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April 23, 2010

The NPT Review Conference and Nuclear April: How to Put It All Together
Posted by Kelsey Hartigan

The upcoming Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference in New York will bring with it the usual international politicking, but this time, folks are much more likely to actually listen.  Good news and bad news. 

Every five years delegates meet in New York to review the NPT—after deciding in 1995 to extend the life of the treaty indefinitely.  This year’s session follows the roll-out and signing of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) between the U.S. and Russia, the release of the Nuclear Posture Review, and the commencement of the U.S. – led Nuclear Security Summit.  All good policy initiatives that advance U.S. national security and demonstrate progress on our NPT commitments.  That’s the good news.  The bad news, is that a small minority of observers have convinced themselves that the saliency of these initiatives hinge on the success of the NPT RevCon.  While the conference will be an important opportunity to work toward strengthening the global nonproliferation regime, it will not and should not be a yardstick for determining the strength of U.S. nonproliferation policies.

The 2010 RevCon was never going to be a smashing success.  Long-standing disagreements on hot-button issues have continually threatened consensus documents at the United Nations—a trend which has not dramatically subsided this year.  The failure of the 2005 NPT Review Conference is also still fresh in the minds of some.  In the lead-up to the 2005 conference, the Bush administration invaded Iraq under false pretenses, signaled it would not seek to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, reversed the U.S. position on pursuing a verifiable Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty, withdrew from the ABM Treaty, sought funds for tactical nuclear weapons—bunker busters—that weapon commanders in the field never asked for, and signed a three-page bilateral agreement with Russia that contained no verification measures.  On top of that, by the time the conference rolled around, the international climate had dramatically eroded.  North Korea had withdrawn from the treaty, questions over Iran’s nuclear activities were on the rise, and the A.Q. Khan network had been uncovered.  Cole Harvey and the Arms Control Association spell it out:

In January 2003, North Korea declared it would withdraw from the NPT, ejected IAEA inspectors, and resumed work related to the production of plutonium for nuclear weapons.  Weeks later, it became known that Iran had been secretly pursuing nuclear activities for years, including work on a large uranium-enrichment complex at Natanz, in violation of its IAEA safeguards obligations. Less than a year later, in early 2004, U.S. officials revealed that the head of Pakistan’s nuclear program, Abdul Qadeer Khan, had been operating a clandestine nuclear technology supply network that provided key components to Iran, Libya, and North Korea. The revelations about the Khan network and the interdiction of a ship bound for Libya with centrifuge components led to the admission by Tripoli of its own secret nuclear weapons program and a decision by Libya to dismantle that program in exchange for the promise of normalized relations with the West.

…The four week-long conference closed in New York on May 27 without any consensus document assessing the state of the treaty, let alone a plan to strengthen it.”

With this kind of history, heightened tensions over Iran’s nuclear ambitions, North Korea’s continued defiance, and a host of other ailments, challenges to the nonproliferation regime abound.

There is no silver bullet that will fix the entire nonproliferation regime.  Steps taken by the Obama administration are essential to strengthening the global regime and addressing proliferators such as Iran.  But the ability, or inability, of these policies to instantly cure the long-troubled review conference should not detract from the Administration’s smart, comprehensive approach.  The Arizona duo will almost surely assert otherwise.   But judging policies that are less than a month old on their ability to alter the course of the upcoming NPT Review Conference (and the multitude of issues accompanying it) is shortsighted.  The administration’s nuclear policies are essential to our national security—and should be regarded as such, regardless of the specific outcome of the review conference. The NPT Review Conference is part of the Administration's approach to strengthening the global nonproliferation regime and confronting Iran—not the judge of it. 

Kandahar Cluster**** Watch - The You Can't Make This Stuff Up Version
Posted by Michael Cohen

Over the last few days I've written about the delusional nature of US/NATO efforts around the impending military operations in Kandahar. Today in the Washington Post we have another excellent example of this phenomenon.

U.S military commanders and senior diplomats are locked in a dispute over the best way to bring more electricity to Afghanistan's second largest city, complicating a major campaign to win over the population of Kandahar and push out the Taliban. Convinced that expanding the electricity supply will build popular support for the Afghan government and sap the Taliban's influence, some officers want to spend $200 million over the next few months to buy more generators and millions of gallons of diesel fuel.

