Posts Tagged ‘Afghanistan’
May 14th, 2010 at 9:30 am
Hillary Clinton Won’t Abandon Afghan Women
Posted by Print

On May 13, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pledged that the U.S. would not abandon women’s rights and women’s opportunities if there is Afghan reconciliation with the Taliban to end the war.  “We will not abandon you, we will stand with you always,” she said.

Hey lady, why don’t you say that standing in your Oscar de la Renta pantsuit in the middle of Kandahar?  No?  We didn’t think so.

April 28th, 2010 at 6:08 pm
Afghanistan Strategy Meets PowerPoint

When General Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, saw this slide in a PowerPoint presentation he said, “When we understand that slide, we’ll have won the war.”  No wonder this is called “the long war”!

Though this is an extreme version of the business school mentality infecting military strategy, some members of the top brass are banning PowerPoint.

‘It’s dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control,’ he told the New York Times. ‘Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable.’

There is growing concern about the insiduous spread of PowerPoint which has come to dominate the lives of many junior officers.

Dubbed the PowerPoint Rangers, they spend hours slaving away on slides to illustrate every Afghan scenario.

Lieutenant Sam Nuxoll, a platoon leader posted in Iraq, told military website Company Command how he spent most of his time making PowerPoint presentations.

‘I have to make a storyboard complete with digital pictures, diagrams and text summaries on just about anything that happens,’ he added.

‘Conduct a key leader engagement? Make a storyboard. Award a microgrant? Make a storyboard.’

Good grief.

H/T: Daily Mail

April 1st, 2010 at 10:49 pm
David Petraeus: Profile in Greatness
Posted by Print

Here’s a little secret about those of us who tend to the Freedom Line garden (though it applies equally to all our brethren in the conservative blogosphere): we’re hopeless nerds. Our reader’s digests of political and policy developments come from hours of reading, writing, and thinking about the great issues of the day. Government is for us what fantasy football is to a much broader swath of America.

When you spend that much time consuming news, however, the callouses develop quickly. It’s hard to be impressed. To break through to the sense of genuine wonder that brought us into this field usually requires either singularly great writing or a singularly great man.

I mention all this to give a full-throated endorsement to Mark Bowden’s article “The Professor of War,” a profile of General David Petraeus in the May issue of Vanity Fair (a publication whose political coverage — with some exceptions for Christopher Hitchens — is usually uneven at best). This is a piece so exceptional — and an individual so compelling — that one can only hope Bowden someday gets drafted to be Petraeus’s official biographer.

This piece is far too rich to justify through excerpt, so here’s one brief paragraph that ably represents the writing in microcosm:

Congress underestimated David Petraeus. He is a man of such distinction that in the army legends have formed about his rise. Beyond his four-star rank, he possesses a stature so matchless it deserves its own adjective—call it “Petraean,” perhaps. It is an adjective that would be mostly complimentary, but not entirely so—there can be a hard edge to the man, a certain lack of empathy, and there is something vaguely unseemly in his obvious ambition. But when Petraeus tests himself, he usually wins. When he assumed command in Iraq, he had accepted a challenge few thought even he could meet, turning around the longest and most mismanaged war in American history. But Iraq is only part of the story. Through his writing and teaching, Petraeus was at the same time redefining how the nation will fight in the 21st century. And he was doing something more difficult still: leading a cultural and doctrinal revolution inside one of the most hidebound institutions in the world, the United States Army. Whatever the fate of Iraq and Afghanistan, this transformation is a Petraean legacy that will be felt for years to come.

My favorite piece of journalism so far in 2010. Read the whole thing here.

December 11th, 2009 at 3:47 pm
Professor Obama Goes Back to School
Posted by Print

Foreign Policy Initiative’s Abe Greenwald does an excellent riff on President Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptace speech today on National Review’s website. The upshot: Greenwald wonders whether Obama’s stark articulation of evil’s presence in the world (and its impact on international affairs) shows a president who’s starting to rethink some of the first principles of his foreign policy.

Greenwald sees some promising signs, but still wonders whether Obama can ever fully turn the corner. In one bravura passage:

“Irving Kristol said, almost too memorably, ‘A neoconservative is a liberal who has been mugged by reality.’ With that definition in mind, an eminent national-security personage put this perfectly phrased query to me over the summer: ‘Is Obama too arrogant to get mugged by reality?'”

