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March 31, 2009

Diplomacy Ain't What It Used to Be, Congressional Edition
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Between the G-20 and the Elite Eight, one could easily have missed moves in the Senate and House budget committees to slash dramatically the Administration's request for a major increase in foreign assistance.

And the efforts of a number of aid coalitions notwithstanding, you could have missed the response as well.  Rumor has it there wasn't much response from the OMB -- to the 7.5% cut, the harshest to any portion of Obama's request.  But who called Kent Conrad, Chair of the Senate Budget Committee, to complain and ask that the aid funds be given back?

Not just Secretary Clinton, who oversees them.

Secretary of Defense Gates, that's who, telling Conrad it was in the Pentagon's interest to have stronger civilian leadership in supporting recovering and poor societies.

“I have never before in my 22 years on the budget committee had the secretary of defense call me to support the budget for the State Department,” Conrad said.
Senators Kerry and Lugar are offering a floor amendment tomorrow to restore the money -- who says there's no bipartisanship in Washington?  Not clear whether it gets fully restored subsequently in House-Senate conference... but who says foreign aid doesn't have a constituency?

Diplomacy Ain't What It Used to Be, Vol. G-20
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Just ten years ago, a President's first trip to Europe involved meetings with a (smaller) NATO and EU, with maybe a token stop in a formerly Soviet bloc country.  If you want evidence of how much the trappings of power, and some actual power, have diffused, look at the breadth of leaders Obama will be seeing in Europe -- to say nothing of the breadth of issues those meetings are the venue for discussing.

Over at bloggingheads, Dan Drezner and I embarrass ourselves by failing to name all 20 participants in the G-20.  Quick, can you?  Answer in the click-through.  (Then we go on to discuss the G-20 and trade at thoughtful length, animated by his calling me a protectionist and me calling him a Marxist, which is our effort to imitate the -- non-thoughtful -- way debates on those issues usually play out.) 

Got that one?  How many countries participated in today's Afghanistan conference in the Hague?  More than 80, and I'm not typing them all in.

Is it Joe Nye who used to talk about Americans playing checkers while others played three-dimensional chess, or is that a Tom Friedmanism?  In any case,

Continue reading "Diplomacy Ain't What It Used to Be, Vol. G-20" »

The Trouble with Counter-Insurgency
Posted by Michael Cohen

As I've written here before, I'm not much of a fan of counter-insurgency doctrine and two events over the past several days lend compelling evidence as to why. Quite simply, it's the politics, stupid.

First comes word from Baghdad of an outbreak of fighting between US-supported Sunni "Awakening" fighters and the Iraqi government. According to Brian Katulis, "This weekend’s incident was the first crack in a shaky foundation constructed by the 2007 surge of U.S. troops—a foundation that largely glossed over long-standing political rivalries."  This is not meant to criticize the "surge" but simply it is a recognition that for a counter-insurgency effort to succeed it requires not only a significant number of troops, it needs a long-standing time commitment to ensure that this type of violence doesn't turn into a larger conflict. And it also relies on genuine political reconciliation, which can of course take generations.

Next we have President Obama's recent announcement of his Administration's new policy for Afghanistan, which Fred Kaplan calls "CT-plus." The focus on counter-terrorism versus the broad counter-insurgency strategy advocated by the so-called COIN-dinastas is as Kaplan argues a reflection that following the latter course "could require too many troops, too much money, and way too much time—more of all three than the United States and NATO could muster—and that the insurgents might still win anyway. Better to focus U.S. efforts more narrowly on simply fighting the insurgents themselves, especially in the border areas with Pakistan."

Now I could offer you plenty of reasons why I think a counter-insurgency doctrine is a bad idea; it doesn't fit with the comparative advantage of the US military; its not applicable to the threats America will face in the future; its an example of fighting the last war and as Andrew Bacevich brilliantly and pithily puts it, "If counterinsurgency is useful chiefly for digging ourselves out of holes we shouldn’t be in, then why not simply avoid the holes? Why play al-Qaeda’s game? Why persist in waging the Long War when that war makes no sense?"

