Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) won just short of a majority in May 11's violence-plagued elections -- Pakistan's first successful democratic transition from one full term to another. But on May 19, he secured that majority when more than a sufficient number of independents joined his party. He needed 137 seats for a majority and he has 142. Soon to be prime minister for an unprecedented third time, he is now free to pursue his campaign agenda, governing a nation that chose to humiliate the incumbents (the Pakistan People's Party -- PPP -- of the late Benazir Bhutto) and return him to the highest office.
Pakistan is now led again by this most interesting politician. He has been on both sides of the democracy-dictatorship divide, getting his start in politics by joining Gen. Muhammad Zia ul-Haq's military government in the 1980s in order to get back his family's steel business, which had been nationalized by Bhutto's father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, in the 1970s. (Zia had overthrown the elder Bhutto in 1977.) When democracy returned after Zia's death in 1988, Sharif led his party to victory and was twice prime minister; always the blood feud continued between him and Benazir Bhutto (he even managed to co-opt Bhutto's younger brother into an alliance against her). The saying "live by the sword, die by the sword" applies to his life: When he tried to tame the military in his second term, he himself was overthrown by Gen. Pervez Musharraf in a 1999 coup and was almost executed but for the intervention of Bill Clinton's administration. He and the Clintons, especially the former secretary of state, maintain a close relationship. Always a conservative Muslim who has supported the Islamization of Pakistan, he has nevertheless been a staunch proponent of privatization and industrialization, his goal being to make Pakistan the "South Korea" of the subcontinent.
Throughout this history, of which I have provided only a cursory glance, Sharif has been a man the United States wanted to count on and work with. His economic outlook makes him relatively more attractive as a leader whose policies have the best chance of stabilizing Pakistan by solving the grinding poverty affecting most Pakistanis. The major alternative, the PPP, has never governed well in large part because its legacy is statism and corruption. And while Sharif's foreign policies have worried U.S. officials, such as his close relationships with the Taliban in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as his sometimes reckless policies regarding his country's nuclear capabilities, he has nevertheless tried to improve relations with India because of his belief that, in addition to democracy, only through trade can Pakistan solve its economic problems.
Over the last several months, analysts offered varying views on Sharif's potential return to power, with many worried by his overtures to terrorists and the seemingly unsolvable problems Pakistan faces. After Sharif's victory, the ever insightful Walter Russell Mead offered a rather negative outlook. But I'm more hopeful.
During this last campaign, Sharif won over his critics who used to be frightened by his former talk of a "caliphate" and his past association with military government. He did this by showing himself to have learned patience (months in a military prison waiting to die can have that affect apparently) and by articulating an agenda that would transform Pakistan's economic and foreign policies. He advocates economic liberalization and promises a crackdown on corruption. He insists that a better relationship with India is paramount. And he has made clear that the military will submit to civilian control. It seems the military is listening as the country's top general called on him at his home after the election -- an unprecedented move. Importantly, he takes the helm again when Pakistan is more democratic, and this augurs well for his new administration to have the backing he needs. Turnout in this election was historic, with more young, female, and liberal voters supporting him in huge numbers. They have changed their view of him because apparently they believe he has changed; it helps that he resisted calls to ally with the military and oust the flailing PPP during its tenure. They certainly had other choices that represented change, but they opted for a man they have known for over a generation who said what they wanted to hear about governance and economic and foreign policies.
Of course the jury is still out, and this is Pakistan, after all; it is in a terrible neighborhood, and it's got a bad track record. And Sharif could have just succeeded in a massively cynical campaign to dupe voters and once in office will resume the project of Islamization and use a heavy hand against his opponents. But even if these were to be his goals -- and that doesn't seem likely -- this is not the Pakistan of 20, 10, or even five years ago. It is more democratic, and its youth, its women, and its voters in general are more demanding of government. In short, the country is progressing toward democratic maturity and apparently so is its new leader. Let us hope that Secretary of State John Kerry, who like Clinton has a good relationship with Sharif, can get a foreign-policy success with Pakistan.
