Tuesday, November 24, 2009

On Paranoid Pakistanis

Given half an opportunity, Pakistanis can be some of the most paranoid people on the planet. They tend to fear that India -- or sometimes the United States -- is behind every single bad thing that happens to them. If a Pakistani stubs his toe it was probably an Indian spy who snuck in and made that crack in the sidewalk. Lou Dobbs would be a big hit in Pakistan; maybe he should do a show there rather than running for president in 2012. Ahmed Rashid has a good article up on the BBC News website on conspiracy theories in Pakistan.
Some people in Pakistan probably should be paranoid. President Zardari should be paranoid; people really are plotting against him, which is understandable given the job he is doing.
I've heard other crazy theories from Pakistanis ranging from the idea that all U.S. technology, especially nuclear technology, contains a secret "off" switch, so that when our Indian overlords give the order we can secretly send out a radio signal and make all Pakistani military equipment cease to work. Or that the militant bombings in Peshawar and elsewhere are not the work of the Taliban, but instead are the work of Blackwater.
The last thing you would want to do is give any kind of credibility to those rumors, right? Imagine how crazy Dobbs and the FreeRepublic folks would go if President Obama accidentally mentioned something about going "home" to Kenya, or said something about going to a mosque.
So who's bright idea was it to hire Blackwater Xe Total Intelligence Solutions (TIS) to work doing "snatch-and-grabs" based in Karachi, Pakistan? Apparently since we officially can't have our military operating in Pakistan, we'll just outsource it to civilians. Let's just hope none of them are of Indian descent.
Categorize this one as "stupid power."

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Does The Onion Now Have a Foreign Policy Editor?

That bastion of satire The Onion has been on a roll lately regarding foreign policy. Did they get a new writer or editor with more foreign policy, or is Afghanistan just really easy to mock because no obvious answers exist? Here's a quick round up, but keep your eyes out for others.
"Obama Weighs Options in Afghanistan" -- my favorite is "Not only learn the lessons of Vietnam, but apply them as well"

"Afghan Presidential Election A Celebration Of All Forms Of Government" -- "Afghanistan has become a shining beacon of democracy, theocracy, autocracy, and authoritarianism in an otherwise troubled region."

This video of course is similar to my idea about Call of Duty: Counterinsurgency.
Of course the greatest Onion foreign affairs article ever, written just before George W. Bush took office and proving to be all to prophetic, remains "Bush: 'Our Long National Nightmare of Peace and Prosperity is Finally Over.'" It gets sadder and more true every time I read it.

Monday, November 16, 2009

"Off Ramps" for Afghanistan

With the "all COIN all the time" crowd calling for 40,000 more troops and years upon years in Afghanistan I'm relieved to know that President Obama is dissatisfied with the current options and is looking for an "off ramp" for Afghanistan. Whether Ambassador Eikenberry's leaked cables were the catalyst for that kind of thinking or not, I'm glad that the President is looking for a way out. The difference between us and the British or Soviets is that we are not seeking an empire, we do not wish to remain in Afghanistan indefinitely, therefore our end goal must be leaving, and the strategy has to include doing that as soon as possible while preserving our long-term security.
Steve Coll is always worth reading, so check out his "If we fail in Afghanistan" article. I'm not sure I agree with his second point/scenario especially, but it's an interesting read. Coll is far more pessimistic on the consequences of leaving Afghanistan than skeptics like Stephen Walt. Coll and Walt were on different panels at a RAND discussion on Afghanistan a few weeks ago (Paul Pillar was also excellent), but I would love to have seen them actually debate the issue.
I am not calling for an immediate withdrawal. I would support sending more troops, as long as it is for a purpose and we have a plan for what they will do, but I am very glad that the subject of how and when we can leave is an important part of the discussion.

Police and Counterinsurgency, Home and Abroad

Yesterday's Washington Post had an interesting article on page A3 about students (military officers) from my alma mater, the "elite" Naval Postgraduate School, teaching police in Salinas, California "counterinsurgency strategy, bringing lessons from the battlefield to the meanest streets in an American city" in order to combat Salinas' gang problems.
I'm all for increased civilian-military interaction and sharing of lessons learned. And I certainly don't count myself as an expert in counterinsurgency tactics or operations. But here's the thing: police are supposed to be good at counterinsurgency. The military has adapted to doing counterinsurgency out of necessity, but they are unsuited to it and would prefer to go back to force-on-force operations. Police officers, both in Salinas and in Iraq and Afghanistan, ideally come from the community, live in the community, are committed long-term, know and win the respect of the local population, and can spot people or events that are out of place and a potential threat. Hopefully that's what the article is trying to say: "The thrust of the plan relies on winning the trust of people. In Salinas, as in Iraq and Afghanistan, the uniformed forces patrolling 'are still viewed as an occupying force,' said Police Chief Louis Fetherolf."
Even the much-maligned (by me) Michael O'Hanlon seems to recognize that in his Post op-ed today (that IS his point, right? That we need the police to be better in Afghanistan?).
So I hope what my former NPS colleagues are telling the Salinas police force is to learn Spanish, hire more Latino police officers, and involve the community. More firepower is not what's needed, in Salinas or Kandahar.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Pakistan's Nuclear Weapons: Haven't I Refuted This Before?