“An excellent question. What the president calls his “philosophy of persistence” looks increasingly like the vice of conceit. The new White House imperiousness explains Obama’s inability to offer full-throated praise for the Iraq War — an undertaking he staunchly opposed. It also explains his devotion to de-fanging Iran through the voodoo of his personal allure (and to his correspondent obtuseness on Iran’s democrats).”

Today’s best piece on foreign policy (apart from this one). Read it here.

December 2nd, 2009 at 3:10 am
An Irreconcilable Base … on the Right
Posted by Print

Ever since Republicans lost hold of every major organ of the federal government, the MSM has been pushing a meme about how the right-wing wackos on talk radio represent a radical, uncompromising view of the world that will assure permanent minority status for the GOP. In virtually every instance, I’ve thought this analysis almost comically wrong. Until today.

The reality is that — whatever their intellectual shortcomings — the conservative talking heads usually do a pretty good job of keeping the GOP honest. Unfortunately, some of them seem to be totally abandoning that charge when it comes to President Obama’s troop surge in Afghanistan.

Rush Limbaugh had some relatively muted criticisms for Obama’s plan on his radio show this morning, but Sean Hannity was positively apoplectic on Fox tonight in the aftermath of the President’s speech at West Point.  Hannity hit Obama hard for “dithering” on the decision making process, shorting General McChrystal’s troop request, and not being “passionate” enough. His reaction was churlish and desperate.

The reality is that Obama (of whom I have little positive to say on virtually any other issue) is boldly choosing to alienate his own political base by embracing the kind of strategy that we know can work based on the Bush experience in Iraq.

Criticisms over the amount of troops are misguided. Obama already ordered a mini-surge earlier in the Spring; he seems to be making a serious effort to get NATO to supply the forces to make up the difference between new American deployments and Gen. McChrystal’s request; and, if the Bush experience is any indicator, the final number of new troops deployed will likely be higher than Obama’s initial estimate.  On top of all this, there’s a bizarre line of criticism that it was somehow inappropriate for Obama not to take McChrystal’s recommendation without a single alteration.  As Commanders-in-Chief, Presidents are not supposed to be  passive receptacles of their military advisors’ recommendations.  Effective wartime leaders push back and push back hard. That doesn’t necessarily mean that Obama got the decision right, but he certainly has the methodology down.

There are plenty of legitimate points of criticism. While Obama was right to enter into a serious deliberative process, the “dithering” claim has some merit — a quarter of a year is too long to leave the theater adrift. The focus on timetables for withdrawal is also a mistake and one that’s liable to get the President into hot water come 2012. His caveat about “conditons on the ground,” while welcome as a matter of strategic principle, only muddies the rhetorical waters further.

All that being said, Obama has made a courageous decision that will shape the rest of his presidency. It’s the right call for the nation. Pundits on the right should keep their powder dry.

December 1st, 2009 at 4:42 pm
Is Russian Perception Obama’s Reality?

In his book “America Alone”, Mark Steyn discusses the “strong horse, weak horse” theory of foreign affairs. When terrorists like Osama bin Laden see a strong horse and a weak horse, they will necessarily like the strong horse. Traditionally, weakness was shown by the absence of power. Among many modern nations, it is evidenced by the refusal to use power. In either case, weakness is a provocation to those seeking to do harm.

And, as Ivan Krastev describes in today’s Washington Post, President Obama’s weakness on foreign affairs – silence on the killings of Iranian dissidents, making nice with dictators, bowing to the Japanese emperor – is signaling an over matched man in critical times. The Russians are familiar with a leader whose celebrity masks his country’s drop in prestige.

Obama himself is largely viewed in Russia as the American Mikhail Gorbachev, but Russians are less impressed than other Europeans have been with Obama’s brilliance and rock-star popularity. They remember the Gorbi-mania that conquered the globe at the moment the Soviet Union was about to crumble. Russians are tempted to view Obama’s global reformism and his progressive agenda as an expression of American weakness and not as an expression of America’s regained strength and legitimacy.

What does all this mean for the “reset” policy? First, it means that Russians will not be in a hurry to respond to the positive signals coming from Washington, and any perception of Washington weakness will diminish Moscow’s willingness to cooperate even in areas of common interest and common concern. It is not Obama’s deference but his strength that can persuade the Kremlin to cooperate with Washington. Simply put, to persuade Russians to join him, Obama must first demonstrate that he does not need them. He needs a clear victory, whether against the Taliban in Afghanistan, Iran’s nuclear ambition or Beijing’s habit of devaluing its currency. Obama must show strength for the “reset” policy to succeed.

