take over the latter.
He continues:
My guess is that the alarmism is also being promoted from within Pakistan by Pervez Musharraf, who wants to make another military coup; and by civilian politicians in Islamabad, who want to extract more money from the US to fight the Taliban that they are secretly also bribing to attack Afghanistan.
An interesting point. A friend of mine in the intelligence community who works on Pakistan doesn't think Musharraf is done playing his hand either.
Finally, Mohammed Hanif wrote an article in yesterday's Washington Post about the situation in Pakistan. He writes about how Pakistanis are justifying the Taliban's actions to each other, saying they are not that bad, or it's just their Pashtun culture. It really illustrates how hungry the people are for a functioning organizational structure around them.
There were hopes that Pakistan's security services would fight the Taliban, but the army and the intelligence agencies seem so obsessed with the supposed menace from India that they are ignoring the menace at home. If they are not colluding with the Taliban, as many observers believe they are, they are staying neutral. In fact, they are so neutral that they rent their bases to the United States for launching missile-laden unmanned aircraft while simultaneously supporting the very people those missiles are aimed at....

In Swat, I heard the same story again and again: Before the peace deal, soldiers would stop people at checkpoints and say, "Don't go that way, the Taliban are slitting someone's throat." But they wouldn't intercede to stop the throat-slitting.

The problem, as many see it, is that there's no alternative. Yes, the Taliban routinely place near the bottom of opinion polls, and in elections they garner less than 10 percent of the vote. But we seem to be an exhausted society, incapable of rising to this challenge.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Citizen Policing in NWFP

I recommend this Slate article by Ayesha Nasir on citizen patrols in Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province.
Khan't tell one Khan from another? Khan is a more common last name in Pakistan than Smith or Jones in the United States. It means king.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Female U.S. Forces in Pakistan?

Not that the Taliban are noted for their truthful answers (perhaps their truthiness), but today's New York Times quotes Pakistani Taliban spokesman Haji Muslim Khan as saying "Taliban anger was partly caused by the presence of female American soldiers in the region."
Really? We have troops in the Buner District (let alone female troops)? Or maybe they mean Southwest Asia as a whole. I know we have a base just inside Pakistan where we launch our Predator drones, and it is concevable that we have female troops on the base, but to attribute the Taliban's anger to their presence is pretty far fetched.
The video, from Britan's Channel 4 News, is quite good.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Response to Irfan on the Pakistani Mindset

Last week I wrote a post about my reactions to a Pakistani op-ed, and what I view as the Pakistani mindset. The author of that op-ed, Irfan Shahzad, was good enough to post a response. Unfortunately Irfan's response displayed all the anger and fear one might expect from someone in Pakistan today. My intention was to learn from and understand his perspective, and hopefully help him see the other side as well. I too would be terrified if the Pakistani Taliban had advanced to within 60 miles of the capital, and was openly inviting Osama bin Ladin and talking about imposing sharia on the United States.
My point about the Pakistani mindset is they seem to believe that nothing bad is their fault, it is always the fault of the Indians or the Americans (or both), not a failure of their leadership, or the fault of the militants. Irfan illustrates this point by stating that the United States and NATO allowed bin Ladin into Pakistan. I agree that more troops and a more comprehensive approach would have been better in 2001/2, as does almost every serious policymaker and scholar these days. It is a delusion that was common in Iraq as well, that the United States is all powerful, so if something bad happens (an IED, Osama bin Ladin escaping, a missile killing civilians) it is because the United States wanted it to happen and allowed it to happen.
Irfan, I recognize that you are scared and that bad things are happening. We are scared too, of extremists with nuclear weapons. Our countries need to help each other. I don't think General Patreaus simply stating that the militants are a bigger threat than India will make Pakistanis change their mind, only an honest self reflection of who is really threatening Pakistan can do that.
I will continue to read and interact with Pakistanis, and I hope Irfan and his colleagues will continue with a similar open mind. An invasion of Pakistan--or China, or Tajikistan--is not on the table of discussion. But we do need to work together to concentrate on the real threats facing Pakistan: militants and an incompetent leadership.