Although they acknowledge that the project will be costly and inefficient, they say President Obama's pledge to begin withdrawing troops by July 2011 has increased pressure to demonstrate rapid results in their counterinsurgency efforts, even if it means embracing less-than-ideal solutions to provide basic public services.

U.S. diplomats and reconstruction specialists, who do not face the same looming drawdown, have opposed the military's plan because of concerns that the Afghan government will not be able to afford the fuel to sustain the generators. Mindful of several troubled development programs over the past eight years, they want the United States to focus on initiatives that Afghans can maintain over the long term.

This article is reflective of what seems to be an increasingly significant issue in US efforts in Afghanistan - the desire to bring short-term results that will lead to a more immediate US exit and the long-term need to create some level of stability in the country. Interestingly, Alex Strick van Linschoten, who is one of the few Western journalists working in Kandahar sides with the short-termers.

But as Josh Foust said to me offline,"it took eight years of construction, culminating in a specific and hard-wrought electricity-sharing agreement with Uzbekistan, to supply Kabul. ISAF now wants to supply all of Kandahar in three months." Of course, this is at pace with the military's increasingly delusional public and private declarations of how quickly they can provide governance, security and extend state legitimacy in Southern Afghanistan. Even if the US is able to buy enough diesel fuel and generators to meet the goal of powering Kandahar what exactly is the point if it's not sustainable?

NATO seems to think that Afghans are like an ill-treated girlfriend who can be bought off with roses and chocolates even though there clearly is no engagement ring in their future. The heck with Jay-Z and the Game; maybe NATO planners should be listening to Beyonce!

Yet, this isn't even the most bizarre element of this initiative. This is:

"The top NATO commander in southern Afghanistan, British Maj. Gen. Nick Carter, said increasing power in the city will produce a 'head-turning moment' among residents and will lead them to rally behind the Afghan government."

Truly the mind reels.

Ignoring the fact that being unable to sustain short-term electricity levels might produce a reversal of this "head-turning moment" you do really wonder if NATO commanders believe this stuff. So let's say that maintaining electricity will rally Kandaharis against their Pashtun brethren and in support of the government - how does that actually help NATO? The idea here is that you want to get the population on your side so they will turn against the Taliban - but electricity in itself will hardly encourage Kandaharis to go that route. Instead you need to actually provide people with security and convince them that NATO and the Afghan government is there for the long haul.

But if you're only able to provide power for a few months - and eventually the city goes back to uncertain electricity supplies - how do you possibly convince local Afghans that they should "rally behind" the government? Over the long-term won't it lead to even more diminished trust in the Kabul government? For this effort to succeed it needs to be sustainable - which appears to be the exact opposite approach that the military is advocating. And if it's not sustainable is it even something that the US and NATO should be wasting its time on . . . although of course this is the most obvious critique of the entire COIN effort in Southern Afghanistan.

But that is far from the worst part. At the same time that NATO view increasing power in the city as a "head-turning moment" it is steadfastly ignoring the fact that according to the US Army's own public opinion surveys Kandaharis are almost unanimously opposed to NATO military intervention in their city. Do NATO and US military officials truly believe that providing electricity to Kandahar will serve to outweigh the negative consequences of increased violence that comes from our presence there? How does any increased support for NATO and the Karzai government not get completely reversed if against the wishes of local Afghans we intervene military and kill more civilians?

It really does beg the question: how does the one military organization devise policies that are so inherently contradictory?

POMED Releases Annual Budget Report on US Democracy Assistance
Posted by Shadi Hamid

The Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED) has just released its annual report analyzing US democracy assistance in the Middle East. This report has quickly become must-reading in DC policy circles. It's that good (disclaimer: as a member of POMED"s board of directors, I may be a bit biased). Not only that, it's written by my friend Stephen McInerney, who knows more about US democracy assistance than pretty much anyone else I know in Washington.

