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Entries in US foreign policy (198)


The Politics Blog: Seven Things to Remember When We Talk to the Taliban


Is your stomach churning yet? The occasionally salacious but usually accurate Guardian is reporting that Team Obama is signaling that it's ready to negotiate with the Taliban. Through "trusted" intermediaries like the Pakistanis and Saudis, naturally, and via plausibly denied channels, of course, but... really? Is this what a peace-in-your-first-term, Nobel Prize-winning president looks like? If we're going to reconcile ourselves to this kind of indecent proposal — the last one led to the bloody Swat Valley offensive — the U.S. had better not lose site of reality. Here's how. If it's not too late.

Read the entire post at Esquire's The Politics Blog.


What a drawdown from "combat operations" really looks like

NYT story on the reality of what a post-drawdown US force presence in Iraq will actually entail.

The August deadline might be seen back home as a milestone in the fulfillment of President Obama’s promise to end the war in Iraq, but here it is more complex. American soldiers still find and kill enemy fighters, on their own and in partnership with Iraqi security forces, and will continue to do so after the official end of combat operations. More Americans are certain to die, if significantly fewer than in the height of fighting here.

The withdrawal, which will reduce the number of American troops to 50,000 — from 112,000 earlier this year and close to 165,000 at the height of the surge — is a feat of logistics that has been called the biggest movement of matériel since World War II. It is also an exercise in semantics.

What soldiers today would call combat operations — hunting insurgents, joint raids between Iraqi security forces and United States Special Forces to kill or arrest militants — will be called “stability operations.” Post-reduction, the United States military says the focus will be on advising and training Iraqi soldiers, providing security for civilian reconstruction teams and joint counterterrorism missions.

“In practical terms, nothing will change,” said Maj. Gen. Stephen R. Lanza, the top American military spokesman in Iraq. “We are already doing stability operations.” Americans ceased major combat in Iraq long ago, and that has been reflected in the number of casualties. So far this year, 14 soldiers have been killed by hostile fire, and 27 more from accidents, suicides and other noncombat causes, according to

Remember this when you hear similar descriptions re: Afghanistan.  The norm for US interventions of significant size is that we go, we fight, we drawdown, but we stay for the long haul. The key is getting casualties down to very low levels.  Once achieved, the US public will allow ad infinitum, because opponents are no longer able to characterize it as "war."

The experts have it backwards;  the American public has little patience for the Leviathan, therefore its operations must be very short and highly victories, but it has plenty more patience for SysAdmin stuff so long as the commitments are seen as small enough, the casualties low enough, and the value-achieved-for-expenditure seem reasonable.


The silent LLP between the PRC and the USA

 WAPO story on a long-favorite theme of mine here and in the brief:  the limited liability partnership between China and the US--as in, we do the Leviathan and pay for virtually all of the up-front SysAdmin work, but China cashes in nicely on the backside economic integration.

China didn't take part in the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq or the bloody military battles that followed. It hasn't invested in reconstruction projects or efforts by the West to fortify the struggling democracy in the heart of the Middle East.

But as the U.S. military draws down and Iraq opens up to foreign investment, China and a handful of other countries that weren't part of the "coalition of the willing" are poised to cash in. These countries are expanding their foothold beyond Iraq's oil reserves -- the world's third largest -- to areas such as construction, government services and even tourism, while American companies show little interest in investing here.

The Chinese are risk-tolerant on economics, just not on the pol-mil.  And they cannot become a superpower until they get such risk-tolerance in the kinetic realm.  And that can't come until they go multiparty, because the CCP cannot afford even a single loss of face.  And if you can't afford to lose, then you can't afford to wage war.

So oddly enough, the longer we put up with this LLP, the longer we keep China in its pol-mil place.


WPR's The New Rules: U.S. Must Expand its Pool of Allies in Afghanistan


With his recent selections of Gens. David Petraeus and James Mattis for command in Afghanistan and Central Command respectively, President Barack Obama signals his understanding that his previously established deadline of mid-2011 to begin drawing down combat troops in the “good war” cannot be met.  The two were co-architects of the military’s renewed embrace of both counterinsurgency operations and the associated nation-building project that by necessity goes along with it. Neither flag officer can be expected to preside over a Vietnam-like exit that once again puts troubled and untrustworthy Pakistan in charge of Afghanistan’s fate.