The Obama Doctrine

As the pundits weigh the successes and difficulties of the Obama Administration's first 100 days, Henry Kissenger wrote an op-ed in today's Washington Post stating that the president needs to articulate a clear foreign policy grand strategy. He argues that because so many foreign policy challenges are connected to each other (how we deal with China affects how we deal with North Korea as well as how we deal with Pakistan), having an "operational concept of world order" helps keep all the ducks in a row.
My first reaction was, really? The last president had a grand strategy--promote democracy at all costs and anyone who disagrees is an enemy to be crushed--and look where that got us. Besides, such an ideological approach seems to go against the realist policy-making Kissinger has always stood for, viewing the world in terms of cold power calculations and acting accordingly.
My second reaction was that President Obama has a grand strategy, one of using the United States' smart influence and diplomacy for cooperative solutions around the world. It may not be an end goal or a vision of the idealized world, as Kissinger seems to be calling for, but it is a vision of how to work with the world on the problems we collectively face.
Fred Kaplan at Slate seems to agree with me. He pointed out that President Obama was asked about an "Obama Doctrine" just last week at the Summit of the Americas and answered it was to promote American values, including listening and not just talking, and that "if we are practicing what we preach and if we occasionally confess to having strayed from our values and our ideals, that strengthens our hand; that allows us to speak with greater moral force and clarity around these issues." Even when other countries have values and interests that differ from ours, they view us as an attractive culture trying to help, What it does mean, though, is, at the margins, they are more likely to want to cooperate than not cooperate.
It means that where there is resistance to a particular set of policies that we're pursuing, that resistance may turn out just to be based on old preconceptions or ideological dogmas that, when they're cleared away, it turns out that we can actually solve a problem.
And so, we're still going to have very tough negotiations on a whole host of issues. … That's not going to change because I'm popular … or leaders think that I've been respectful towards them. On the other hand, by having established those better relations, it means that … there's more confidence that working with the United States is beneficial, and they are going to try to do more than they might otherwise have done.
Sounds like smart influence to me!

Monday, April 20, 2009

When Will Pakistan Collapse?

With the newly-released Pakistani cleric Sufi Mohammed seemingly taking the lesson from the Swat cease-fire not that working with the government is good but that it is weak, the inside-the-Beltway consensus seems to be that Pakistan will collapse and become an Islamic theocracy sooner rather than later. Page one of the Washington Post declared that an "Extremist Tide Rises in Pakistan." The Washington Times quotes Bruce Riedel, one of President Obama's South Asia advisors, as saying that the Administration is turning toward Nawaz Sharif as the last hope, since Zardari is on his way out. Jim Arkedis declares that "Pakistan is the new Afghanistan" and says the United States is caught between doing too much (like escalating air strikes against militants) and further alienating the population and standing back and watching the militants take over.
Call me naive, but I'm a little more hopeful about Pakistan's chances. Sure, I've been pretty hard on the country and all the challenges it faces--incompetent leadership, aggressive Islamic militants, a hurting economy, a military rivalry with India, a collapsed neighboring country with an active insurgency, a superpower placing huge demands on it, and a population that resents that superpower--but enough positive signs exist for me to be optimistic.
1) The population doesn't really want Islamic law imposed, it just wants some semblance of order restored. What polls exist show that the United States is extremely unpopular, but so are the militants. Even in the Swat valley where sharia was imposed in the most recent election the 1.5 million residents voted overwhelmingly for the two main secular parties. Islamist parties have never received more than single digit support in any election, and I don't expect them to this year either.
2) Some people are actually standing up to the militants. While neither of the two main leaders, Zardari or Sharif, has shown any courage in this department, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, has called out both the government and the militants for their actions in Swat. Next door the courageous women of Afghanistan marched last week to protest the impact of sharia. Hopefully the moderate majority in Pakistan can start making similar statements.
3) Pakistanis know what they would be getting into. In the 1980s General Zia-ul-Haq ruled a military dictatorship and began imposing Islamic laws throughout Pakistan. While young Pakistanis won't remember the era their parents will, and they can contrast it with the comparatively moderate and prosperous 1990s and 2000s.
4) The military has not truly been a major player lately. While I know this statement scares many of my more liberal friends, the Pakistani military is one of the more moderate, stable, modern, and respected sectors of society. It's intervention into politics is seen as the norm in Pakistan. While a coup is a possibility if things start to get too far out of hand, General Kiyani could intervene in subtler ways, as he did in the recent heated exchange between Zardari and Sharif. Additionally, it is important to note that Pakistan's nuclear weapons are in the military's hands, which should help people in the region and all over the world sleep a little bit better as militants creep closer to Islamabad.
5) Pakistan is squarely in the sights of the Obama Administration. It recognized Pakistan's importance, and is working hard to figure out a solution. It hasn't come up with a perfect plan yet, but at least it has its top people on the job. The additional $1.5 billion per year in civilian aid should only help.
It will be an interesting next few months in Pakistan to be sure, but I think the momentum of the Washington commentators describing Pakistan's eminent collapse may be greater than the momentum of the collapse itself.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Is India Really Unhappy with Obama?