Budgets, sometimes, speak louder than words, so Steve's analysis helps makes some sense of where the Obama administration's priorities lay. In short, go read it. Some of the key findings from the report:

  • MEPI has Obama’s support.  The Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) has become a centerpiece of the administration’s efforts to engage civil society and support democracy in the region.  Following a 30% increase in funding in FY10, the new budget requests an additional 32% increase up to $86 million.  More than 60% ($52.9 million) of the requested funding is for MEPI’s democracy and governance programs, with $27.2 million designated for civil society – a 39% increase from FY10.
  • Controversial changes in U.S. assistance to Egypt have been reinforced.  Funding for democracy in Egypt remains at levels sharply reduced in March 2009, which included disproportionate cuts in funding for civil society.  The decision to provide USAID funding only to organizations registered and approved as NGOs by the Egyptian government remains in place.  Finally, the administration is now exploring the establishment of an “endowment” proposed by the Egyptian government, which ultimately could remove a significant portion of U.S. economic assistance to Egypt from  normal channels of congressional oversight.
  • The administration is increasingly leaving Iraq’s governance to Iraqis.  As the U.S. military draws down its presence in Iraq, the budget is also beginning to decrease large-scale bilateral funding for democracy and governance in Iraq, which is reduced 46% from existing levels.
  • The administration has “doubled down” on aid to Afghanistan and Pakistan.  After increasing aid to Afghanistan and Pakistan a year ago from $1.87 billion to $4.36 billion, President Obama has now requested an even larger increase, up to a total of $6.95 billion.  This increase extends to funding for democracy and governance programs in the two countries, for which $1.58 billion is requested, up from a FY10 request of $991 million.
  • Aid to Yemen is up.  In last year’s FY10 budget, President Obama requested a 38% increase in foreign aid to Yemen, including a more than threefold increase in funding for democracy and governance programming.  Now for FY11, he has requested an additional 58% increase in assistance to Yemen, while also restructuring USAID’s approach to the country.
  • Internet freedom is a major point of emphasis.  The Obama administration and Congress alike have embraced support for freedom of Internet access and online expression as a key component of the efforts to support human rights abroad. The Middle East is a particular focus of this approach.
  • Total foreign assistance is increased.  The Obama administration has requested a considerable increase in total foreign assistance for the BMENA region.  At $14 billion, the request represents a 27% increase over the FY10 budget for total aid to the region.
  • Total funding for democracy and governance is up. Leaving aside the outsized security and military-driven cases of Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, the FY11 budget increases funding for democracy and governance by 10% across the region.

April 22, 2010

Dubuque's Tom Tully -- A Happy Political Warrior
Posted by David Shorr

Separate from my day gig, I have been active as a volunteer on behalf of National Security Network, the sponsor of this blog. Last night I was sad to learn of the death of Tom Tully, our friend, fireball, vital partner in everything we've done here in Iowa.

In the spring of 2006, colleagues in the foreign policy community were ratcheting up an effort to inject progressive foreign policy ideas and messages into the political process and wanted to have a chapter in Iowa. The organization didn't yet have its current name, but it was soon clear that the word network was highly apt. It was like the old shampoo commercial -- 'I told two friends, and they told two friends, and so on, and so on.' My first call was to Ambassador Ken Quinn of the World Food Prize, and right away he directed me to his old friend Tom Tully.

Tom's spirit and enthusiasm were infectious from the very start. Soon after I contacted him, we met at his favorite downtown haunt, Dubuque's Cafe Manna Java. The essence of activism and organizing is to make something out of nothing, and at a time when we were truly starting with nothing, Tom gave me a shot of confidence that we were onto something. US foreign policy was a disaster, and yes, talking about the issue with voters must be part of the political process.

Along with his passion and energy, Tom had a background that gave him insight into the problem as well as what we needed to do about it. As this terrific Dubuque Telegraph-Herald article on Tom attests, he was a political and civic pillar of his community, complete with service as the city's mayor. With a stint as a civilian official in the Kennedy administration Pentagon, he had been a national security policy professional. Tom was also a classically trained policy wonk -- with a masters from what we now call the Harvard Kennedy School -- with the intellectual appetite of a life-long learner, always ready to tell me about the foreign policy book I needed to read.

Over the next two election cyc few years, we were pretty successful in making something out of nothing. Corraling other Iowans who shared our concerns, we helped give foreign policy issues and the argument for renewing America's engagement with the world a fairly high profile in Iowa's political life. It was a lot of public events, hosting visiting experts, propagandizing, going around to media outlets, op-eding, and driving all around the state. Tom was as dependable as could be, and ever the happy warrior, he helped make it fun.

The thing that strikes me in that newspaper article is that Tom's work with National Security Network was of a piece with a broader lifelong commitment to civic engagement and trying to do some good in this world. We in NSN, for instance, had to share Tom with the Dubuque Area Committee on Foreign Relations. Which wasn't a problem, since Tom seemed to have enough energy to go all the way around. And then of course, his wife Joan had to share Tom with us, for which we were certainly grateful.