Read the rest of the column at World Politics Review.


Kissinger's prescription on Afghanistan

Kissinger in WAPO a while back.  [Sorry, but recent travels have made it hard for me to work my inbox.]

For regular readers of the blog, many of whom sent me the piece, there is plenty of familiar logic.

The core arguments (underlined for emphasis by me):

Afghan strategy needs to be modified in four ways. The military effort should be conducted substantially on a provincial basis rather than in pursuit of a Western-style central government. The time scale for a political effort exceeds by a wide margin that available for military operations. We need a regional diplomatic framework for the next stage of Afghan strategy, whatever the military outcome. Artificial deadlines should be abandoned.

A regional diplomacy is desirable because our interests coincide substantially with those of many of the regional powers. All of them, from a strategic perspective, are more threatened than is the United States by an Afghanistan hospitable to terrorism. China in Sinkiang, Russia in its southern regions, India with respect to its Muslim minority of 160 million, Pakistan as to its political structure, and the smaller states in the region would face a major threat from an Afghanistan encouraging, or even tolerating, centers of terrorism. Regional diplomacy becomes all the more necessary to forestall a neocolonial struggle if reports about the prevalence of natural resources in Afghanistan prove accurate.

Afghanistan becomes an international issue whenever an outside power seeks to achieve unilateral dominance. Inevitably, this draws in other parties to establish a countervailing influence, driving events beyond rational calculation. A regional diplomacy should seek to establish a framework to insulate Afghanistan from the storms raging around it rather than allow the country to serve as their epicenter. It would also try to build Afghanistan into a regional development plan, perhaps encouraged by the Afghan economy's reported growth rate of 15 percent last year.

Military operations could be sustained and legitimized by such diplomacy. In evaluating our options, we must remember that every course will be difficult and that whatever strategy we pursue should be a nonpartisan undertaking. Above all, we need to do justice to all those who have sacrificed in the region, particularly the long-suffering Afghan people.

Nothing to add, except that I see little of this logic from Team Obama to date, although Petraeus gives every indication that he thinks along these lines.


Gates: stating the increasingly obvious on Iran

Wash Times story on Gates noting how the clerics have been set aside by the military putsch led by Ahmadinejad's Revolutionary Guards.  Story by way of WPR's Media Roundup.

Gates the Wise recognizes the value in calling a spade a spade: My "Pentagon's New Map" prediction that the mullahs would lose power by 2010 actually came true, and to our benefit.

Now we face a military dictatorship (Gates' phrase, falling in line with Secy Clinton's descriptions) unblemished by religious nuttiness and thoroughly committed to preserving its power. Ahmadinejad's strategic goal of a non-cleric-based party dictatorship has been achieved.

Why to our benefit?  The cleric-based rule could never be satisfied, because we could never give it what it craved:  control over Islam.  But Ahmadinejad's regime wants something far less and easier to negotiate: regime preservation and recognition of its "great achievements"--just like Brezhnev's "great patriotic war" vets wanted their due, so now does Ahmadinejad's Iran-Iraq vets. And they seek it is such unimaginative ways--the nuclear program.  Nothing we haven't seen before or dealt with.

So either we manage Iran for what it is, or we spend all our time and effort trying to stave off the nuclear achievement--a true fool's errand promoted by those interested in seeing Israel's regional WMD monopoly maintained at all costs.  That brand of "realism" is anything but.

Instead, Iran's achievement ultimately works to our favor. Why? Because it provides us the dynamics we seek to achieve a regional security architecture that's top-down instead of bottom-up and based on the unachievable--for now--goal of Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Ahmadinejad's achievement, as repugnant as it is, moves the ball. Just check out Turkey's responses if you doubt me.


The answer to our bad reliance on Pakistan is diversification/regionalization

Rand report described in AP piece by way of Our Man in Kabul.