Seymour Hersh has an article in The New Yorker asking the tired questions of whether Pakistan's nuclear weapons are safe from capture by al-Qaeda or the Taliban. He asserts that because militants have attacked well-defended Pakistani military facilities, other well-defended facilities, including nuclear locations, could be in danger.
If I'm not mistaken a well-defended U.S. military facility, Fort Hood, was just attacked by someone with insider knowledge of security and facilities, but that doesn't mean that anyone outside of Hollywood screenwriters think U.S. nuclear facilities are likely to be attacked or captured by militants. Indian Maoist naxalite militants have attacked government facilities, but no one worries publicly about the security of India's nuclear weapons. Hersh argues that components are most vulnerable when they are being moved. Hmm, you mean like when nuclear parts are accidentally flown across the country, or mistakenly delivered to Taiwan? Didn't the Secretary and Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force get fired for those mistakes not too long ago? Let's discuss reality here.
Once again, yes, Pakistan's government is unstable. President "Mr. Ten Percent" Zardari may well be forced out of office in the next six months, but that may well lead to increased stability in Pakistan, not less. The Pakistani military is considered a common player in Pakistani society and politics, and is perhaps the most stable element. The nuclear warheads are stored and secured separately from the triggers and the delivery systems, and the Pakistanis have developed extensive nuclear security systems.
If anything Pakistan seemed more unstable back in May, when the Taliban had famously crept within 90 miles of the capital, Islamabad. The New York Times ran a piece quoting various experts as saying the nuclear stockpile was safe. What has changed since then other than Sy Hersh decided this was a good sensational story to write? He dismisses all the expert opinions he finds that run contrary to his view, because "are Pakistan's nuclear weapons safe? Yes" would be a pretty boring article.
I imagine I or someone like me will have to refute some sensationalist account about terrorists and Pakistan's nuclear weapons every six months or so for at least several years to come. Of course it's a valid concern and one that should not be ignored, but it is also unlikely, and Pakistan should be given credit for protecting its arsenal.

Obama's Fort Hood Speech

It's hard picking a favorite speech from a president who is both known for his public speaking and has great speechwriters, but his brief remarks at the Fort Hood memorial service this afternoon is one of the best, especially coming the day before Veterans Day. I encourage everyone to take the time to read or watch it.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Management Consultant as Foreign Affairs Columnist?

Foreign Policy blogger and Tufts professor Daniel Drezner went to a management consultant conference and shared his top ten tips, both on his blog and Twitter. All I could think of was how it sounded just like 90% of Thomas Friedman's columns.
4) In Every Coversation with a Client, Mention Your Last Trip to China. This is tricky, as you have to be casual about it, while still drivng home the point that you are intimately familiar with the world's fastest-growing market. Here are some possible ways to get this point into casual conversation: "I was talking to one of our clients in Shenzhen On Monday, and...""I was sunbathing in Chengdu a week ago...""When I went bass-fishing in Chongqing last month...""A funny thing happened when I went to a cockfight in Harbin on Tuesday....""If, like me, you ever find yourself in Tianjin biting the head off of a live chicken...." ...
6) Use Factoids To Distract Amaze Your Audience. To drive home a point that might encounter pushback from the audience, be sure to snap off a statistic that seems related to your point. For example, if you're trying to convince your customers that Western Africa is a more promising market than Western Europe, you can say, "Did you know there are more live births in Nigeria than in W. Europe?" Some other possibilities:"Did you know that in Tokyo, a bicycle is faster than a car for any distance less than 30 miles?""Did you know that the most popular first name in the world is Muhammad?""Did you know that the first product to have a bar code was Wrigleys gum?""Did you know that Jedi is an official religion in Australia?"
7) Put a Modern Spin on Old Cliches. Example: "To paraphrase Keynes, 'In the long run, we're all liquefie-- I mean, we're all liquid.'"

Where Does Afghanistan Go From Here?

As late as two days ago requests for observers to go monitor the Afghanistan run-off election were passing my email inbox; now President Karzai's challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, has dropped out, cancelling the run-off and handing Karzai a second term he was likely to have won anyway. Wow. Where does that leave the government of Afghanistan?
Weak and corrupt to be sure, but that's nothing new. News broke last week that Karzai's brother Amed Wali, he of the rapidly growing wallet and probably drug and warlord ties, has been on the CIA payroll for years. Abdullah said he dropped out because he didn't have confidence the run-off would be any less corrupt than the first election. That's fair, but I also think Abdullah was unprepared to actually lead Afghanistan. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon is said to be attempting to negotiate a place for Abdullah in the government, but I'm not holding my breath.
The run-off was supposed to be another chance to establish some semblance of credibility in the Afghan government. With Karzai still in power without even having to stuff ballot boxes it weakens the U.S. position. We are stuck saying "please be less corrupt and actually try to govern" much like we were stuck for long periods of time asking the Pakistani government to pretty please attack those pesky terrorists hiding in their country.
All of this makes things more difficult for President Obama's still-debating Afghanistan team. I'd still be debating too, as I have talked to and heard from many smart people who disagree strongly on the best course of action. It's another obstacle in a difficult swamp we are negotiating. It's clear that those calling for a rushed decision, like Dick Cheney, were wrong. We need a well-reasoned strategy to allow us to withdraw as soon as possible (even if that is a few years away) and leave behind as little chaos as possible.