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Pakistan has just held a historic election with the highest voter turnout in four decades. For the first time, a civilian administration completed its full term and handed power to new civilian leadership. The military stayed in its barracks and did not openly seek to tilt the electoral playing field, as in the past. Youth turnout was strong. From the ground, where I was part of a delegation from the National Democratic Institute observing the election, Pakistan did not look like a failed state. Rather, it appeared to be a country whose people desperately want good governance and economic opportunity, and believe their democratic choice may help deliver it.
Yet there is another Pakistan, one in which nearly 150 people - including political candidates and their supporters - were killed by the Pakistani Taliban over the past month. Leading politicians from national and regional parties were unable to campaign as militants placed "head money" not only on candidates but on their wives and children. A former prime minister's son, running for a parliamentary seat, was kidnapped in broad daylight at a political rally just days before the vote. And the chairman of the nation's ruling party had to campaign from abroad, so fearful was he of assassination by militants. Dozens were killed in election-day violence in Karachi, the country's commercial capital - despite the nationwide deployment of 300,000 extra security forces to ensure peaceful balloting.
Incoming Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, whose Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) faced down a late surge by Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), now confronts enormous expectations. During the previous five years of rule by the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), the country's energy infrastructure fell further behind the burgeoning demand, while economic growth lagged badly. Corruption among the country's governing elite reached new heights, despite Pakistan's enormous socioeconomic deficits. The Pakistani Taliban strengthened its position not only in the rugged borderlands along the Afghan frontier but in major urban centers. Sectarian violence between Sunni extremist groups and persecuted Shia and Christian minorities spiked. In short, Pakistan began to look ever more like a failing state, with leaders unable or unwilling to confront vexing national challenges.
Sharif has pledged to focus on expanding reliable energy supply and economic reforms to catalyze growth and job creation. Although Pakistani democracy received a fillip from Saturday's vote, the authoritarian temptation will return if this government cannot put the country on a sustainable economic trajectory. That will require a prime minister who not only can leverage his private-sector background to press for real reforms, but also roll back the corruption and misgovernance that have condemned Pakistan to lackluster economic growth.
Another hoped-for incentive for reform will be the long shadow cast by PTI leader Imran Khan, whose party fell short in the elections but captured the imagination of young, urban Pakistanis with its challenge to politics-as-usual. Khan has been playing a long game, sitting out the last elections in 2008 because he did not believe they would be free and fair, establishing intra-party democracy that highlights the dynastic qualities of the other parties, and speaking bluntly about the failure of the Pakistani state to reflect its people's aspirations. Given demographic and socioeconomic shifts in Pakistani society, his party threatens to displace the PPP and challenge the PML-N as Pakistan's leading political movement. To placate and co-opt Khan's fervent supporters, Sharif will need to deliver on his promises or risk fueling Khan's anti-establishment narrative.
Pakistan's new leaders will also need to manage relations with other internal constituencies, including an activist judiciary and a powerful military lurking just offstage. This year will see the retirement of the assertive chief justice of the Supreme Court, the departure of the president from office, and the retirement of the chief of army staff. The choice of their successors will do much to shape Sharif's ability to deliver on his governing agenda.
Finally, the external environment may become more favorable to Pakistani reform and growth. India hopes to resume the détente that started with the 1999 Lahore Declaration during Sharif's previous tenure as prime minister. The drawdown of Western forces in Afghanistan will create instabilities, but they also create the opportunity for Pakistan and the United States to enjoy a more normal relationship not premised on Pakistani cooperation (or lack thereof) in a third country. Pakistan's successful democratic transition, combined with its increasingly dangerous pathologies, suggest that it is high time the West dehyphenated Af-Pak and focused on how Islamabad can deliver on its people's aspirations to live in a thriving, peaceful nation -- not a Talibanized one.
A version of this article appeared as a German Marshall Fund Transatlantic Take (www.gmfus.org) .
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In Pakistan's 66-year history, a civilian government has never completed a full term of office and then handed power through elections to a successor administration. That will change on Saturday when Pakistanis go to the polls to elect a new parliament. Given Pakistan's position as ground zero for violent Islamic extremism, the world has a vital stake in who wins these elections and how they proceed to govern. What should we expect?