An Op-Ed in the New York Times declares that India is "Wary on Obama." Really? Yes, the U.S.-India "strategic partnership" could be considered George W. Bush's one foreign policy success, but to achieve that he had to punch large holes in some of the key nonproliferation agreements.
President Obama has gotten on India's bad side by talking about pushing for a permanent settlement on the Kashmir issue. He appointed a special envoy to South Asia, and India lobbied hard--and successfully--to not be under his jurisdiction with the "bad" countries of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Secretary of State Clinton talked extensively about the importance of China, but has barely mentioned India, and has not yet visited. Apparently India also felt snubbed that it was not one of the first congratulatory calls Obama returned.
The main area of dispute is that India fears that the Obama administration is returning to a regional South Asia policy rather than the "de-hyphenated" separate India and Pakistan policies Bush introduced. While I strongly support the de-hyphenation, the countries in the region do obviously have a major impact on each other, and to pretend otherwise would be naive. The Pakistani military is unwilling or unable to fight a successful counterinsurgency campaign against the militants threatening the country because it is designed to fight against India. Additionally Pakistan feels threatened by Indian involvement in the reconstruction of Afghanistan. India needs to act like the great power it aspires to be and recognize that its actions have both negative and positive effects in the region. Unfortunately whenever the subject of Pakistan comes up India goes back to its petty, juvenile posturing.
The first of India's five rounds of national elections started this week, and unlike in recent events such as the no-confidence vote that forced the ruling Congress party to scramble to retain its control, the U.S.-India nuclear deal--and by proxy the relationship with the United States--is not a major campaign issue. Obama does need to pay more attention to building the relationship with India, but no matter whether the Congress party retains the majority or the BJP takes over India is unlikely to turn sharply away from its closer ties with the United States.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

China's New Special Forces

Of course if the rest of the world was as sophisticated as China we too would have thousands of highly-trained dolphins to repel pirate attacks.
Perhaps we can re-train our mine-hunting dolphins armed with poisonous darts, that is if we've recaptured them after Hurricane Katrina freed them from their enclosure.

More Piracy News

Because everyone can't seem to get enough pirate news suddenly, here are some of my favorite links:
A U.S.-flagged cargo ship loaded with food aid for Africa successfully fended off (or rather ignored the pirates and kept going until the pirates got frustrated and left) a pirate attack. The pirates shot the ship up pretty badly with automatic weapons and RPGs, but with nothing valuable to steal and the crew not available to kidnap (and the U.S. Navy on the way) the pirates abandoned their efforts.
The French Navy captured eleven pirates. Hurray for multilateralism!
An article on the Foreign Policy website explains the economics of piracy.
Meanwhile realist scholar Stephen Walt argues that piracy is a minor issue that should be ignored as much as possible while dealing with more pressing matters. I tend to agree with this point, it's not a major issue. Last night I described it as something we could put a band-aid on--a multilateral band-aid.
(piracy map from the International Chamber of Commerce)

How Relevant is Diplomacy Anymore?

New York Times columnist Tom Friedman normally has approximately four ideas that he rotates through for his columns (the Middle East is a complicated place; the world is flat/globalization is good; green energy is good/let me tell you about this cool invention I saw; buy my latest book), but occasionally he actually takes the time to write a thought provoking column, in this case "In the Age of Pirates" on the role and success of formal diplomacy in an age of non-state actors.
I agree with his main point, that a more realist approach is needed, that countries like Iran and North Korea, as well as groups like pirates and terrorists, will primarily respond to hard power inducements. As he puts it,

The only thing that could change this is a greater exercise of U.S. and allied power. In the case of Afghanistan and Pakistan, that power would have to be used to actually rebuild these states from the inside into modern nations. We would literally have to build the institutions — the pulleys and wheels — so that when the leaders of these states pulled a lever something actually happened, and the lever wouldn’t just break off in their hands.

And in the case of the strong states — Iran and North Korea — we would have to generate much more effective leverage from the outside to get them to change their behavior along the lines we seek. In both cases, though, success surely would require a bigger and longer U.S. investment of money and power, not to mention allies.