But let me offer another reason why counter-insurgency is the wrong approach; and its one borne out by  the experience in Iraq and now Afghanistan - there is simply no domestic political support for the sort of long-standing political, military and financial commitments that are required for counter-insurgency to succeed. There wasn't that type of commitment in 2003 (and I'll get to that issue in a second) but after 7 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, there is absolutely no desire among policymakers to go down this road today.

One of the architects of the military's COIN strategy in Iraq, David Kilcullen, argues that counter-insurgency in Afghanistan means a five to ten year commitment aimed at “building a resilient Afghan state and civil society" and extending “an effective, legitimate government presence into Afghanistan’s 40,020 villages.” That is the sort of commitment that very few US politicians are going to be willing to countenance. So not only are the COIN-dinastas preparing for war that we are unlikely to face, but they are preparing for one that the country is unlikely to be willing to fight.

It's worth remembering that the adoption of COIN strategy in Iraq was not a willful choice by US policymakers; it was a move of desperation by an Administration and a military caught flat-footed by a vibrant insurgency in Iraq. Indeed, it is worth also remembering that the Bush Administration assiduously avoided any discussion of a long commitment to Iraq and aggressively pushed back on anyone who asserted that more not less troops would be needed to pacify the country. The reason was clear: the American people and Congress would never have gone along with such a commitment. 

Counter-insurgency only made sense as a strategy once, to paraphrase Bacevich, we had dug a very big hole in Iraq. And as we are seeing in Iraq right now, the surge has been only temporarily effective. We are still in that hole and even with the outbreak in violence one is hard pressed to find any US political leaders calling for more troops to be sent to Iraq. What happens in Iraq, going forward, will be determined by Iraqis, which by the way is the other flaw in COIN strategy - it presupposes a sovereign government is willing to go along with the long-term stationing of US troops in their country. Even if US troops wanted to stay in Iraq, the Iraqi government is not going to go along . . no matter what Tom Ricks says. (This is not to mention the fact that it's hard to see why it is in the national interest for the US to get in the middle of a civil war between rival Iraqi militias).

With that in mind, it should hardly be surprising that the Obama Administration rejected the COIN approach. And while there are elements of counter-insurgency strategy in the President's Afghanistan plan this is primarily a counter-terrorism effort.  Let's put it this way, if Afghan security services are up to speed in two years and Al Qaeda and the Taliban have been sufficiently degraded the United States will not be sticking around to make sure Afghanistan's democracy is vibrant and robust. We're just going to go home. If you don't believe me; ask the Iraqis.

The choice made by President Obama represents the fundamental flaw being made by COIN-advocates. It's a fundamental flaw made also by supporters of bank nationalization; or those who would push for a single-payer health bill - a failure to reflect domestic political constraints. If the Obama Administration can't convince the American people to go along with a broad counter-insurgency strategy (and won't even try) in a country where we already have troops and where the 9/11 attacks were hatched what makes people think that this or any other Administration will be able to convince Americans that they should go along with a COIN-strategy in a country we haven't even invaded and occupied yet? And a military strategy that has no relation to domestic politics isn't going to be of much use.

Now I realize my example is sort of a straw man, but then not really. The fact is, COIN-strategy is a presupposed on the notion that the US will be getting into intractable conflicts that will necessitate the same sort of tactics used in Iraq over the past 5 years. As an observer of the American political scene, something tells me that simply ain't going to happen.  What has happened in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past week is only further evidence that COIN is simply not a realistic or easily applicable military doctrine.

NSN Daily Update 3/31/09
Posted by The National Security Network

See today's complete daily update here.

What We’re Reading

At the Hague conference on Afghanistan, Secretary of State Clinton calls for diplomacy mixed with military aid and civilian programs.  She pledged $40 million for the Afghan elections, urged Afghan unity, and called years of failure of aid in Afghanistan “heartbreaking.”

The commander of the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the weekend’s attack on a police academy in Lahore.  The attack indicates that the Pakistani Taliban has moved beyond the tribal areas.

The U.K. begins to withdraw from Basra as American forces move in to take over.  A rebellious Sunni council disarmed following clashes this weekend, with promises of job offers from the Iraq security forces.  A suicide bomber killed eight in Mosul.