Chances are Obama’s decision tonight to send less than the requested amount of troops to Afghanistan will do nothing to achieve either a clear victory in Afghanistan or more esteem for the Russians (or anyone else for that matter).

November 24th, 2009 at 12:43 am
Afghanistan … Again
Posted by Print

It’s late on Monday night and President Obama has been huddling with his “war council” at the White House for the ninth time discussing a strategy for the war in Afghanistan.  Never mind that Obama himself unveiled a new strategy in the spring, that he was responsible for appointing General McChrystal as the commander in theater, and that his months-long ambivalence on Afghanistan is in sharp contrast to the “fierce urgency of now” that drove the stimulus package, cap and trade, and health care reform to be rolled out in massive pieces of legislation delivered in the middle of the night.

Even putting all that aside, what’s truly worrisome about the President’s current state of mind is his unseriousness.  According to CNN’s coverage of the council meeting:

At the last war council meeting – on November 11, Veteran’s Day – Obama pushed for revisions in proposed plans for troop increases to clarify how and when U.S. troops would turn over responsibility to the Afghan government.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Monday that Obama would seek answers at Monday’s meeting to the questions he posed on November 11 about “not just how we get people there, but what’s the strategy for getting them out.”

It’s all well and good for Obama to be considering what the endgame in Afghanistan will look like, but that’s no reason to delay the decision-making process.  The historical record is pretty clear. While an emphasis on exit strategies always sounds comforting, they’re almost impossible to construct in a vacuum.  If Afghanistan is really the “war of necessity” the president has said it is (and it is), he needs to settle on a strategy for victory. Trying to figure out how to leave before figuring out how to win is a recipe for failure. Obama is president now — which means it’s time for him to stop thinking about the war in terms of election cycles.

November 5th, 2009 at 5:48 pm
More Oval Office Dithering?

What if suddenly, after eight years of a “cowboy presidency” and the election of a worldly, foreign policy-hesitant President, America’s biggest nemesis voluntarily offered to deescalate tensions? As the Obama Administration waits for such a breakthrough moment with North Korea, Iran, Hamas, Sudan, Venezuela, and others, a new article in Foreign Policy by David E. Hoffman analyzes the actions of a different man in a similar moment.

Hoffman’s primary criticism of President George H. W. Bush during the tumultuous year of 1989 is that he failed to appreciate the scale and speed of change inside the Soviet Union. On more than one occasion, Bush took a cautious, wait-and-see approach when evaluating Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev’s liberalization programs of perestroika and glasnost. It literally took the Berlin Wall falling down before Bush convinced himself that Gorbachev was serious about implementing fundamental changes both inside and outside Russia.

The title of the article, “1989: The Lost Year,” reflects the missed opportunities that, if realized and acted on, could have led to a much smoother Soviet transition from orthodox communism. Would President Obama be able to distinguish real reforms from empty platitudes, or would he make the same mistakes as Bush Senior? For all of the current president’s stubbornness in ramming through his domestic agenda, he’s shown a conspicuous lack of clarity when it comes to foreign affairs. From urging restraint during the Russian invasion of Georgia to dithering on Afghanistan troop levels, Obama shows signs of being caught off guard in the unlikely event his overtures to America’s enemies actually work.

October 25th, 2009 at 7:04 pm
The Audacity of Amnesia
Posted by Print

As President Obama mulls over General McChrystal’s request for more troops in Afghanistan — and former Vice President Cheney hits the current administration hard for what he calls “dithering” — the White House has hit back with some heavy accusations.

Obama’s Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, has claimed that the Bush Administration ignored the strategic planning process for the war in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs alleges that the Bush White House let a request for more troops in Afghanistan fall stillborn for nearly a year.

You can debate the merits of various approaches and the trade-offs that are always necessary in national security policy. But as someone who was in the Bush White House during the time in question, I can testify to the fact that Afghan planning was very high on the agenda in the waning days of the administration. Stephen Hayes of the Weekly Standard has done the legwork to bear this out and his new piece pushes back against the Obama Administration’s claims with great clarity. Among the best passages:

One Bush veteran asks, “If it’s true that the Bush administration sat on these troop requests for eight months, is the White House suggesting that the Pentagon was incompetent or negligent or both? That would be a good question to put to the defense secretary–and President Obama is in a position to make him talk.”