Several pre-election trends will have a decisive influence on its outcome. On the positive side of the ledger, this will be a competitive race. Forty-seven parties are contesting it. Forty-eight percent of registered voters are under age 35, and there are 36 million new voters, bringing to bear a sizable youth constituency that has a compelling interest in job creation and economic reform. There are 161 female candidates for office, compared with only 64 in Pakistan's last national elections in 2008. The Pakistani military, which has traditionally played a kingmaker role in politics when not governing itself, does not have a horse in this race, preferring to remain on the sidelines. These are all positive dynamics.
The top downside risk is the extraordinary levels of targeted violence that have preceded voting day, tilting the playing field and dousing it in blood. More than 100 political candidates and their supporters have been murdered by the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) over the past 1.5 months. Insidiously, the TTP seems not to want to disrupt the election overall, but is pursuing a targeted campaign to suppress turnout for the parties most determined to combat violent extremism: the Awami National Party, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, and the ruling Pakistan People's Party (PPP).
Pakistan's election is in fact taking place amid a low-grade civil war in which domestic terrorists are successfully targeting the political parties with the most liberal vision for the country's future. These parties are effectively unable to campaign, with the result that turnout of their supporters will be dramatically suppressed.
Equally disturbing is that several political parties expected to do best in Saturday's contest appear to have made a separate peace with the Pakistani Taliban that has largely precluded terrorist attacks on their members. The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party, led by Nawaz Sharif, and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, led by Imran Khan, have been able to campaign free from violent attack, giving them extra momentum in the lead-up to the polling. Sharif has offered to negotiate with the Pakistani Taliban and withdraw the Pakistani armed forces from the fight against the militants in the country's northwest. Khan has offered dialogue with the terrorists and has pledged to order the military to shoot down American drones operating over extremist safe havens.
The PML-N and PTI lead the polls, with parties under siege from terrorism trailing in their wake. Should Sharif or Khan form a government separately or in coalition, Americans should expect a change in Pakistan's cooperation against violent extremists -- if either leader can wrest control of foreign policy and security policy from the armed forces, something the PPP-led government of the past five years could not manage.
In fact, the surge in popular support for the PML-N and the PTI comes not from their flirtations with radical Islamists or their anti-American posture. It stems from the promise of both parties to reverse the tide of corruption, cronyism, and economic lethargy that has characterized Pakistan under PPP rule. Polls show the vast majority of Pakistanis do not support the Talibanization of their country -- which is why the TTP is violently contesting the election rather than competing in it, and why Islamist political parties like the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam and the Jamaat-e-Islami have done so poorly in previous elections and will surprise on the downside in these elections.
Most Pakistanis want better governance and economic opportunity -- not new safe havens for terrorists or war against the United States. But the more space the country's new leaders give to the violent radicals who seek to overthrow the Pakistani state, the less chance those leaders will have of generating the public goods their voters demand. A successful civilian transition is a historic first worth celebrating as better than the alternatives. But by playing footsie with the terrorists who are tearing their country apart, the likely victors of Saturday's election do a disservice to the vibrant civil society and patriotic armed forces that hold Pakistan together against increasingly long odds.
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The Obama Administration has embraced the Bush doctrine, or at least the preemption part of the Bush doctrine. According to news reports about the Justice Department's memo on drone strikes, the Obama Administration bases its policy on an expansive interpretation of the laws of war, which allow countries to act to head off imminent attack. In particular, according to the reporter who broke the story, the Obama Administration bases its legal reasoning by interpreting "imminence" in a flexible way:
"The condition that an operational leader present an ‘imminent' threat of violent attack against the United States does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future," the memo states.
Instead, it says, an "informed, high-level" official of the U.S. government may determine that the targeted American has been "recently" involved in "activities" posing a threat of a violent attack and that "there is no evidence suggesting that he has renounced or abandoned such activities." The memo does not define "recently" or "activities."
This should sound familiar to anyone who has debated American foreign policy for the past decade, for precisely that sort of logic undergirded the Bush Administration's preemption doctrine. Here is the relevant section from Bush's 2006 National Security Strategy (itself quoting from the earlier and controversial articulation in the 2002 National Security Strategy):
If necessary, however, under long-standing principles of self defense, we do not rule out the use of force before attacks occur, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy's attack. When the consequences of an attack with WMD are potentially so devastating, we cannot afford to stand idly by as grave dangers materialize. This is the principle and logic of preemption. The place of preemption in our national security strategy remains the same. We will always proceed deliberately, weighing the consequences of our actions.