Iran agreed to help curtail Afghanistan’s drug trade but is critical of the U.S. troop buildup.  The Obama administration calls for destruction of the Afghan poppy fields, but officials call eradication counterproductive.

Commentary of the Day

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev discusses U.S.-Russia relations.  He will meet with President Obama tomorrow.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul says that NATO can do better in Afghanistan.

An adviser to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad responds to President Obama’s Nowruz speech.

Gideon Rachman tells European leaders to support President Obama.

March 30, 2009

Conservatives Claim Credit for a Strategy they Opposed for Years
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

It is quite odd to see conservatives celebrating how Barack Obama stood up to his base and adopted the Afghanistan strategy they have advocated all along.  Bill Kristol  is clearly pleased.  Bob Kagan praises the president for standing up against those who wanted a minimalist approach.  Christian Brose writes about the left coming around.  And Kori Schake essentially implies that Obama's plan was originally the McCain plan.

One problem with this story.  When progressives including Barack Obama, John Kerry and Joe Biden as early as 2002 were warning about the dangers of neglecting Afghanistan, conservatives were focused on Iraq and essentially treating Afghanistan like a backwater.  We can have a serious discussion on Afghanistan and I think the folks at Shadow Government have been making some very smart and interesting contributions.  But for them to somehow declare victory now and praise Obama for taking their advice is patently absurd.  The history bears this out quite clearly.  Conservatives were on the wrong side of this argument for years while progressives saw it coming.


Robert Kagan an Bill Kristol:  "the endgame seems to be in sight in Afghanistan.” 


Joe Biden:   “It’s simple: the very same conditions that enabled the Taliban to come to power in the mid-1990s are rapidly emerging again…Unless we take a serious look at our policy, I greatly fear we may be setting the stage for a tragic replay of recent Afghan history.”


Joe Biden:   “With our attention focused on Iraq, we run the risk of overlooking the alarming deterioration of security in Afghanistan.”

Howard Dean:  “We must follow through on our commitments in Afghanistan to prevent that troubled land from ever again serving as a base for terrorism.”

John McCain:  “There has been a rise in al Qaeda activity along the border. There has been some increase in U.S. casualties. I am concerned about it, but I'm not as concerned as I am about Iraq today, obviously, or I'd be talking about Afghanistan. But I believe that if Karzai can make the progress that he is making, that -- in the long term, we may muddle through in Afghanistan.”

Bill Kristol:  “The battles of Afghanistan and Iraq have been won decisively and honorably.”


John Kerry:  "And Iraq is not even the center of the focus of the war on terror. The center is Afghanistan, where, incidentally, there were more Americans killed last year than the year before; where the opium production is 75 percent of the world's opium production; where 40 to 60 percent of the economy of Afghanistan is based on opium; where the elections have been postponed three times.”

John McCain:  "I’d say, first of all, the facts on the ground are we went to Afghanistan and we prevailed there."


Center for American Progress:  “Up to two active brigades – approximately 20,000 troops – would be sent to bolster US and NATO efforts in Afghanistan and support counterterrorist operations in Africa and Asia. In Afghanistan, more troops are urgently needed to beat back the resurging Taliban forces and to maintain security throughout the country. If NATO is unwilling to send more troops, the United States must pick up the load.” 

John Kerry:  “We will never be as safe as we should be if Iraq continues to distract us from the most important war we must win - the war on Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda, and the terrorists that are resurfacing even in Afghanistan.”

John McCain:  "it was in Afghanistan, as well, there were many people who predicted that Afghanistan would not be a success. So far, it's a remarkable success.”


John Kerry:  "The central front in the war on terror is still in Afghanistan, but this Administration treats it like a sideshow. When did denying al Qaeda a terrorist stronghold in Afghanistan stop being an urgent American priority? How did we end up with seven times more troops in Iraq – which even the Administration now admits had nothing to do with 9/11 – than in Afghanistan, where the killers still roam free? Why is the Administration sending thousands more American troops into the crossfire of a civil war in Iraq but we can’t find any more troops to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan?”

Max Boot:  What should the U.S. do? Sending more troops isn’t in the cards. The coalition troop presence in Afghanistan—20,000 U.S. troops and 20,000 NATO soldiers—is already at an all-time high, and no one has soldiers to spare. Instead of sending more GIs, we should send more greenbacks. U.S. financial assistance to Afghanistan has never been adequate.


