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July 26, 2009

Hillary Clinton Talks Afghanistan on Meet the Press
Posted by Michael Cohen

Today on Meet the Press Hillary Clinton was asked a single question about Afghanistan (what's up with that David Gregory, one question on the country where American troops are being killed and we're busy waging a war).

To be honest I've had a very difficult time trying to make heads or tails of what Clinton said. Below is my annotated critique with the Secretary's comments indented and italicized:

We had an intensive strategic review upon taking office. And we not only brought the entire United States government together, but we reached out to friends and allies, people with stakes in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And as you know, the result of that strategic review was to conclude that al-Qaeda is supported by, and uses extremist allies like elements within the Taliban and other violent extremist group in the region as well as worldwide to extend its reach, to proxies for lot of its attacks on Jakarta, Indonesia and elsewhere so that in order to really go after al-Qaeda -- uproot it and destroy it -- we had to take on those who are giving the al-Qaeda leadership safe haven.

Again I'm having a very hard time understanding the point being made here. But if the Secretary's assertion is that Al Qaeda is seeking to further its reach by allying itself with other jihadist organizations that seems correct, but how is that necessarily in America's vital security interests?  Is the Secretary suggesting that every time a group in Indonesia or Algeria or elsewhere calls itself Al Qaeda the US has to send in the Marines? I'm also not clear if Clinton is suggesting that Al Qaeda groups in Indonesia are plotting attacks against the US, but as far as I am aware that really doesn't seem to be an issue. If Al Qaeda is recruiting these organizations to attack the United States then yes, that is in the national interest. But again that doesn't seem to be the case. These appear to be domestically-focused offshoots of Al Qaeda.

I tend to agree that it's important to go after Al Qaeda leadership and disrupt their safe havens, but I'm less clear on what that has to do with Afghanistan - a country that hasn't had a significant Al Qaeda presence since 2002. By the Secretary's own logic the "real fight" for America is in Pakistan where AQ's main leadership can be found.

Now, as you know, the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan is permeable. There are movements back and forth across it. I think our new strategy, which has been endorsed by a very large number of nations, some of whom don't agree with us on a lot of other things, is aimed at achieving our primary goal. And we also learned from Iraq, which were hard lessons, that in order for our military intervention to be effective, when they go in and try to clear areas of extremists, we have to go in and build up the capacity of the local community to defend itself and to be able to realize the benefits of those changes.

Let's first be clear that out military intervention in Iraq was not effective . . . or smart . . . or well-planned . . . or properly resourced. Second, we did build capacity in local communities in Iraq, but that is not the same thing as making Iraq more stable over the long-term (time will tell) and we should be honest that at least part of that "capacity building" was militarily supporting Iraqi Sunnis as they wiped out Al Qaeda in Iraq. But the most important point here is that before we can even get to the build part of clear, hold and build we have to actually do the "hold" part. And without proper support from the Afghan security services  to maximize whatever security gains are made, there is little hope of doing any serious building. I have to yet to hear a cogent explanation for how current counter-insurgency efforts in Afghanistan are going to succeed in the near-term if we don't have actual host country support from the Afghan military and government.

This is a new strategy. It's just beginning. I think the president believes that this is not only the right strategy but facing what he faced, to withdraw our presence or keep it on the low-level limited effectiveness that had been demonstrated would have sent a message to al-Qaeda and their allies that the United States and our allies were willing to leave the field to them. 

Am I reading this correctly, but did Hillary Clinton just make the Dick Cheney-esque argument that we have to stay in Afghanistan because if we leave (or if you prefer, cut and run) it will embolden Al Qaeda? Really, we're playing the credibility card now? Seriously, how is this any different from the argument made during the Bush Administration that we couldn't leave Iraq because it would be trumpeted as a moral victory for Al Qaeda. This may be the single most disappointing thing I've heard from a member of the Obama Administration to date.