As the Telegraph-Herald piece makes clear, people like Tom are rare indeed. I feel lucky to have worked alongside hiim and send my warmest condolences to Joan, Tom Jr., Maureen, Brother Rob, his other siblings, grandchildren, and the rest of the clan.

Kandahar Cluster**** Watch Pt. 2
Posted by Michael Cohen

About a year ago when I first started writing about counter-insurgency and Afghanistan I did so because I was struck by the glaring disconnect between the tactical approaches being advocated for in Afghanistan and America's larger strategic interests there. It's not that I am some raging dove, but something about the strategy just didn't seem to make sense to me; and it seemed to reflect an approach driven more by American can-doism rather than a realistic appraisal of US interests and capabilities.  A year later, the problem only seems to be getting worse.

The embrace of a COIN approach in Afghanistan remains the tactical equivalent of sticking a round peg in a square hole. Indeed, even by the doctrinal standards laid out in the flawed FM 3-24, Afghanistan is an incredibly poor choice for waging a COIN fight - what with the combination of almost non-existent host country support, the continued existence of an external safe haven, the lack of enough US troops, a fully-resourced civilian surge and diminishing political will both in the US and among NATO countries. In short, if not for the supposed success of COIN in Iraq - and the fetishization of counter-insurgency doctrine in the US military - would anyone actually come to the conclusion that Afghanistan is a good place to wage a COIN fight? I seriously doubt it.

What we have seen repeatedly is an adherence to COIN, for the sake of COIN. The similarities to the strategic myopia we saw in Vietnam in Iraq are almost too uncomfortable to note.  Military and political decisions are made that seem to ignore any piece of contradictory evidence. And the upcoming offensive in Kandahar is example A of how this delusional process manifests itself on the ground.

Nominally our goal in Southern Afghanistan is not simply to defeat the Taliban, but also to protect the Afghan people and encourage them to side with the government against the insurgents. As I tried to point out yesterday, every available indication suggests that military intervention in Afghanistan will not only likely fail to accomplish these goals, but may actually inflame Afghan public opinion against NATO.

According to the US Army's own public opinion research 94% of Kandaharis oppose the military entry of NATO forces. So why do US military planners insist on sending the lion's share of troops to places where they are clearly not wanted - and ignoring those places where the Taliban are hated and the presence of US troops is not mistrusted? The obvious answer is that this is where the bad guys are. But how does that square with the constant proclamations and tangible ROEs that protecting the population is our number one priority in Afghanistan?

If truly the population is the center of gravity in the COIN fight . . . why are we ignoring the population?  Why are we taking steps that they almost unanimously oppose and that will likely get many of them killed?

Consider for example, the words of Admiral Mullen previewing the fight in Kandahar:

Mullen: Well, I think the strategy that the president laid out — that we are now executing — is reversing the momentum of the Taliban. That’s really the goal this year. I think the operation in Kandahar, which ha[s] commenced, will go a long way towards doing that. So that’s sort of the next big step for me, is Kandahar.

But it’s not just the security aspect. It’s the governance piece. Y’know, I was in a shura with the governor of Kandahar and 60 or 70 elders three or four weeks ago, my last trip. They’re asking for goods and services. They want security, safety. They want their government to deliver for them. I think in the near term, that’s the next big step. 

But as we've seen in Marjah, the US has been unable to provide these services or any sort of "government in a box" to the Afghan people. In fact, this has been a dominant and consistent theme in all of our dealings in Southern Afghanistan - the inability to guarantee security, jobs, good governance etc, particularly in the face of a vicious and effective insurgency. Aside from the platitudes of US military officials what possible evidence is there to believe that this time will be different? What reason is there to believe that the Kabul government and the President's drug-dealing brother are going to execute on these goals? In short, "if not for the supposed success of COIN in Iraq - and the fetishization of counter-insurgency doctrine in the US military - would anyone actually come to the conclusion that Kandahar is a good place to wage a COIN fight?"

But that isn't the point I suppose. Last year, the military decided that we had to do COIN in Afghanistan .  . and so we did COIN. Back in the Fall the President ordered a review of Afghanistan policy and was told by his commanding general that it was COIN or nothing (oh and by the way I need 30,000 more troops) . . and so he got more troops and population centric COIN was embraced by the White House.