Barack Obama:  “As President, I would deploy at least two additional brigades to Afghanistan to re-enforce our counter-terrorism operations and support NATO's efforts against the Taliban. As we step up our commitment, our European friends must do the same, and without the burdensome restrictions that have hampered NATO's efforts. We must also put more of an Afghan face on security by improving the training and equipping of the Afghan Army and Police, and including Afghan soldiers in U.S. and NATO operations.”

Center for American Progress:  “The United States should increase troop levels by approximately 20,000 by redeploying troops from Iraq to Afghanistan, shifting the military strategy fully to a counterinsurgency framework, reducing civilian casualties, strengthening the Afghan National Army, and unifying NATO’s International Security Assistance Force and the United States’ separate Operation Enduring Freedom under one NATO command. All of these actions must be coordinated with civilian actors and integrated with other aspects of a counterinsurgency strategy.”

Harry Reid:  “It is a travesty that Osama bin Laden remains at large nearly six years after the 9/11 attacks and appears to have found new sanctuary to operate freely in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border regions. The Bush Administration and most Congressional Republicans would rather stubbornly stick with a flawed strategy and fight a war that senior military leaders say cannot be won militarily, than adapt to fighting the enemy who attacked us nearly six years ago. It is essential that we dedicate our resources and attention to Al Qaeda and the real threat it poses.”


Joe Biden:  “The next President will have to rally America and the world to ‘fight them over there unless we want to fight them over here.’ The ‘over there’ is not, as President Bush has claimed, Iraq, but rather the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

Harry Reid:  "We've been so focused on Iraq, and we all know Afghanistan has not received the attention and resources it needs...We are where we are, but not where we should be. After 9/11, we spent a little time here and left."

SOI Danger
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Brian Katulis has the breakdown on disturbing reports out of Baghdad with new confrontations between members of the Sons of Iraq and the Iraqi Security Forces.

What happened this weekend in central Baghdad between Iraqi security forces and members of the Sunni Awakening groups was not unexpected, in large part because many of the tactics used in the 2007 “surge” of U.S. forces built a shaky and unstable foundation. Violence broke out in the central Baghdad neighborhood of Fadhil—just a few miles north of the Green Zone—when Iraqi troops backed by U.S. forces arrested Adil Mashadani, an “Awakening” militia leader on charges of terrorist and sectarian crimes. According to news reports, Mashadani allegedly maintained ties with Al Qaeda forces, helped plan roadside bombing attacks against Iraqi security forces, and ran an extortion racket that squeezed Fadhil residents for tens of thousands of dollars.

It might be easy or tempting to try and blame this on the Obama administration or somehow claim that the President should stop his plan to withdraw American forces.  But its very obvious that this is a structural problem that was put in place in 2007.  It was a problem that was pointed out by Brian, Marc Lynch, Colin Kahl and Shawn Brimley, myself, and many others.  Lets hope this is just a blip and not the beginning of something bigger.

The Education of Doug Feith
Posted by Patrick Barry

It's not at all surprising to read today's New York Times opinion section and find that Doug Feith continues to be a font of lazy thinking.  This time he uses the tragic bombing of a shrine to Pashtun Poet Rhaman Baba to outline his scheme for countering Islamic extremism through a public diplomacy initiative patterned after Radio Free Europe:

If it had the equipment and personnel for the job, the United States could broadcast radio programs for the Pashtuns commemorating Rahman Baba’s life and poetry, thus helping to revive the collective memory of Sufism and inspiring opposition to the Taliban. Other programs could highlight the cultural and physical devastation wrought by the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

The United States conducted impressive strategic communications during the cold war. Radio Free Europe, Voice of America and other programs conveyed information and ideas that contributed to the discrediting and ultimate defeat of Soviet communism.

Strategic communications directed at the Muslim World, patterned after Radio Free Europe? Sorry Doug, maybe you shuld have gotten involved with al-Hurra, the Bush administration's attempt to replicate the success of Cold-War era public diplomacy, but which has been widely regarded as a sham by the Muslim world. 