However, I disagree with him that diplomacy is no longer useful or effective. Unilateral solutions will not work for any of the cases he mentioned. Strong diplomacy is needed to build coalitions of reluctant allies in order to solve those world-threatening problems. Furthermore, great and emerging powers, including Russia, China, India, and Brazil still need the high-level engagement Friedman dismisses as a Cold War relic. Big issues like the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty 2010 review conference require multilateral diplomacy of the highest order.

The problem is not the inefficacy of diplomacy in the modern era, the problem is not enough diplomacy and not enough cooperation.

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Pakistani Mindset

A friend of mine sent me a link to an op-ed in the Peshawar/Quetta, Pakistan-based newspaper The Frontier Post entitled "Iraq & Pakistan: Similarity in Pre-Attack Situation." My first impulse was to laugh and refute it point by point (we have a new, non-warmongering president now; Pakistan really does have WMDs; Obama's strategy is to strengthen the Pakistani government, not overthrow it; Pakistan's annual defense budget is around $7.8 billion and is mostly focused on India, so how could they claim we owe them $6 billion a year for counterterrorism operations; etc), but such an article is far more valuable as a learning tool. The author is clearly smart and well educated, but also quite paranoid and deeply afflicted with the standard Pakistani tool of blaming outsiders for all problems.
Can the nukes save us from an all-out American attack? My humble view is, not. Only courage, and a policy based on national consensus, can ensure the same.
Pakistanis, both in government and ordinary citizens, need only examine the situation from the United States' perspective. We were brutally attacked by a group based in a neighboring country whose rulers were supported by Pakistan. The leaders of that group are now based just inside the Pakistani border. The country has nuclear weapons and a weak government. What do you do?
Are there contingency plans buried deep in the Pentagon somewhere for sending in teams to secure Pakistani nuclear weapons if the government collapses? Almost certainly, next to plans for all kinds of other far-fetched scenarios. But an "all-out American attack" will not happen.
Instead of focusing their anger on India and the United States, how about focusing on the expansion of the Taliban and other militants into the main province of Punjab, the government's surrender in the Swat valley, and the fact that the government is more concerned with infighting, enriching themselves, and political rivalries than in meeting the needs of its people. Pakistanis love to point fingers, where are the fingers pointed at the militants themselves and at their own government?
U.S. policymakers should also read articles like this. Every Predator drone strike that kills civilians feeds right into the paranoia. A Pakistani report stated that, "Of the 60 cross-border predator strikes carried out by the Afghanistan-based American drones in Pakistan between January 14, 2006 and April 8, 2009, only 10 were able to hit their actual targets, killing 14 wanted al-Qaeda leaders, besides perishing 687 innocent Pakistani civilians." Although that is probably not entirely accurate, the point remains that each time an attack occurs it has both positive and negative consequences.
Both Pakistani civilians and U.S. policymakers desperately need stability in Pakistan before any trust can be built and real progress can be made. And both parties need to think about who is really standing in the way of that stability and that progress, and how their words and actions can help.

Pirate Wars

After yesterday's dramatic rescue of American captive Captain Richard Phillips it seems like every news outlet but ESPN is running a story on pirates (Navy SEALs apparently make good copy), and every blog or commenter is discussing how to stop piracy.
Sure, building more Littoral Combat Ships is a good idea, since our brown-water naval capability is low, but what is needed at this point are the same things needed to combat terrorism or any other asymmetric threat: cooperation and intelligence.
Anywhere valuable ships have to maneuver slowly through restricted waterways has been prime pirate territory for hundreds if not thousands of years, including parts of the Caribbean, the Straits of Malacca, the South China Sea, and, yes, the Gulf of Aden off Somalia. When a good friend of mine took a semester at sea cruise around the world she had to take a turn standing guard at the rail with a fire hose to fend off pirate attacks when they were near the Straits of Malacca. Fire hoses are still the recommended tool, as shooting back at the pirates would almost certainly lead to the crew being killed if captured, and at least heavy damage to the ship (rocket propelled grenades can easily go through the sides of most ships).
Navies in the sixteenth-nineteenth centuries routinely spent significant time escorting convoys of commercial ships through dangerous waters. That remains one option here, but would be fairly ship-intensive given the current makeup of our navy. A far better option is inviting countries whose ships pass through the Gulf of Aden to send one or more naval vessels and coordinate a multilateral patrol of the region. Cooperation will be essential, and the European Union and NATO ships in the region are not doing a good job of playing nicely, but it can be done. Countries seeking to expand their blue water naval capabilities, especially China and India, will jump at the chance to share logistical support and learn from the navies with more experience. Additionally the Chinese, Indian, and other navies have slightly looser rules of engagement and can be slightly more aggressive (you may recall the Indian navy had some success against a pirate mother ship). China would also love to be given permission for a permanent base in Somalia.
Piracy cannot be completely stopped, and pirates in a country as poor as Somalia are unlikely to be deterred from risky operations, but with a low-tech, intensive, coordinated effort sharing the burden we can make it far more manageable than the current situation.