Then in February the Marines decided that the fight was in Helmand . . . and so off to Marjah we went. Now, military officials have decided that the next battle is in Kandahar.

And that's that.

Four Things Obama Needs to Do in the Middle East
Posted by Shadi Hamid

As some of you know, I wrote a recent piece on "Bush nostalgia" in the Middle East which provoked some interesting responses in the blogosphere, including from Daniel Larison and Matt Duss., a project of the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI), asked me to write a brief follow-up proposing four things Obama can/should now. You can read it here. And here's a teaser:

Compared to the destructive policies of his predecessor, President Obama’s approach seems a breath of fresh air. But his foreign policy vision, while certainly sensible, has so far been remarkably conventional and unimaginative. Perhaps that’s what was initially needed. Now, however, is the time for bolder, more creative policy making. Here are four things Obama can – and should – do in the Middle East to advance U.S. interests and ideals

  • Recognize the region’s changing balance of power. Traditional allies like Egypt and Jordan (two of the world’s largest U.S. aid recipients) are losing influence. Increasingly authoritarian, erratic and perceived as excessively pro-American, they have little credibility with Arab audiences. On the other hand, emerging powers like Turkey and Qatar are pursuing independent foreign policies and maintaining positive relations with both the West and the “rejectionist” camp (Iran, Syria, Hamas and Hezbollah). Not surprisingly, both countries, seen as “honest brokers,” have played a major role in mediating regional conflicts and supporting dialogue efforts, including on the Syrian-Israeli, Israeli-Palestinian, Hamas-Fatah and internal Lebanese tracks. The U.S. should encourage their efforts, keeping in mind that they may be uniquely well-positioned to exert influence on Iran and Syria.
  • Promote Turkish accession to the EU. Turkey is the closest thing the Middle East has to a “model,” one of only two countries in the world led by a democratically elected Islamist party. According to a 2009 survey, 64 percent of Arab respondents in seven countries believe “Turkey’s EU membership prospects make Turkey an attractive partner for reform in the Arab world.” Considering its growing regional importance, the U.S. cannot afford for Turkey to turn inward and become embroiled in conflict between its secularist military and Islamist-leaning government. For a time, Turkey’s desire to join the EU provided incentives to implement wide-ranging legal and political reforms. However, as the EU drags its feet on accession talks, and Turks lose hope in EU membership, the reform process looks less encouraging than ever. Turkey must, however, remain enmeshed in Western institutions and partnerships. The Obama administration should use its leverage with European allies to ensure the accession process moves forward.
You can read the whole thing here.

April 21, 2010

Kandahar Cluster**** Watch
Posted by Michael Cohen

After the rousing success of US operations in Marjah, where good governance, security for local Afghans and a demoralized Taliban defines that sprawling metropolis, it seems only natural that US military planners are planning an ambitious operation for this summer in Kandahar province where a mere few Taliban dead-enders and eagerly expectant Afghan locals will be sure to greet their American and European liberators with flowers and candy.

Ok, I jest, but after reading the news out of Kandahar the past few days I'm not sure if it makes sense to laugh or to cry. As Matt Yglesias noted the other day COIN advocates have long told us that no one who supports COIN actually wants to do COIN because it's so difficult. But in Afghanistan, in the face of obvious impediments to doing effective counter-insurgency (time, political will, lack of host nation support and civilian support and the continued existence of an external safe haven) the US plows ahead convinced that a COIN fight is the only way to protect US interests there. So instead of confronting reality in Afghanistan US military planners seem increasingly committed to inventing their own.

Take the impending summer offensive in Kandahar.  Week before last the Times of London reported that Kandahar elders told President Karzai in no uncertain terms that they don't want a NATO intervention in their city:

Visiting last week to rally support for the offensive, the president was instead overwhelmed by a barrage of complaints about corruption and misrule. As he was heckled at a shura of 1,500 tribal leaders and elders, he appeared to offer them a veto over military action. “Are you happy or unhappy for the operation to be carried out?” he asked.

The elders shouted back: “We are not happy.”

And apparently they are not alone. As Nathan Hodge noted on Friday, the US Army's own surveys indicate that Kandaharis are not buying the tonic that NATO and Kabul is selling:

The southern Afghan province of Kandahar trusts the Taliban more than the government. And that’s according to a survey commissioned by the U.S. Army.