Gist is unsurprising:

Pakistan hasn't quit its habit of courting insurgents, and extremist networks with current or former ties to the government pose a significant risk to the United States and Pakistan's elected government itself, a new study concludes.

A rising number of terrorist plots in the United States with roots in Pakistan stems in part from an unsuccessful strategy by the U.S.-backed government in Pakistan to blunt the influence of militant groups in the country, the report by the RAND Corp. said.

The report to be issued Monday says the May 1 failed car bombing in New York's Times Square is an example of how militant groups, some with shadowy government backing, can increasingly export terrorism far beyond the country's borders.

The United States isn't getting its money's worth for all the billions in aid pledged to the strategically located, nuclear-armed nation, the report concludes. The U.S. should withhold some aid until Pakistan makes "discernible progress," authors Seth Jones of RAND and C. Christine Fair of Georgetown University wrote.

The answer?  Diversification of allies, or what I've long described as the regionalization of the solution set. In the report, rapprochement with Iran is promoted.


Nice op-ed buttressing my arguments on Turkey-v-Iran over Gaza

NYT op-ed by way of Michal Shapiro.

See if this sounds familiar:

SINCE Israel’s deadly raid on the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara last month, it’s been assumed that Iran would be the major beneficiary of the wave of global anti-Israeli sentiment. But things seem to be playing out much differently: Iran paradoxically stands to lose much influence as Turkey assumes a surprising new role as the modern, democratic and internationally respected nation willing to take on Israel and oppose America.

While many Americans may feel betrayed by the behavior of their longtime allies in Ankara, Washington actually stands to gain indirectly if a newly muscular Turkey can adopt a leadership role in the Sunni Arab world, which has been eagerly looking for a better advocate of its causes than Shiite, authoritarian Iran or the inept and flaccid Arab regimes of the Persian Gulf.

Turkey’s Islamist government has distilled every last bit of political benefit from the flotilla crisis, domestically and internationally. And if the Gaza blockade is abandoned or loosened, it will be easily portrayed as a victory for Turkish engagement on behalf of the Palestinians.

Bottom line:  this is all about Turkey's countering of Iranian influence, and just like Iran uses Israel as a whipping boy, now it's Ankara's turn, the difference being that when Tehran does it, it hurts US interests and when Ankara does it, it actually serves US interests--given Netanyahu's intransigence on all things Palestinian.

Check this out:  

... a new poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found that 43 percent of Palestinians ranked Turkey as their No. 1 foreign supporter, as opposed to just 6 percent for Iran.


Turkey has a strong hand here. Many leading Arab intellectuals have fretted over being caught between Iran’s revolutionary Shiism and Saudi Arabia’s austere and politically ineffectual Wahhabism. They now hope that a more liberal and enlightened Turkish Sunni Islam — reminiscent of past Ottoman glory — can lead the Arab world out of its mire.

You can get a sense of just how attractive Turkey’s leadership is among the Arab masses by reading the flood of recent negative articles about Ankara in the government-owned newspapers of the Arab states. This coverage impugns Mr. Erdogan’s motives, claiming he is latching on to the Palestinian issue because he is weak domestically, and dismisses Turkey’s ability to bring leadership to this quintessential “Arab cause.” They reek of panic over a new rival.

I keep telling you, Turkey is moving big-time and in ways that benefit the region and US foreign policy interests.

Turkey's like the fourth-year player who's finally coming into his own on the roster.  Yes, a big ego and a bit to handle, but how not to welcome this infusion of talent?


Bringing Russian helos into the Af-Pak mix: a great move

pic here

WAPO story on US buying Russian helos to form the core of Afghan's military force structure in rotary aircraft.

In a turnabout from the Cold War, when the CIA gave Stinger missiles to Afghan rebels to shoot down Soviet helicopters, the Pentagon has spent $648 million to buy or refurbish 31 Russian Mi-17 transport helicopters for the Afghan National Army Air Corps. The Defense Department is seeking to buy 10 more of the Mi-17s next year, and had planned to buy dozens more over the next decade.