Weekend Reading: the Welfare War

I wanted to highlight an informative article from this weekend's news. If you want to know what life is like for soldiers on the ground in Afghanistan, and don't have time to read Craig Mullaney's excellent The Unforgiving Minute (or in the meantime), read "In Afghanistan, Soldiers Bridge 2 Stages of War."

Friday, April 10, 2009

Why Not Pressure India?

Special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke stopped by New Delhi, India this week after visits to Afghanistan and Pakistan, but said he was not pressuring India to resume talks over longer-term peace with Pakistan. The question is, why not? As Holbrooke stated, Islamic extremists threaten all three countries. One of the biggest problems is that Pakistan's military and leadership remains focused on preparing to fight India rather than on fighting the militants threatening its own stability. Only a settlement that makes Pakistan feel secure will allow it to refocus on the militants. Why not at least try for a settlement on Kashmir?
India is heavily involved in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, building infrastructure and numerous consulates. Pakistan feels threatened by this involvement, since it fears encirclement and has traditionally relied on Afghanistan for strategic depth. That's one reason why India's embassy in Kabul was bombed in July 2008 by a militant group linked to Pakistani intelligence.
When Holbrooke was named special envoy to the region, India lobbied hard to not be included under his jurisdiction, not wanting to be seen in the same boat as those troubled and militant-plagued countries. But really the lack of a Kashmir solution is hindering solutions. India and Pakistan came close to reaching an accord on their own. Why not at least get the two sides in a room again for a discussion?
Certainly India has valid concerns. Pakistani leadership is weak, and they may want to wait until a stronger leader comes into power before negotiating (although if Nawaz Sharif takes office it would almost certainly kill any deal). But a long-term solution on Kashmir is in everyone's interest. Why not at least try?

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Chaudhry Only One Standing Up in Pakistan

Pakistan's Chief Justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, is standing up and asking questions about the Islamic law the Pakistani government agreed to let the Taliban impose in the Swat valley. The impetus for his outrage was the video of a 17-year old woman who was beaten after refusing the advances of a Taliban leader. The Pakistani government has almost completely backed out of the Swat valley, only 100 miles from the capital Islamabad, and the valley has devolved into chaos.
Even at their peak religious parties in Pakistan have never received more than a few percent of the vote. The vast majority of the population doesn't want Islamic law, but the government has retreated in the face of the loud and violent few, to the detriment of the rest.
Chaudhry seems to the be the only civilian standing up for order against the militants and against chaos and corruption in the government, be it Musharraf's or Zardari's. The United States needs to do everything it can to support his efforts.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Another Fizzle: Best Possible Outcome on North Korea?