Kandahar is expected to be the focal point of operations for U.S. and NATO troops this summer, but a poll recently conducted by the Army’s controversial social science program, the Human Terrain System (HTS), is warning that rampant local corruption, and a lack of security, could undermine coalition efforts to win the support of the local population.

The same report also indicates that a whopping 94% of Kandaharis interviewed prefer negotiations to the NATO intervention and 85% view the Taliban as "Afghan brothers." With word yesterday that Taliban guerrilas walked into a mosque and shot to death the deputy mayor of Kandahar as he was praying it's hardly surprising. This horrific act of violence against a public official who was seen as one of the few trustworthy government officials in the city - not to mention the increasing pace of suicide bomber attacks - is almost certainly a dispiriting harbinger of the violence to come should NATO follow-through on its plans to take Kandahar back from the Taliban. It's a point elaborated on by Tim Lynch who notes:

ISAF wants to clear the city in a slow, deliberate, methodical fashion, spending lots of time in hopes of avoiding casualties.  The Taliban appear to be trying to draw them into the city ahead of schedule in an attempt to bleed them.  If they are successful at inflicting casualties (and not even heavy casualties, just a few a day, a number which would have been irrelevant in past wars) then they will completely derail ISAF.  If that happens, RC South will want to throw the Marines into the fray and we’ll lose everything they have gained over the past 18 months in a bid to win Kandahar.

And for the record, according to General McChrystal, back in March, the concerns of Kandaharis would be factored into military decision-making: "I think the most important thing is to understand that before we do a military operation in Afghanistan, we really have got to get the consent of the people who are going to be [sic] affected by that operation.   And what I mean by that is, one, we've got to operate in a way that they find acceptable."  

That was then. Now Gareth Porter is reporting that military officials are backtracking away from these words: 

Lt. Col. Tadd Sholtis, a spokesman for Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, told IPS Tuesday that local tribal elders in Kandahar could "shape the conditions" under which the influx of foreign troops operate during the operation, but would not determine whether or where NATO troops would be deployed in and around the city.

Asked whether the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) is committed to getting local approval before introducing more troops into Kandahar and surrounding districts, the McChrystal spokesman said, "We're not talking about something as simple as a referendum."

Apparently the Afghan people don't understand what's best for them.

In addition, we have this depressing update from Joe Klein, in an article that rightly causing waves across official Washington, about the enormous problems with our COIN efforts in Southern Afghanistan and how restrictive rules of engagement are putting American troops in greater danger and risk of undermining the coming summer offensive.

In short, all the warning signs about operations in Kandahar are blinking red. We have a civilian population that fears NATO intervention and is broadly sympathetic with the Taliban; we have a US military untrained in the ways of counter-insurgency and chafing at restrictive ROEs; we have an Afghan government that is hardly supportive of the mission and with Karzai's drug-dealing brother in charge of Kandahar not terribly interested in good governance and ending corruption; and of course we have a vicious insurgent force more than happy to up the ante by murdering innocent civilians and using mosques as execution chambers.

This all seems like a very odd way to follow-through on the goal of protecting Afghan civilians or even extending the legitimacy of the Karzai government. Indeed, one might imagine that a uniformly opposed escalation in Kandahar that results in civilian deaths and only strengthens a disliked and corrupt local government is not going to be met with universal appreciation by Kandaharis.  But increasingly it seems that the fetishization of COIN in the US military - and not facts on the ground - is what is driving strategy in Afghanistan.

April 20, 2010

What would it take to nip al-Qaeda in the bud?
Posted by Patrick Barry

Bruce Hoffman knows a little something about terrorism, so whenever he chimes in, it's worth taking a peek at what he has to say.  In this month's National Interest, Hoffmann takes issue with the suggestion that al-Qaeda has been weakened over the last several years.  Far from being hobbled, says Hoffmann, Al-Qaeda has simply decided to change tactics, abandoning large-scale attacks, for smaller, more frequent strikes, often involving western recruits.  

The first thing to say is that this isn't exactly a new argument.   Spencer, in particular, has taken note of this shift, arguing that it stems from the group's diminished ability to carry out attacks of the kind we saw on 9/11.  But Hoffmann disagrees with this suggestion. He argues that smaller attacks, carried out frequently and with the aid of westerners, actually serve AQ's interests better than big, 9/11-style plots.  In other words, AQ wasn't forced to make this shift, they chose to.