Congress pissed because it wants only US firms to provide, but I like us getting the Russians involved. The only way we win in Afghanistan is to get the entire neighborhood involved and incentivized economically.


WPR Feature: A Divided 'Rest' Leaves America the Enduring Superpower 

Reports of the imminent death of U.S. hegemony in world affairs go at least as far back as the Nixon administration, and to date, they have all disappointed. While challengers have risen and fallen, none have managed to make themselves full-spectrum superpowers capable of both diplomatic leadership and global military reach, in combination with indisputable economic heft and soft-power appeal. 

Now, with the "rise of the rest" -- concentrated in, but not limited to, the so-called BRIC package of Brazil, Russia, India and China -- we are presented with the argument of a collective challenge to American world leadership. Let me count down 10 good reasons why that notion will likewise prove disappointing.

Read the rest of the feature article (posted 7/13) at World Politics Review.


Chart of the day: the surge in capital flight outta Afghanistan

WSJ story.  Not a pretty sight.  

More than $3b "openly flown out of Kabul International Airport in the past three years."  Our gov suspects our aid is simply being diverted by Afghan officials.  Duh!  Who else is getting their hands so quickly on $3B USD during the surge?

My God, they take the stuff out in pallets!  Since it's declared it's considered legal, but you have to wonder how the USG can't track, by frickin' serial number or something, its own aid money.  Ditto for NATO's money, which spent about $14B in Afghanistan last year alone.

Of course, some of this is opium money, but you know the bulk is simply corruption.

This is how well we track our SysAdmin spending almost a decade in.


A connectivity strategy based on infrastructure, transit, IT? Some crazy stuff, my friends.

I've been using this slide for two years in the brief, and made the argument in "Great Powers."

Similar minds reaching similar conclusions:  Central Asia hands at Johns Hopkins, as cited by David Ignatius in a recent WAPO column, sent on to me by Our Man in Kabul.

See if this sounds familiar:  a regionalization strategy that emphasizes economic connectivity over kinetics.

From Ignatius:

The most useful analysis I've seen recently is "The Key to Success in Afghanistan: A Modern Silk Road Strategy." It was prepared by the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and the Center for Strategic and International Studies. It also had major input from the U.S. Central Command, which oversees the war.

The Silk Road study tries to visualize the kind of Afghanistan that might exist after U.S. troops begin coming home in July 2011. Instead of being a lawless frontier, this post-conflict Afghanistan would be a transit route for Eurasia, providing trade corridors north and south, east and west.

To make this transport-led strategy work, Afghanistan would need to build more roads, railways and pipelines. A hypothetical railway map shows routes that connect Iran with India, Russia with Pakistan, China with the Arabian Sea. It knits together the rising powers of this region and makes Afghanistan a hub rather than a barrier.

I first heard discussion of this modern Silk Road idea from Ashraf Ghani, a former Afghan finance minister. He made a powerful analogy to America's own development: What secured our lawless Wild West frontier was the transcontinental railroad in 1869. With trade and economic growth came stability.

Comparing nation-building in Afghanistan to the settling of the American West?  Who comes up with such crazy stuff!

You know, when I first started briefing that Wild West stuff about five years ago, people just shook their heads like it was nonsense to compare the integration of the United States to the integration of globalization.  

Now it's the smartest analysis seen in a while by someone as astute at Ignatius.

I love the report from Johns Hopkins, which comes with a dedicating quote from Petraeus.  

I mean, check this out from the table of contents:

III. What the United States Should Do Now: An Initiative to Reconnect Afghanistan with East and West .............................................................................. 32 

Promoting Afghanistan‘s Role in Road Transit and Trade ........................ 33 

Connecting Afghanistan by Rail ................................................................... 37 

Connecting Afghanistan through Information Technology ..................... 40 

Reconnect east and west, promote road transit and trade, connect by rail, connect by IT.

Smart stuff indeed.  We can only hope Petraeus gets the freedom and resources and time to make it happen to whatever extent is possible.