Of course, the Bush Administration was excoriated for framing the issue that way, and there arose a lively cottage industry devoted to attacking this aspect of the Bush doctrine. While Obama has tended to get away with things his predecessors could not, I suspect that even he will face some tough questioning now that the overlap with the controversial Bush doctrine is so unmistakable.
The issue is a difficult one, for the applicability of the self-defense principle depends crucially on context. Everyone agrees that if someone is attacking you with a knife, you do not have to wait for the blade to puncture your skin before you can strike at the assailant. And everyone agrees that it is not self-defense to attack someone just because you think there is a dim and distant possibility that one day that person might decide that he wants to attack you even though there is no evidence of such intent today. In the real world of national security policymaking, however, there are abundant hard cases in between those easy calls and those hard cases are what policymakers -- as distinct from pundits -- can't avoid.
The memo reveals the Obama Administration wrestling with these problems and coming to conclusions strikingly similar to those of the Bush Administration. I wonder if Team Obama will be more successful than the Bush Administration was in arguing the merits and logic of the preemption doctrine.
By Javid Ahmad and Daniel Twining
Since the 1970s, Pakistan has approached Afghanistan through a doctrine of strategic depth. The latest incarnation of its longstanding Afghan policy, directed from military headquarters in Rawalpindi, has been to prop up the Afghan Taliban as a means of extorting concessions from Kabul or even toppling the pro-Western Afghan government altogether.
However, recent good-faith gestures by Pakistan -- freeing influential former Taliban officials and reaching out to the non-Pashtun leaders from the erstwhile Northern Alliance -- have been widely interpreted to signal a perceived shift in its Afghanistan policy. The change in Pakistan is emanating from Rawalpindi, which the civilian government in Islamabad gingerly follows. For years, Pakistan has hesitated or refused to release Afghan Taliban leaders to participate in talks on a political settlement to the Afghan conflict. Surprisingly, it is now pushing for reconciliation between the Taliban and the Afghan government via a peace roadmap by 2015.
These breakthroughs raise the inevitable question: Is this a real strategic shift, or merely a tactical response to current circumstances? While Pakistan has many real reasons to alter its longstanding Afghan policy and truly abandon strategic depth, several factors may explain Rawalpindi's new approach to its neighbor.
First, radical Islamic ideals that appeal to unemployed youth are now also affecting lower-level members of Pakistan's military. Although this blowback effect has not yet been turned into tangible threats within the military, Pakistan continues to address the symptoms rather than the root of the problem. Mindful of this reality, Pakistan's fretful military realizes that if this trend continues, it will most likely create subversive insiders in the force that will threaten its stability from within.
Second, Pakistan has been made a part of the regional peace framework via the Istanbul Process. Despite its intransigence over engaging in genuine regional cooperation, recent nudges from regional governments through the Istanbul Process have pressured Pakistan to become a more active and constructive partner in the effort. Pakistani hesitation to work collaboratively with its neighbors is driven largely by concerns about the deeper role India could play in any regional framework, augmenting its rising influence across Afghanistan.
However, growing distrust between Rawalpindi and the Afghan Taliban and heightening home-grown insurgency now supersede anxieties about India. The soaring number of Taliban attacks on Pakistan's security forces and military installations, coupled with the alarming number of casualties the army and civilians endure every month, not only has troubled Pakistan but also signifies that its nexus with the Taliban may not be entirely fruitful. Most vitally, Rawalpindi is uneasy about the province of Khyber Pukhtunkhwa and the northern frontier becoming a safe haven for various Taliban groups joining forces against Pakistan.
Nonetheless, there are reasons to believe that any shift in Pakistan's policy is short-term and tactical.
First, several of Pakistan's political parties are now supporting radicalization and flirting with jihadi mindsets. Most recently, Imran Khan, the leader of Pakistan's Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, claimed that the Taliban are fighting a "jihad" in Afghanistan that is justified by Islamic law. Such public statements in support of criminal activities are not only misguided, but also inspire violent extremist ideologies that mislead uneducated and impressionable Pakistani youth and provide a space for insurgents to recruit. Unless this attitude changes, the viability of any positive policy shift is questionable at best.
