Afghanistan and More

The Long Road to Indecision - Tom Donnelly, Center for Defense Studies

After White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel's performances on the Sunday talkies, it's getting harder and harder to avoid the conclusion that the Obama Administration is looking for almost any reason it can find to limit any further commitment to Afghanistan.

The latest line, per Emanuel but channeling Sen. John Kerry, Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward and historian Gordon Goldstein--and in fact, channeling the ghosts of Lyndon Johnson and his advisers--is that, absent a "legitimate" partner in Kabul, American efforts would be fruitless. Therefore, we must wait for the question of Afghanistan's elections to be resolved before additional US troops can be deployed...

A Question of Credibility - Tim Sullivan, Center for Defense Studies

As the troubling implications of the botched Afghan elections become more clear, Obama administration officials have begun to cite with increasing frequency the lack of a credible indigenous "partner" government in Afghanistan as the primary challenge in determining a new strategy for the country. The implication is that without a legitimate regime to support, a comprehensive counterinsurgency campaign would be an exercise in futility. Sen. John Kerry took this argument one step further, suggesting that "even the further fulfillment of our mission that's here [in Afghanistan] today" has been jeopardized by the marred elections.

Last week John Nagl and Richard Fontaine of the Center for a New American Security provided an excellent rebuttal to such arguments, pointing to the chaotic domestic political environment in Iraq prior to the adoption of the successful US troop surge and COIN campaign in 2007. In the case of Afghanistan, they draw an important distinction between perceptions of illegitimacy on the national level, and broader dissatisfaction among the Afghan population with local injustices, rightly concluding that "our main goal should be helping the Afghan government work at the local level - providing the marginal but tangible improvements in security, governance and prosperity that ordinary Afghans say they want, and stopping the corruption and abuses they personally contend with and resent." ...

The Case for Humility in Afghanistan - Steve Coll, Foreign Policy

The United States has two compelling interests at issue in the Afghan conflict. One is the ongoing, increasingly successful but incomplete effort to reduce the threat posed by al Qaeda and related jihadi groups, and to finally eliminate the al Qaeda leadership that carried out the Sept. 11 attacks. The second is the pursuit of a South and Central Asian region that is at least stable enough to ensure that Pakistan does not fail completely as a state or fall into the hands of Islamic extremists.

More than that may well be achievable. In my view, most current American commentary underestimates the potential for transformational changes in South Asia over the next decade or two, spurred by economic progress and integration. But there is no question that the immediate policy choices facing the United States in Afghanistan are very difficult. All of the courses of action now under consideration by the Obama administration and members of Congress carry with them risk and uncertainty...

Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis on Going Deep Rather than Long in Afghanistan - Herschel Smith, The Captain's Journal

Gareth Porter writing for the Asia Times discusses an unpublished paper written by Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis currently making its way around Washington. Rather than focus on what Porter says Davis says, we'll briefly spend some time on the alternative Davis offers.

His paper is entitled Go Big or Go Deep: An Analysis of Strategy Options on Afghanistan. Davis' first problem is that U.S. troops (and ISAF) are seen as "invaders" or "occupation forces." Our troops have been there for eight years and are likely to be there many more under this plan, and this potential downfall of the campaign has not been given its due in the deliberations to date. His second problem with the go big option is that the requested troop levels (on the order of 40,000) is not nearly enough...

Afghanistan and the Problem of Legitimacy - Max Boot, Contentions

Before I came to Afghanistan, I thought that a runoff would be a good way to deal with the fallout from the disputed presidential election that took place in August. Now that I've been here a week, I'm not so sure. All the problems that plagued the first round of presidential balloting - fraud and insecurity - are likely to be present in the second round. They could even be worse because there will be less time to prepare for the second election. It would have to take place by mid-November at the latest, otherwise the onset of winter will make it impossible to distribute and collect the ballots. With little time to prepare or publicize, the turnout would be low, and fraud would no doubt occur - just as it did last time. The general feeling here is that Karzai would come out on top but that the voting would do little to enhance his legitimacy.

A better solution would be a power-sharing accord that brings his main challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister, into the government. It is also important to appoint a chief of staff or some other senior official who would be charged with increasing the efficiency of Karzai's highly inefficient administration...

Afghanistan is Just Not that Important... - David J. Rothkoph, Foreign Policy

... Still, as with any discussions concerning whether or not and how to conduct a war, this is a debate that has a strong sense of urgency about it. It also involves a host of really interesting questions about what our real objectives are, about whether this is a counter-insurgency or a counter-terrorism operation, about how victory can be measured, about who our real allies and enemies are, about how much cost we are —to bear, about what the role for NATO should be, about how to deal with a corrupt, dysfunctional partner in Kabul, even about more fundamental issues such as how do we ultimately keep ourselves safe from terror, whether we can ever be successful at nation-building, and whether there is even truly a nation to build in a country like Afghanistan that is really (much as Iraq is) a confection of the minds of British imperialists that overlooks ancient tribal realities.

To those who say that the Obama administration should not be reconsidering a strategy it announced only last spring, my reaction is that's nonsense. We should constantly be reviewing our strategy based on the changing situation on the ground and the ebb and flow of other external priorities and factors. To those who say that the process has gone on too long, I also say, that's ridiculous given the human stakes involved...

Time to start working on Plan B - Stephen M. Walt, Foreign Policy

If I were President Obama (now there's a scary thought!), I'd ask some smart people on my foreign policy team to start thinking hard about "Plan B." What's Plan B? It's the strategy that he's going to need when it becomes clear that his initial foreign policy initiatives didn't work. Obama's election and speechifying has done a lot to repair America's image around the world -- at least in the short term -- in part because that image had nowhere to go but up. But as just about everyone commented when he got the Nobel Peace Prize last week, his foreign policy record to date is long on promises but short on tangible achievements. Indeed, odds are that the first term will end without his achieving any of his major foreign policy goals...

President Obama May Seem to Dither, But he is Ready to Strike - Andrew Sullivan, The Times

There is a strange quality to Barack Obama's pragmatism. It can look like dilly-dallying, weakness, indecisiveness. But although he may seem weak at times, one of the words most applicable to him is something else entirely: ruthless. Beneath the crisp suit and easy smile there is a core of strategic steel.

In this respect, Obama's domestic strategy is rather like his foreign one - not so much weakness but the occasional appearance of weakness as a kind of strategy. The pattern is now almost trademarked. He carefully lays out the structural message he is trying to convey. At home, it is: we all have to fix the mess left by Bush-Cheney. Abroad, it is: we all have to fix the mess left by Bush-Cheney. And then ... not much...

Robert Gates: Solidly in the Middle of the Afghan Strategy Storm - David Wood, Politics Daily

President Obama's war minister, the man responsible for the day-to-day oversight of fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq and dozens of other current and future hotspots, would much rather be somewhere else than DC and doesn't mind who knows it...

Yet for all his professed distaste for Washington, he has excelled there (Gates was the only CIA officer to rise from an entry-level position to become CIA director, and he is the only defense secretary in US history to be asked to stay on by a newly elected president). He has quietly earned the confidence and trust of major players across the capital's political and military communities...

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