And in addition, importantly, we can see the Pakistani government and military really step up, which had not happened to the extent it has now. So the Taliban, which is, as I believe strongly, part of a terrorist syndicate with al-Qaeda at the center, is now under tremendous pressure, and I think that's in America's national interest.

Again, I don't understand this at all - is Hillary referring to the Pakistan Taliban or the situation in Afghanistan because if it's the latter I'm having a hard time squaring it with what I read in the NYT last week about Pakistan's disinclination to go after Afghan Taliban safe havens in Pakistan. But as for the notion that the Taliban is part of a terrorist syndicate with Al Qaeda, perhaps that argument can be made in Pakistan, but what does this argument have to do with Afghanistan? The Taliban there are insurgents they are not terrorists; at the very least they are not terrorists intent on attacking the United States.

The problem here in part is that the Secretary of State is conflating all Taliban as if they are similar actors, acting under a common purpose and with shared goals and a shared set of political grievances. It is quite simply a lazy conflation that I'm afraid is meant to support a particular policy decision and not provide any real insight into the nature of the enemy we are facing in Afghanistan.

Now, I have to add, nobody is more saddened by the loss of life of our young men and women.  And no one is more impatient than we are to see this sacrifice bear fruit. We have the most extraordinary military in the world. They have leadership now we think is totally on point in terms of what we are attempting to accomplish. And I think we're going to see benefits from that.

I'm all for benefits, but it's fair to ask what those benefits will look like in the end. I don't see an answer here or anywhere in the Administration's recent rhetoric a good explanation of what victory in Afghanistan looks like. As Spencer Ackerman puts it quite succinctly, "If we don't have clear metrics for judging success or the need to change course, then we might as well start preparing for failure." And people should listen to Spencer, as I discovered on Friday he's a pretty smart dude.


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Just on Friday? I see how it is.

I was left a little mystifued by Sec. Clinton's discourse this morning myself.

Unmentioned by her were the years the locusts hath eaten -- the long period after the overthrow of the Taliban government when Afghanistan was an afterthought to the war in Iraq. There is no "reset" button in Afghanistan (if there is anywhere, but that's another story). During the afterthought years, Afghanistan developed a government now set in its ways: dependent on local warlords, corrupt, ineffectual. Had we sought to prevent the rise of such a government beginning in 2001, we might have been able to do it. Changing such a government now would be much more difficult.

One must consider the possibility that American policy has objectives other than those stated publicly. Surging troops into Helmand will, in the short term, put the local Taliban on the defensive; in the somewhat longer term, it could disrupt the drug trade that supplies much of the Taliban's revenue. Most of all, it will give the American military another few months to see what turns up in Pakistan, specifically an opportunity to decapitate the top al Qaeda leadership by one means or another and an excuse to declare victory. It is, of course, also possible that the Marines are in Helmand simply to move to contact. If the Taliban give battle in large numbers, they will also die in large numbers, and the bloodletting might settle them down for long enough to allow American disengagement.

As counterinsurgency, though, the American course in Afghanistan right now does not promise success -- leaving aside the possibility that we intend to keep an army there forever, in which case it might. If one can define success flexibly enough, anything becomes possible.

. . .to proxies for lot of its attacks on Jakarta, Indonesia and elsewhere

The Indonesians, as far as I know, have no forces in Afghanistan. If they're not concerned enough to send their people to fight and die then why should the US be?

Bottom line -- al Qaeda is a criminal terrorist organization which is best countered by law enforcement. Military activities have proven ineffective except to increase the terrorist ranks.

"Afghan aid heart breaking failure",Hillary Clinton. So now what ? Scrubbing every single civilian program. A new civillan aid effort with greater measures of accountability and the new strategy announced to improve.When do we eliminate the poppy fields of which is a source of serious problem ? Cause/Solution ? Grow sugarcane or turn poop to methane but the "stretches" for miles of poppy has got to go ! $200,000 just spent on a rehab and it's a start ! Listen to General McCrystal and the commanders ! They say we need more support in Afghan !Please support and thank-you.

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