Moving on, one of Hoffmann's major concerns with the Obama administration's approach to counterterrorism is the weight they've placed on killing or capturing the leadership of terrorist movements.  In Hoffmann's view, "such measures—without accompanying or attendant efforts to stanch the flow of new recruits into a terrorist organization—amount to a tactical holding operation at best."  Readers will know that I wholeheartedly agree with this idea. But I wonder. Is it really fair to say that it doesn't register with the Obama administration?  Certainly at the rhetorical level, administration officials have defined the WH's counterterrorism policy as extending well beyond simply capturing or killing extremists.  There also have been signs that the Administration grasps this message as a matter of policy, taking such steps as ending the practice of torture (which spurred on terrorist recruitment) and expanding counterterrorism cooperation with U.S. allies.

Still, the overall picture of the Administration's counterterrorism record remains at least somewhat divorced from both Hoffmann's conception of what constitutes "good policy" and the administration's own rhetoric. There are many possible reasons for this. Serwer is smart to cite the politicization of terrorism, which so far has made it extremely difficult for administration to do some of the things it had promised.  The GOP in particular seems perfectly happy to block the WH's efforts to close Guantanamo, despite the effect such a move would have on "stanch[ing] the flow of new recruits into a terrorist organization."  Another thing to remember is that turning around the negative perceptions of the U.S. that can fuel terrorism rests on policy outcomes that take time to achieve.  Withdrawal from Iraq is happening, but slowly. Progress toward Middle East peace has stalled.  Resolving these challenges will go a long way toward undercutting the message of extremist groups like Al Qaeda, but it won't happen overnight.

And finally, we shouldn't paper-over the contradictory elements of the administration's own policy.  Getting rid of the 'Global War on Terror' is a fine thing, but isn't it fair to question the impact of such a move when the U.S. is still waging two wars in Muslim countries?  Can the administration meaningfully say that its counterterrorism policies accord with its principles, when the perception held by many observers is that it is conducting an extra-legal military campaign in Pakistan? There aren't easy answers to any of these questions. I think it's fair to say that the administration is still trying to get the balance right.   

April 19, 2010

The Structural Hopelessness of US Policy Toward the Middle East
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Daniel Larison has made one of the strongest arguments I’ve seen for the structural hopelessness of US policy toward the Middle East. In response to my piece calling on Obama to focus more on democracy promotion, he writes

Were allied Arab states to become much more democratic, their governments would be obliged to pay more attention to the grievances Greg [Scoblete] mentions, and that would make the divergence of perceived interests between our governments difficult to paper over…Washington is not very used to having many allies that pursue independent foreign policies, and it does not respond well to allies that resist or criticize U.S. policies(...)

It might be possible for Washington to adjust to a world with many democratized Arab states that distance themselves from the United States in some ways, but more likely we would have to endure years of acrimonious domestic debate and recriminations over “who lost Oman.” Our politicians would try to outdo one another with promises to restore American “credibility” in the region, and the government would probably back the occasional coup against Islamist or populist Arab leaders.”

It is certainly possible that policymakers would be this myopic. One hopes we’re capable of some introspection – and, God forbid – change. I think that’s why we need to make the case, in very clear terms, that democracy promotion is, contrary to perceptions, in America's national security interest (I’ve made this argument here, here, and here). Continuing our unqualified support of dictators, on the other hand, is not, because it perpetuates what nearly everyone agrees is an untenable status quo - unless, that is, you’re willing to believe that autocracy can be made permanent.

That said, having, and propping, “stable” dictators in power is the path of least resistance, in part, because it's been our policy for so long. Change, particularly when it requires bureaucratic recalibration, is painful. It would require a strategic vision, along with a boldness, creativity, and imagination that have thus far been lacking from the Obama administration. It would also take a certain tolerance for risk; newly-elected governments, as Larison points out, would do things we'd disagree with. 

But I think Larison overstates the U.S. fear of states pursuing what he calls “independent foreign policies,” especially since there are already two Middle Eastern countries that actively and unapologetically do just that – Turkey and Qatar. They also happen to be close American allies. I’d be comfortable making the argument that, despite their hobnobbing with Iran and sympathy toward Hamas, both countries are more effective American allies than, say, Egypt and Jordan, precisely because their foreign policy conduct is perceived to be more independent and in line with popular Arab sentiment. Turkey and Qatar are credible actors where their Egyptian and Jordanian counterparts are not. In other words, it is possible to envision a new Middle East, one with democratically-elected governments which, because they enjoy popular consent, are more effective on the regional and international stage.