There is unquestionably a need for the U.S. to update its public diplomacy infrastructure.  But to do it via analogies that show no appreciation for the complexities of the audience we're trying to reach, such as how a conservative, sometimes violent strand of Islam reacts with longstanding political and juridical grievances (see Joshua White discuss the current state of affairs in Swat), is just not the way to go. 

NSN Daily Update 3/30/09
Posted by The National Security Network

See today's complete daily update here.

What We’re Reading

Tensions rise between the Iraq Security Forces and Sunni fighters, with military clashes in Baghdad over the weekend.  Radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s faction splintered, weakening the movement and raising hopes for political stability.

Officials say that Abu Zubaida’s harsh interrogation, including waterboarding, produced false leads and no useful information.

General David Petraeus rejected former Vice President Dick Cheney’s statements that President Obama’s detainee policy makes Americans less safe.  He also said that “if one violates the values we hold so dear, we jeopardize [our troops]”

Legislation will be introduced this week in Congress to lift the travel ban on Cuba.

Commentary of the Day

The LA Times looks at challenges for the G-20 and criticizes the Obama administration’s protectionism.

Robert Kagan doesn’t see any downside to the Obama administration’s approach to Iran.

Ludmilla Alexeeva and Gregory Shvedov urge the United States to continue supporting democracy worldwide.

Jonathan Alter says that Obama, like Franklin Roosevelt, is “making an early down payment on big ideas."

March 27, 2009

Keeping an eye on the Hague
Posted by James Lamond

This coming week Europe is going to be full of summits.  Two of them- the NATO Summit and the UN Hague Donors conference- are going to focus a great deal on Afghanistan.  While much of the attention will be placed on the NATO Summit, it is important to keep an eye on the Hague- this is where some of the most important decisions will be made regarding the international effort in Afghanistan.

In his speech today, rolling out his Afghanistan Pakistan plan, President Obama said,

“At the same time, we will shift the emphasis of our mission to training and increasing the size of Afghan Security Forces, so that they can eventually take the lead in securing their country. That is how we will prepare Afghans to take responsibility for their security, and how we will ultimately be able to bring our troops home…

“To advance security, opportunity, and justice – not just in Kabul, but from the bottom up in the provinces – we need agricultural specialists and educators; engineers and lawyers. That is how we can help the Afghan government serve its people, and develop an economy that isn’t dominated by illicit drugs. That is why I am ordering a substantial increase in our civilians on the ground. And that is why we must seek civilian support from our partners and allies, from the United Nations and international aid organizations – an effort that Secretary Clinton will carry forward next week in the Hague.”

Continue reading "Keeping an eye on the Hague" »

Michael GoldENfarb and the Middle Path
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

I'll have more on my take on Obama's Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy over the next few days as I digest it.  But in the meantime just wanted to clear up some silliness from Michael Goldenfarb.   Goldenfarb uses a quote from an administration official saying Obama is going "all in," and compares it to my argument that Obama is unlikely to choose the "all in" approach advocated by his former boss John McCain.  He then concludes:

The president is going "all in" and adding more troops to the fight. His most vocal supporters on the left had no idea this was coming and if you'd asked them yesterday what they thought of such a plan they would have said it was neocon fanaticism. Now watch how they fall into line. But this policy announcement shows just how little influence, and how little insight, the progressives have right now on this administration.

Ummmm..  Really.  4,000 new troops for training purposes is "all in"?  What is Goldenfarb talking about?  Unfortunately, the Politico article that Goldenfarb cited is now been updated and no longer includes either the official he quoted or two paragraphs later another official saying that of the three options Obama chose the middle course.  But it's pretty simple.  Just look at the objectives of the White House review.  It's primarily about counter-terrorism with a recognition that you have to do some counterinsurgency and a lot of civilian capacity to get there. 

Contrary to conservative claims that most progressives don't support this approach, there is and has generally been strong support for this.  CAP supported it both with it's report this week and a similar report in November of 2007.  And Obama's approach is very much in line with NSN's principles document from a month ago. 

I really don't get how conservatives are claiming victory?  Especially since this is a war they chose to neglect for years as the situation deteriorated.

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