Second, the media in Pakistan, rather than being a force broadly supportive of peace and stability in Afghanistan, often does the opposite. A broad cross-section of Pakistani media links the impending troop withdrawal directly with the United States' failure in Afghanistan. Elements in the mainstream media are also raising paranoia and anti-Americanism among the people, while openly advocating the insurgency next door.
Third, even if Rawalpindi's change of posture is sincere, the shadow of history in Afghanistan-Pakistan relations hampers this policy shift. The underlying thinking in Rawalpindi may well be that it can still achieve its traditional goals through different means. Most Afghans remain highly skeptical of Pakistan's goals in their country, recognizing that Rawalpindi is unlikely to abandon its long-held objectives in Afghanistan, particularly at a time when Western forces are drawing down.
Perhaps most importantly, there most likely will be no positive shift in Pakistan's strategy unless and until it genuinely supports political inclusivity in Afghanistan. Despite its recent overtures to some of the non-Pashtun political leaders, Pakistan still seeks a pliant government in Kabul through its privileged relationship with the Taliban. Pakistan has to do more to overcome the considerable mistrust it carries among non-Pashtun groups in order to facilitate any policy shift.
While there may be a realization in Rawalpindi that its current Afghan strategy has not succeeded, there are few tangible signs of an actual policy shift. While it remains to be seen how ongoing events will unfold in coming months, perhaps one of the most visible shortcomings of the peace roadmap is the absence of contingency plans should reconciliation not proceed as envisaged.
Kabul must carefully review the terms of the negotiations, resist the temptation of trailing into and accepting conditions that privilege Pakistani interests at the expense of Afghan sovereignty, and avoid reaching a hasty, high-risk peace deal that could potentially compromise the security of the Afghan people. Pakistan's recent gestures are a good sign, but given its history in Afghanistan, regrettably these signals do not appear entirely reassuring.
Javid Ahmad is a Program Coordinator for Asia at the German Marshall Fund of the United States in Washington, DC. The views reflected here are his own.
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Prior to the terrorist attack that killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and the subsequent anti-U.S. demonstrations throughout the Muslim world, the conventional wisdom held that President Obama was unassailable on foreign policy during the election campaign. Yet rather than tout the administration's successes -- which have produced an edge in polls as to who the public trusts on foreign affairs -- the Obama campaign and its allies seem more eager to warn voters that Mitt Romney is planning to bring back George W. Bush's foreign policy than tout the president's "successes." "Of Romney's 24 special advisors on foreign policy, 17 served in the Bush-Cheney administration," wrote Adam Smith, the most senior Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee -- and that's "a frightening prospect." Similarly, during the Democratic convention, Senator John Kerry said: "[Romney] has all these [neoconservative] advisers who know all the wrong things about foreign policy. He would rely on them." Now, noted foreign policy scholar Maureen Dowd has written not one, but TWO columns decrying "neocon" influence over Romney's foreign policy.
This is an especially odd line of attack given that most of the Obama administration's foreign policy achievements are little more than extensions of Bush administration policies.
President Obama frequently boasts that he fulfilled his promise to "end the war" in Iraq. In reality, he merely adhered to the U.S.-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement negotiated and signed by the Bush administration in 2008. What's more, as a senator Mr. Obama opposed the 2007 surge of U.S. forces that made this agreement possible. The Obama administration's only policy innovation on Iraq was last year's failure to broker a new strategic framework agreement with Iraq, a deal they had previously insisted was necessary and achievable.
Then there's the operation that killed Osama bin Laden. To be sure, the president deserves credit for launching the raid against the advice of so many of his advisors, including Vice President Joe Biden. But Mr. Obama fails to acknowledge that the intelligence chain that led to the Abbottabad raid began with detainee interrogations at Guantanamo Bay and CIA "black" sites that he vowed to close upon taking office.
What about drones? President Obama deserves credit for the successful "drone war" against al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan, but the uptick in U.S. drone attacks there began in July 2008. The Obama administration's continuation of this policy is an acknowledgment -- unspoken, of course -- that the Bush administration was correct to treat the war on terror as an actual war rather than a global law-enforcement campaign.
