Wednesday, January 21, 2009
A Loud and Clear Message From Across the Atlantic
Dan wonders whether Obama can change minds. I also see it as a test of the claim made throughout the eight years of the Bush Administration by out-of-power Democrats now claiming their seats in the foreign policy and national security apparatus of the new administration that they could "do better" at getting Europeans to burden-share.
My guess is that in addition to France, Germany is a no--at least until after their elections--and depending on who wins, a no even after.
Unfortunately the Afghan operation has become coupled with Iraq in many people's minds. Obama will have to unpick that before he's likely to get any traction with European public opinion.
More broadly, is NATO the best vehicle for this kind of "international community" activity? Might seem more legitimate if it was rebadged.
Ironically, given the scorn about coalitions of the willing, this might be one instance when putting together a one-off coalition, with clear rules of engagement and a command structure, works better than what we have in Afghanistan. Might also be a way to draw in more non-NATO countries as well.
The military commanders here are in a cleft stick. They are terrified of jeopardising the 'special relationship', which is a kind of holy grail for them. But they find it difficult -- to put it mildly -- to justify more body bags to their public.
The basic reason for this is simple -- like that public, the brass have come to think that this is just one more unwinnable Afghan war, and the current effort will be no more successful than earlier ones.
As Simon Jenkins put it last month:
'British diplomats and military experts returning from Kabul have three performance modes. In public they declare Afghanistan to be tough but winnable. In private they admit it is getting worse not better, but might turn round in a decade if only the Afghans were less corrupt. In totally secret mode, their eyes turn to the sky and they declare the whole business a "total effing disaster".'
A far better approach in Afghanistan -- both in terms of combating jihadist terrorism, and of avoiding the further erosion of traditional alliances -- would be that recommended recently by Andrew Bacevich.
Having described in detail the reasons why the existing approach is indeed producing a 'total effing disaster' -- including the dangers it creates of destabilising Pakistan -- Bacevich writes as follows:
'All this means that we need to change course. The war in Afghanistan (like the Iraq War) won't be won militarily. It can be settled -- if imperfectly -- only through politics. And America's real political objective in Afghanistan is actually quite modest: to ensure that terrorist groups like Al Qaeda can't use the country as a safe haven for launching attacks against the West. Accomplishing that won't require creating a modern, cohesive nation-state.
'U.S. officials tend to assume that power in Afghanistan ought to be exercised from Kabul. Yet the real influence in Afghanistan has traditionally rested with tribal leaders and warlords. Offered the right incentives, warlords can accomplish U.S. objectives more effectively and cheaply than Western combat battalions. The basis of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan should therefore become decentralization and outsourcing, offering cash and other emoluments to local leaders who will collaborate with us in keeping terrorists out of their territory.
'This doesn't mean Washington should blindly trust that Afghan warlords will become America's loyal partners. U.S. intelligence agencies should continue to watch Afghanistan closely, and the Pentagon should crush any jihadist activities that local powers fail to stop themselves. But U.S. power—especially military power—is quite limited these days, and U.S. priorities lie elsewhere. Rather than sending more troops to the region, the new American president should start withdrawing them and devise a more realistic—and more affordable—strategy for Afghanistan.'
The only thing I would add to this is that most other states in the region -- notably Russia and Afghanistan -- have a strong interest in preventing Afghanistan becoming a safe-haven for jihadists. A sensible U.S. strategy would seek to capitalise on this.
Do you think that Afghan warlords could do better than they did in the 1990s? My recollection is that warlord rivalries then were a factor in bringing the Taliban to power. Memories of the Taliban could induce traditional Afghans to reject the former's return to power but I wonder if the latter have the cohesion to do so on their own.
It will be much more difficult for the US to prevent jihadists from returning to an Afghanistan in which we have no ground military presence. It will be like having to fight them in Pakistan to the extent that we are doing so now.
Afghanistan was a relatively peaceful and progressive place governed with a light hand by the monarchy before 1973. I wonder if the country is really too far gone to return (with outside assistance) to the conditions of the mid-twentieth century.
It will take at least 3 generations (60 years) of continuous engagement by more powerful states to get Afghanistan back to where it was in 1973. Certainly all the protogonists of the last 35 years ought to die of old age for true peace to return to Afghanistan.
While the bribing of the warlord may be unpleasant, that is one way of maintaining order; provided the warlords can be induced to respect a weak authority in Kabul.
The warlords, in fact, may not be interested in the administratioin of Justics, road construction, etc. Tasks that the Kabut government could do. But there has to be a central authority in Kabul.
But, Afghanistan is US's to loose.
BTW look at the design I've made myself Young escort