Yes, North Korea defied United Nations regulations and test-fired a multi-stage Taepodong-2 missile over the weekend. Yes, North Korea has some nuclear weapons capability. Yes, if the missile test had been successful it could potentially have reached Alaska or Hawaii. But it wasn't successful; the second stage didn't fire fully and the third stage not at all, leaving the hyped satellite in "subaquatic orbit" as a commenter from the wonderful geeks at Arms Control Wonk put it (the image is also from ACW).
Before the launch the debate ran rampant among the nonproliferation policy community about how to respond to the launch. Some advocated using either U.S. or Japanese resources to shoot it down in midflight, to the point that Kim Jong-Il stated that such actions would lead to war. South Korea shouted about how scared they were, but an ICBM isn't at all necessary to hit South Korea, so the test shouldn't seem any more threatening.
The failed launch can be considered the best possible outcome. Since 2006 North Korea now has two highly-publicized missile launch failures (the 2006 test after only 35 seconds) and a largely failed nuclear test. Why should that scare anyone, particularly the United States (Joseph Cirincione argues this at length)? Miniaturizing a nuclear device to fit on a warhead is quite difficult, and North Korea would be hard pressed to do it in a decade. Even then, given their track record, what are the odds that all three stages of an ICBM and a miniaturized warhead would work?
As Fred Kaplan argues, making a big deal about a missile launch that ultimately failed was the action of a weak state, not a strong one, and President Obama should not play North Korea's game. Frankie Sturm agrees, calling for managing North Korea's brinksmanship. John Bolton calls the launch a win for North Korea and says Obama is weak, but considering he worked for an administration with the least diplomatic success in the past 50 years, whose actions (or lack thereof) allowed North Korea to reprocess plutonium and test a nuclear device I take that as a good sign.
President Obama has demonstrated his leadership by not spending too much energy on a UN resolution, and instead focusing on the larger real nonproliferation issues, including a call for global nuclear disarmament in Sunday's speech. As the New York Times stated, again echoing me,
It is a strategy based on the idea that if the United States shows it is willing to greatly shrink the size of its atomic arsenal, ban nuclear testing and cut off the worldwide production of bomb material, reluctant allies and partners around the world will be more likely to rewrite nuclear treaties and enforce sanctions against North Korea and Iran.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Weekend Reading

I just wanted to highlight an informative article from Sunday's Washington Post. Scott Wilson, who was a reporter in Bogota for four years, argues that Colombia makes a better model for Afghanistan than Iraq, largely due to the influence of drugs funding the insurgency and lack of a strong central government.
Count Wilson squarely in the counterinsurgency camp of the COIN-CT debate. He argues that drug eradication efforts primarily hurt and anger the poor local population, and instead a long-term effort should be spent on building up the army. Additionally he stresses the need for a strong and trusted leader, in Colombia's case Uribe. Is Karzai that leader? I'm pretty skeptical, especially on the trusted front, since his brother has become the richest man in Afghanistan since he took office, but I don't see many viable alternatives.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Don't Think of an Elephant

Discussions with several friends and colleagues has me wondering if the sputtering of John McCain, John McHugh, and their merry band of neoconservatives is just another game to them. When have neocons ever been known for honesty or having the best interests of the country at heart?
They come out and say how much they support President Obama's plan for Afghanistan and Pakistan, but worry that other people might charge him with "incrementalism" or not supporting the troops by instantly approving every request for more troops from the commanders.
Watch for neocons to use this tactic by mentioning incrementalism as often as possible on the talk shows this weekend and in upcoming op-eds.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Obama = LBJ?: Troop Levels and the Charge of Incrementalism

I attended Thursday's House Armed Services Committee hearing on the new Afghanistan and Pakistan strategy. CENTCOM Commander General David Petraeus, SOCOM Commander Admiral Eric Olsen, and Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michelle Flournoy testified. Their prepared testimony was probably almost identical to the testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday, repeatedly calling for a "whole of government approach" and a regional effort to stabilize Afghanistan and Pakistan.
However the questions were quite interesting, and focused extensively on troop levels in Afghanistan. Ranking Member John McHugh, who also spoke at the FPI event, pressed Flournoy hard on the previous day's testimony that General McKeirnan had requested 10,000 additional troops (to be deployed in 2010) that have not yet been approved by the President, asking repeatedly who had told the President he could wait and make the decision this fall.
The question of incrementalism have been raised several times recently, including by John McCain at FPI. President Obama clearly does not want to follow in the footsteps of President Lyndon Johnson, who inherited another president's war and gradually increased troop levels because the goals kept getting bigger and Vietnam could not manage those goals on its own. But let's examine the evidence: that's not what is happening here. If Obama approved the request today the troops would still not arrive until 2010. The President has indicated he will adapt his strategy based facts on the ground. As Flournoy pointed out, by this fall the commanders on the ground may have different needs for more or less or different kinds of troops.
Questions I would have asked:
1) Who will pay for the more than 134,000 Afghan National Army troops and 82,000 police officers we hope to have trained by 2011?
2) What specific plans do we have to convince Pakistani civilian and military leadership to conduct counterinsurgency operations rather than preparing for a conventional war against India (other than asking nicely)?
3) What will the benchmarks look like, and how will they be used? I understand that we will come up with them in conjunction with each country's leadership, but what will happen if they fail to meet the goals? We pull out? How does that leave us any better than simply pulling out now?
Flournoy stated that the term "AfPak" is an "unfortunate bit of Washington bureaucrat-ese" that we should avoid using, as Afghanistan and Pakistan are two separate, sovereign countries. I will endeavor to do so, despite the trend here in DC.
In related news, former CIA hand Bob Baer makes an argument against letting Afghanistan get too big or drag on too long.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