On Iran, President Obama brags that "Iran is under greater pressure than ever before, "and "few thought that sanctions could have an immediate bite on the Iranian regime." Putting aside the fact that these sanctions were imposed upon the president by a 100-0 Senate vote, and that Obama's State Department has granted exemptions to all 20 of Iran's major oil-trading partners, this triumphalism ignores that the Bush administration worked for years to build multilateral support for sanctions (both at the United Nations and in national capitals). The Obama administration broke from this effort for two years, attempting instead to engage the Iranian leadership. When this outreach predictably failed, the Obama administration claimed that Tehran had proven itself irrevocably committed to its nuclear program -- precisely the conclusion the Bush administration had reached years earlier.
Yes, there's more to the Obama administration's foreign-policy case, but the other "achievements" are muddled ones. Even before the Benghazi attack, post-Qaddafi Libya was so insecure that the State Department issued a travel advisory warning U.S. citizens against "all but essential travel to Libya," and NATO's intervention in Libya raised the inconvenient question of why the administration intervened to alleviate a "medieval siege" on Benghazi but sits silently as tens of thousands of civilians are slaughtered in Syria.
In Afghanistan, the surge ordered by President Obama in December 2009 had the operational effect intended. But even in taking this step, the president undermined the policy by rejecting his military commander's request for 40,000 troops, declaring the surge would end according to a fixed timeline rather than conditions on the ground, and announcing the withdrawal of the last 20,000 surge forces before the Afghan fighting season ended (but before the November election). The Bush administration veterans advising Governor Romney surely know more about the importance of seeing a policy through to its fruition.
The Bush administration made many foreign policy mistakes during its eight years in office, most notably the conduct of the Iraq War after the fall of Baghdad. And Governor Romney still needs to provide details demonstrating why he would be a better steward of U.S. national security than President Obama. But the potential devolution of the Arab Spring into anti-U.S. violence demonstrates why both candidates owe the American people a serious discussion about foreign and defense policy. Hopefully in the election campaign's waning weeks the Democrats will offer much more than the ad hominen anti-Bush attacks they have provided to date.
Benjamin Runkle served in the Department of Defense and National Security Council during the Bush administration, and is author of Wanted Dead or Alive: Manhunts from Geronimo to bin Laden.
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The Washington Post has run a few excerpts from Rajiv Chandrasekaran's latest book, Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan. It contains such shockers as the revelation that inter-service rivalry at the Pentagon led to bureaucratically sub-rational outcomes. As Captain Renault said to Rick, "I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!"
Rajiv gets a few things right. He claims that "U.S. commanders thought that managing the NATO alliance was more important than winning the war." A lot of the senior brass seems never to have fully internalized the strategic importance of the war in Afghanistan, despite two presidents insisting that it was a vital American national security interest. When Bush and Obama can agree on something, you have to at least consider they may be right.
But much of the book dwells on interagency rivalry in Washington during the early months of the Obama administration, when I served as a staffer on the NSC. Here, Chandrasekaran embellishes, dramatizes, and exaggerates until the story is no longer recognizable.
In Chandrasekaran's telling, there was an epic rivalry between the State Department's special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, and the NSC's special coordinator for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Doug Lute. I worked for Lute during some of the period covered by Chandrasekaran's story.
There was plainly a rivalry of sorts, but Chandrasekaran blows it out of all proportion and neglects obvious historical and institutional factors at play. The NSC and the State Department have been rivals since the NSC was created in 1947, and the rivalry endures across policy issues and regardless of personalities. Add to the standard institutional competition the fact that the Obama administration decided to have two separate 'special' leads for Af-Pak policy, one at State and one at NSC, and it is unsurprising that the two offices clashed over their confusing, overlapping and unclear roles. That's the natural consequence of the president's poor managerial decisions and the administration's neglect of clear institutional organization.