Pakistan's active terror inside Afghanistan to stem Indian influence

NYT story simply makes clear what's been suspected by damn near everybody--and known by plenty--up to now:

A Pakistani-based militant group identified with attacks on Indian targets has expanded its operations in Afghanistan, inflicting casualties on Afghans and Indians alike, setting up training camps, and adding new volatility to relations between India and Pakistan.

The group, Lashkar-e-Taiba, is believed to have planned or executed three major attacks against Indian government employees and private workers in Afghanistan in recent months, according to Afghan and international intelligence officers and diplomats here. It continues to track Indian development workers and others for possible attack, they said.

Lashkar was behind the synchronized attacks on several civilian targets in Mumbai, India, in 2008, in which at least 163 people were killed. Its inroads in Afghanistan provide a fresh indication of its growing ambitions to confront India even beyond the disputed territory of Kashmir, for which Pakistan’s military and intelligence services created the group as a proxy force decades ago.

Officially, Pakistan says it no longer supports or finances the group. But Lashkar’s expanded activities in Afghanistan, particularly against Indian targets, prompt suspicions that it has become one of Pakistan’s proxies to counteract India’s influence in the country.

They provide yet another indicator of the extent to which Pakistani militants are working to shape the outcome of the Afghan war as the July 2011 deadline approaches to begin withdrawing American troops.

Recently retired Pakistani military officials are known to have directed the Mumbai attacks, and some Lashkar members have said only a thin line separates the group from its longtime bosses in the Pakistan security establishment.

How such behavior separates Pakistan from Iran is beyond me. They've got the bomb and they shared it indiscriminately for cash. They actively support terror groups that target our troops and our allies in a next-door war zone.  Worse, they take our money--and lots of it--to do it.

I bet Pakistan would love to see us get embroiled with Iran, but frankly, one of the reasons why I'm adamantly opposed to such logic is my sense that we eventually mix it up with Pakistan directly.

Because when the next 9/11 happens, that is where we will trace it to.

I choose India.


Chart of the day: Iraq will soon outproduce Iran in oil--another sad expression of America's complete failure (!) in Iraq

Projection, mind you, from WSJ's gov sources, but one that shows the difference between connectivity and the lack thereof.

Iran's oil-field problems predate its recent standoff with the West and the latest round of sanctions. Revolution and eight years of fighting with neighbor Iraq through the 1980s took their toll, with output plunging from a high of 6 million barrels a day from the mid-1970s. Oil infrastructure was damaged, and oil expertise fled the country. Many of Iran's oil fields are older than those of their Mideast neighbors, and so are declining much faster.

Iran has to replace roughly 300,000 barrels a day of production each year from old fields just to keep its total output from falling.

More recently, many foreign oil companies—sought out by Tehran for their expertise and capital—have been deterred by the increased politicization of Iran's energy sector under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who came to power in 2005.

Only the pinheads imagine the Big Bang strategy purely in military terms. 


WPR's The New Rules: Listening to the Chinese Case for Strategic Partnership

The goal of global partnership between the United States and China, the cornerstone of my strategic vision for the past half-decade, has taken a beating lately.  The Great Recession has led too many Americans to doubt in our own economic system and political institutions, while encouraging undue appreciation of China’s.  Similar trends can be seen on the Chinese side, with our system unduly discredited and theirs fantastically exalted.  Is the world better-served by this growing Chinese hubris than it was by America’s recent bout of the same vice? Hardly. Zero-sum calculations have no place in this age of globalization’s rapid expansion.

But what “lithium” can we apply to this manic-depressive relationship lest it collapse into full-blown bipolar meltdown?

Read the rest at World Politics Review.

Find the book mentioned in the piece here.



Finding the exit from Afghanistan

NYT Week-in-Review analysis by Rob Nordland.


There’s no way we can kill our way out of Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the American commander, has said. By now, that’s become a mantra.

“One thing we are all hearing, especially between now and next year, is that there is no military solution to this conflict,” said Staffan de Mistura, the new special representative of the United Nations secretary general to Afghanistan. “The Taliban will never win the war, and on the other side, they’ll never win either.”