April 16, 2010

Kinder/Gentler . . . One More Time
Posted by Michael Cohen

Spencer has responded to my earlier post with this comment (among others):

In many, many relevant texts, including FM 3-24 and its cousin, FM 3-07 on Stability Operations, strategic emphasis is placed on the perspectives of a given population as the locus for success or failure in an operation. What follows from that is an understanding that ensuring those perspectives go in the direction you’d like them to go requires meaningful attention to the interests of that population, competitive with an enemy force — with “meaningful” defined by that population. That will mean different things at different times, but most importantly it will mean the provision of many things simultaneously: security, justice, economic development, and political expression in matters relevant to that population’s interest. If there is a core insight here, it’s that all of these things matter and must exist in supplement or the whole enterprise risks destabilization or unsustainability. Welcome to counterinsurgency.

This is an important point and one that merits greater explication. I hope that Spencer reads my article in this month's World Policy Journal (along with every other sentient American with a vague interest in COIN) because as I make clear pretty much every major COIN fight in the 20th century - even the most brutal ones - was accompanied by the "economic development, political expression" or so-called civic action that he describes. Nothing that is described in FM 3-24 from that perspective is remarkably different from these efforts. (Moreover, I think it's incorrect to argue that "other modes of warfare do not view the perspectives of a population as decisive." What was the firebombing of Japan and Germany if not an effort to weaken the morale of the populations in both countries - as well as destroy their economic base?)

What is fundamentally consistent, however, about these conflicts is that civic action was accompanied by coercion and violence against civilian populations. Take Vietnam for example. There were plenty of efforts to provide economic development, security, political expression - but there was also the strategic hamlet program and Phoenix, which were coercive and violent efforts to separate the population from the insurgents. (Indeed, the omission of Phoenix from FM 3-24 does not seem accidental, because it fundamentally undermines the carrot-based COIN strategy that is described in that book). Of course our efforts in Vietnam were unsuccessful; but yet a combination of coercion and civic action were successful in Malaya, Kenya and the Philippines.

But in Afghanistan (and in FM 3-24) the US military is taking a very different approach. It's all carrot and no stick against civilians. This of course is great for civilians, but its also ahistorical and has no precedent of past success. As I argue in the article:

In the end, nations inclined to embark on these campaigns in foreign lands would be wise to remember that even the best intentions of occupiers have generally bumped head-first into the shoals of bloody reality. Counterinsurgencies are as violent, coercive, destructive, and brutal as any other type of conflict. To ignore the fundamental elements of COIN operations—and to believe that an approach characterized by humanism and protection of civilians will succeed—is simply misguided.  

Moreover, on a strategic level, a COIN mission in Afghanistan focused exclusively on using carrots is likely doomed to failure:

The current U.S. mission is predicated on the goal of building up the confidence of the population, providing security, and expanding the legitimacy of the government in Kabul. But since that government lacks basic capacity, this is a goal that cannot be accomplished in the near-term. Yet the clock is ticking on America’s troop presence there—President Barack Obama has made clear that U.S. forces will begin coming home in June 2011. There seems to be a critical mismatch between strategy and tactics. A carrot-based approach that aims to build up the confidence of the Afghan people in the U.S. military, NATO, and their own government is the sort of mission that might have worked at the beginning of the war in Afghanistan—not eight years later.

In short, the Pentagon has chosen a mission in Afghanistan that minimizes its most obvious military advantage and accentuates practices for which it has neither the will, resources, nor core competency to implement successfully.  

The simple fact is that the carrot-based approach being used by ISAF in Southern Afghanistan is fundamentally NOT in the tradition of modern counter-insurgency. It even differs in fundamental ways from what the US military and proxy armies did in Iraq. And because of the many limitations on trying to fight a population-centric COIN war I fear that it will fail and will not only harm US interests, but will risk destabilizing Afghanistan over the long-term.

And on that note I will leave readers with one thought for the weekend. GO WINGS! And may the carrot be eschewed for the stick against the Coyotes this weekend.

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