I couldn’t reach Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, but I did talk to a senior defense official who serves with him. This person stressed that Gates has gone to great lengths to avoid being dragged into political fights between administrations. Nonetheless, he offered a strong rebuke to the present White House political team.

“There was no request on anyone’s desk for eight months,” said the defense official. “There was not a request that went to the White House because we didn’t have forces to commit. So on the facts, they’re wrong.”

In reality, the Bush Administration stayed quiet on the options going forward into Afghanistan so that Obama wouldn’t have his choices muddied by having them labeled as recycled goods from the previous president.  That they are now using that fact as a cudgel speaks very poorly of the current denizens of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Read Hayes’ entire piece here.

October 24th, 2009 at 2:15 pm
Is Dick Cheney Wearing a Joe Biden Mask?

In the growing rift between the Obama Administration and its military advisors, reports are surfacing that Vice President Joe Biden is upset with General Stanley McChrystal for making a closed door presentation to NATO defense ministers. In the briefing McChrystal explained his rationale for increasing the number of troops in Afghanistan. Apparently, the defense ministers liked what they heard.

Here was Biden’s reaction:

Diplomatic sources say NATO endorsement of General McChrystal has led to anger in the Biden camp. They had criticized the commander for promoting his strategy, including a visit to London, while President Barack Obama is still weighing up the options.”

In short, Biden thinks the best way to win in Afghanistan is to reduce the number of troops there while implementing a counter-terrorism plan that expands the war into neighboring Pakistan, since that is where some members of al-Qaeda are based. McChrystal, on the other hand, wants to introduce 20,000 to 40,000 new troops and pursue a counter-insurgency strategy that would focus on eliminating the security threat inside Afghanistan. And yet, Biden is seen as the White House official most in favor of de-escalating America’s military involvement in the region.

If Joe Biden was Dick Cheney, would the Vice President’s aggressive push to expand the theater of war while reducing the number of ground troops be reported on as a moderate approach?  Well, at least the White House can’t be faulted for ignoring the advice of their military experts and applying its own ideological notions of sound war planning…

October 20th, 2009 at 12:52 pm
Oops! BIG Oops!!!
Posted by Print

“President Barack Obama has not yet determined whether he will make a decision on sending more troops to Afghanistan before the November 7 election runoff, a US official [White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs] said Tuesday.” — AFP

“The United States cannot wait for problems surrounding the legitimacy of the Afghan government to be resolved before making a decision on troops, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said.” — Reuters

October 13th, 2009 at 2:02 pm
Clinton and Gates to the Rescue?
Posted by Print

The New York Times carries a very interesting piece this morning on the influence that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates have had on the Obama Administration’s foreign policy. In a nutshell, they’ve kept it from total insanity.

According to the Times’ Mark Landler and Thom Shanker, the dynamic duo were responsible for preventing the public release of further prisoner abuse photos, as well as for shepherding the decision to pursue a counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan. While the two are woefully behind the curve on Iran (as I noted of Gates here), they still represent the toughest line in the administration.

What’s troubling about all this, however, is the piece’s (unsourced) prognostication of where Clinton and Gates will end up on the current debate over Afghanistan:

Now, as President Obama leads yet another debate on whether to deploy tens of thousands of additional troops there, the secretary of state and the secretary of defense will once again constitute a critical voting bloc, the likely leaders of an argument for a middle ground between a huge influx of soldiers and a narrow focus aimed at killing terrorists from Al Qaeda, according to several administration officials.”

“That swing vote would put them at odds with the bare-bones approach still being pushed by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., as well as the most aggressive military buildup recommended by the American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal.”

On this one, Clinton and Gates are taking a dangerous turn. Playing for a tie in Afghanistan is the worst of all possible worlds. While the so-called “Biden Plan” mistakenly applies a counterterrorism strategy to a counterinsurgency problem, at least it doesn’t escalate without the resources necessary for victory. Clinton and Gates are looking for a middle way … but in Afghanistan the options are go big or go home.