My Letter to the Editor of the NYT

Since the New York Times continues to believe that it comes up with its ideas all by itself, without any help from me, it refused to publish my letter to the editor about their editorial, "Watershed Moment on Nuclear Arms." Luckily for me, and you, I have this blog, so I can publish it myself:

To the Editor:

I wholeheartedly embrace your call in Wednesday’s editorial [“Watershed Moment on Nuclear Arms”] for setting a goal of reducing the U.S. nuclear arsenal to 1,000 deployed warheads by 2012. But that move can be made unilaterally in the Nuclear Posture Review, due by the end of the year, without any reduction in our deterrence capabilities. A replacement for START could be discussed concurrently or subsequently, but the announcement of the move need not wait for negotiators. The reduction would send a powerful message not just to Russia and nuclear aspirants like North Korea and Iran, as you mention, but establish the United States as a credible leader in the goal of a nuclear weapons-free world as we move toward the 2010 conference to renegotiate the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and attempt to create a solution that includes nuclear-armed India and Pakistan.

Robin J. Walker

Washington, DC

The New York Times Expands On My Argument, Again

Maybe I should start a Colbert-esque "Who's Ripping Me Off Now" bit, except then Colbert could do a segment on how I'm ripping off his segment. Also, it always seems to be the New York Times ripping me off, so that would get old. No sooner do I write a post than a week or so later the Times writes a whole article or editorial on it.
This time it's a preview article from the NYT Magazine asking "Can Pakistan Be Governed?" It's a good article full of interesting anecdotes, but they take nine pages to argue what I discussed in one blog post, "Dearth of Pakistani Leadership."
In short, President Zardari is corrupt, incompetent, self-interested, and weak. Former Prime Minister and curent opposition leader Sharif is a populist who blows in the winds of a country who's people hate the United States. Army Chief Kayani could either be the savior of the country, or its worst enemy, since he is the former head of ISI. Chaudhry seems smart, committed to democracy, honest, and principled, having stood up to both Musharraf and Zardari and united a good deal of the population behind him (including Sharif for as long as it is politically convenient). Could the United States help him move up from Chief Justice to President, or does he have skeletons in his closet too?

AfPak: Much Review About Nothing

I've been struggling with how to express my opinion on the "new" Afghanistan and Pakistan, or AfPak, policy President Obama rolled out last Friday. Frankly I haven't commented on it because my initial comments remain valid, and not a whole lot else needs to be said. Despite all the reviews and events on Afghanistan (and I'm not even attending or writing about close to all of them) the policy that was rolled out isn't very different from the existing policy. Granted the Bush Administration never clearly stated its policy, so it is certainly helpful to have the objectives laid out clearly, but the new policy is an adjustment, not a course shift. Other than that I do have a few observations:
1) In the debate over whether to pursue a minimalist counter terrorism (CT) approach, as apparently favored by Vice President Biden, or a more intensive counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy the objectives (protecting U.S. interests by eliminating AfPak as a base of operations for terrorists groups) are primarily CT, but many of the tools come from the COIN playbook. The President chose a middle ground, pleasing everyone, or no one. As Ashley Tellis said at today's event, "what we are involved in is nation building in everything but name."
2) The President frequently mentioned the problems facing and emanating from Pakistan and discussed the need to convince Pakistan to help out more, but I didn't see or hear any real plan to do so.
3) The much-hyped benchmarks either don't exist yet, or are not being made public. Good reasons do exist for not making them all public, including my skepticism over whether they will be met, but even a general discussion of what kinds of things to look at would have been useful.
4) I think his main audience in discussing Pakistan was Congress, and in that he should be successful, as Senator Kerry has proposed an even larger aid package to Pakistan than the one Biden proposed last year when he was Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee--at least $1.6 billion a year.
I, like the neocons, am happy the President didn't decide to pull the plug. South and Central Asia is going to be one of the crucial regions in the world for at least the next decade. I think that most of the things in the report are good, and it is certainly good to have them available in black and white rather than a directionless and open-ended commitment. But calling the new strategy bold, revolutionary, or even very different is a step too far.