So everyone talks about peace, but so far no one is actually talking peace. The obstacles to doing so are profound and in many ways as daunting as the prospect of a military solution.

The recent, three-day jirga disappointed:  no insurgents invited and Karzai supporters stuffed in.

Bigger problems:

Both sides have red lines that make talks seemingly impossible. The Taliban’s official position is that all foreign forces must leave before any talks can begin, and constitutional change must be on the table. The government insists that the Afghan Taliban must first renounce connections with Al Qaeda and agree to accept the constitution. (By “constitution,” read women’s rights — anathema to the Taliban, and a prerequisite for Afghanistan’s Western supporters.)

The fear is that the situation only grows more hardline on the other side: aging Taliban leaders replaced by the nastier, less-prone-to-negotiate younger cadre.

More and more, officials and officers are describing Obama's summer 2011 deadline to start withdraws as fungible.

Good to hear.


Jordan--the next nuclear power

WSJ story about Jordan's ambition to become a uranium-enriching, nuclear-power-using pillar in the region:

Jordan is among a slew of Arab countries, including Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, that are seeking to become among the first Mideast countries to develop a civilian nuclear-power industry. Israel is the lone country in the region believed to possess atomic weapons, but it hasn't moved to build nuclear power plants.

Jordan's nuclear ambitions are driven by economics. Wedged between Israel and oil giants Saudi Arabia and Iraq, the kingdom is 95% dependent on imported oil and has among the world's smallest reserves of potable water.

But the discovery of at least 65,000 tons of uranium ore in the deserts outside Amman in 2007 has led King Abdullah to order a drastic reshaping of his nation's economic strategy.

America wants to put Jordan on the same leash as Iran:  no producing its own enriched uranium but only ordering it from more trustworthy sources.

Jordan is balking at this, saying it's an NPT signatory and enjoys that right--and needs that economic payoff--the goal being to become a regional nuclear fuel source.

I have to go with Jordan on this one.  If you want lesser powers to act responsibly, you have to grant them responsibilities.


Gates to EU: I blame you on Turkey!

WSJ story.

Gates just being blunt.

The EU began membership talks with Turkey in 2004--about a half century after the country first expressed interest in joining anything Europe put together on economics.  The talks have gone nowhere, despite Ankara's heroic efforts to meet requirements.

Thank-you France and Germany:  your racism comes back to haunt you once again!

I agree with those who says Turkey's "turn east" is exaggerated, but you reap what you sow, my friends.


Co-opting Turkey and Iran--in tandem

Fascinating Stephen Kinzer piece in The American Prospect, by way of WPR's Media Roundup.

The subtitle makes the statement boldly:

Why America's future partners in the Middle East should be Turkey and Iran -- yes, Iran.

Underlying argument:  two countries in the region have a long history of struggling with democracy--Turkey and Iran.  Both currently sport the Islamist veneer, but beneath lies a restive and vibrant civic culture.

In the future, it is not Turkey alone where "they come together." Improbable as it may seem right now, given the current regime in Iran, a partnership that unites Turkey, Iran, and the United States is the future and makes sense for two reasons: The three countries share strategic interests, and their people share values. Our evolving relationship with a changing Turkey offers a model for the kind of relationship we might one day--not necessarily tomorrow--have with a changing Iran. This is the tantalizing possibility of a new way for the U.S. to engage with the Middle East in the 21st century.

Why explore?  Because our Cold War stalwarts aren't working out:

Today we work in the region primarily through two bilateral relationships--with Israel and with Saudi Arabia. These pairings served Washington well during the Cold War. They have not, however, produced a stable Middle East. 

I like this piece very much.  Very intelligent, unemotional, and strategic in vision.

Also adapted from a new book (Reset: Iran, Turkey, and America's Future).


When you do SysAdmin by proxy in Somalia, you enlist children as warriors

NYT story says child soldiers exist "across the globe," but truth is, they exist only inside my Gap.

When people say it's not our role to do the SysAdmin work in these places, they just need to understand who gets pressed into service when Core great powers don't show up.

Take a good look at the kid's face, because he's working for you.

Feel any holier about our non-interference?