October 12th, 2009 at 12:06 pm
Fareed Zakaria Makes a Distinction Without a Difference

From today’s Washington Post distinguishing the Iraq troop surge from General McChrystal’s request for more ground forces in Afghanistan:

It’s important to remember that the crucial, lasting element of the surge in Iraq was not the influx of troops but getting Sunni tribes to switch sides, by offering them security, money and a place at the table. U.S. troops are now drawing down and yet – despite some violence – the Sunnis have not resumed fighting because Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is courting their support.”

So, according to Zakaria, courting Afghanistan’s Pashtuns will take the same kind of subsidies and sympathy extended to Iraq’s Sunnis. Fair enough. But how about that security thing? Does Zakaria really believe that – all other things being equal – applying only two of the three prongs of the Sunni pacification strategy to the Pashtuns will yeld exactly the same results? Especially when the prong he omits is the one that guarantees the persuasive effect of the other two? If there has been any lesson learned from America’s foreign policy dealings it is that nations – like individuals – need both carrots and sticks to inspire lasting changes.

We’ve seen this sort of reliance on “soft power” yield results before. Former President George W. Bush rode tractors with Vladimir Putin, looked into his soul, and then listened attentively as his buddy invaded and annexed a democratic country in neighboring Georgia. For over a decade State Departments under both Democrats and Republicans shipped consumer goods to North Korea while that country exploded nuclear bombs and fired rockets toward Hawaii. In both cases, the only defense for such subsidies is the active presence of American troops in Eastern Europe and South Korea. Take away the threat of an immediate response from the world’s premier fighting force and suddenly our subsidies become tribute; our sympathy, kowtowing.

Russia and North Korea understand this. So too do Iraq’s Sunni leaders. Are the Pashtuns any different?

October 8th, 2009 at 5:23 pm
The Taliban Aren’t al-Qaida; You Didn’t Understand That?
Posted by Print

Earlier this week, we got an Afghan Taliban press release courtesy of the Associated Press.  It assured us that all the Taliban want is “independence and establishment of an Islamic system” and don’t want to harm other countries or any other bad stuff if only all of us would simply go away and leave them alone to do with the indigenous people as they will.  (Perhaps you are familiar with how the Taliban go about establishing an Islamic system.)

Well, good to know and thanks for sharing, we thought.

Then we got a UPI story, which led with, “U.S. officials say al-Qaida is seen as a greater threat than the Afghan Taliban in the emerging war strategy formulations of President Barack Obama. … After the president met with top advisers Wednesday for three hours, officials said the new strategy may focus more on a campaign against al-Qaida in Pakistan than on the Taliban in Afghanistan.”

And then, sure enough, we got another Associated Press story that began, “President Obama is prepared to accept some Taliban involvement in Afganistan’s political future and appears inclined to send only as many more U.S. troops as needed to keep al-Qaida at bay, a senior administration official said Thursday.”

You do see what is happening here, with President Obama’s “War of Necessity,” don’t you?  If not, don’t worry, you soon will.

September 18th, 2009 at 12:46 am
Obama’s Foreign Policy Meltdown
Posted by Print

Today’s revelation that the Obama Administration is pulling missile defense out of Poland and the Czech Republic reflects a complete ignorance of (or apathy towards) the point that I made in yesterday’s post — that the Western commitment to collective security in Eastern Europe has made the continent (and the world) a safer and freer place.

It also reflects a total strategic miscalculation. The oldest con in international diplomacy is to get an adversary to give up something tangible today for an abstract promise tomorrow (see “Land for Peace”). The notion that Russia will be of more assistance in sanctioning the Iranians (and the broader idea that sanctions will have any serious effect) ignores a question that the self-proclaimed realists in the Obama Administration have somehow overlooked. Why is it in Russia’s interest to play ball when they’re currently getting major concessions from the U.S. at no cost?

Though it’s been overshadowed by the healthcare debate, the last month or so of the Obama Administration has been its absolute worst for foreign policy. We’ve agreed to one-on-one talks with North Korea (with the laughable goal of getting back to the six party talks — you know, the ones we had before we agreed to one-on-one talks?), decided to pursue prosecutions of CIA interrogators, announced that Iran likely already has the ability to build nuclear weapons, seen the White House put political pressure on General McChrystal to keep from requesting more troops in Afghanistan, and imposed a foolish tire tariff that’s threatening a trade war with China.

The President can get away with Jimmy Carteresque policies for a lot longer than Jimmy Carter ever could because Obama has considerably more political gifts. But in the end, politics (particularly the presidency) is always about performance. This will not end well for Obama or the country.