Instead of recognizing these obvious, if un-dramatic, facts, Chandrasekaran claims that the rivalry between Lute and Holbrooke cost the United States the opportunity to reach a peace deal with the Taliban in 2009-10. He claims that "The Obama White House failed to aggressively explore negotiations to end the war when it had the most boots on the battlefield," in part because of the rivalry. The claim is false. No such peace deal was within reach. Chandrasekaran even concedes that "It was not clear that [the Taliban's] leader, the reclusive Mullah Mohammed Omar, wanted to talk" to the United States. Indeed, despite Lute and Holbrooke's differences, they agreed on the fundamental policy of pursuing talks to end the war and the Obama administration has, however falteringly, made some progress towards that goal.
But Chandrasekaran goes so far as to say that "[National Security Advisor James] Jones and Lute hated the thought of Holbrooke basking in the spotlight as he did after peace in the Balkans." The accusation that two professional military men would let a personality conflict obstruct the president's ability to wage and win a war is petty, unfounded and worthy of the National Enquirer, not the Washington Post.
In fact, Lute went out of his way to re-engineer the interagency process and make a great display of co-chairing a new higher-level interagency forum with Holbrooke, something neither Chandrasekaran nor Woodward picked up on in their respective books. Lute and Holbrooke kept their disagreements out of the public eye, as professionals are supposed to do.
Lute and Holbrooke clashed, but that's what bureaucrats do, especially when there are real issues at stake that they disagree about. Chandrasekaran relates that Lute believed that Holbrooke "had ruined his relationships with Karzai, the U.S. ambassador in Kabul and officials in the Pakistani government." That's essentially true; I don't know many who would dispute that account. Holbrooke's histrionics and his belief that the U.S. should have tilted the playing field in the 2009 Afghan presidential election were responsible for much of the damage to U.S.-Afghan relations in the early years of the Obama administration.
I have always admired what Lute was able to accomplish during the transition between the Bush and Obama administrations. He provided crucial continuity during the first war-time presidential transition since 1968. He cooperated with the incoming administration as a foreign policy professional, embodying the non-partisan ethos that the community used to stand for. And, when the Obama team inexplicably demoted his position, he accepted it with a rare humility not often found among bureaucrats. A lesser man would have resigned to nurse his wounded pride. I like to think that he stayed because he believed, rightly, that the job was too important to put his ego first.
That doesn't mean Lute's record is flawless. I have been a frequent critic of the Obama administration's record on Afghanistan, some of which inevitably must reflect on Lute as the administration's longest-serving point-man on Afghan policy. But that is an honest disagreement on policy, the sort of thing that should drive public debate. Chandrasekaran may sell books with his tabloid accusations, but history will set the record straight.
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The election may hinge on economic and domestic policy, but this past week the campaign was all about national security, specifically the president's role as commander in chief.
The prompt was the anniversary of the killing of Bin Laden, which encouraged the Obama campaign to put out an extraordinary campaign advertisement praising the president for showing the courage to order the strike and suggesting that Romney would not have done so.
The critique of Romney was fundamentally dishonest in the way that campaign ads often are. The ad cherry-picked Romney quotes and deployed them out of context. The valid Romney observation that defeating al Qaeda would require a comprehensive strategy, not one limited to hunting down a single man, got distorted by the Obama scriptwriters into a hesitation to pursue Bin Laden. And the valid Romney observation that it was a mistake to boast in advance about conducting unilateral strikes against the territory of our Pakistani partner got distorted into an unwillingness to act in America's national interest.
Nevertheless, while the Obama campaign misrepresented Romney's position on the hunt for Bin Laden, the advertisement was (perhaps inadvertently) plausible in claiming not every president would have ordered the Abbottabad raid -- and, in this respect, it was odd to hear former President Clinton making this argument.
Others have commented on how unseemly it was for the former president to participate in a dishonest attack like this. Both former Presidents Bush have been scrupulous (thus far) about hewing to an elder-statesman, above-the-partisan-fray sort of role. It is unfortunate that former Presidents Carter and Clinton, for all the other good they have done after leaving office, have not been so scrupulous.
Still, the interesting thing about President Clinton's commentary was not how partisan but how ironic it was. Because of the last eight men who were the runners-up or winners of the office of president, the one least likely to have ordered the Abbottabad raid was President Clinton. Clinton was famously casualty phobic and uber-cautious in the use of force, for understandable reasons (as I have outlined at length elsewhere, including here and here.
And the Abbottabad raid required a commander in chief willing to take a risky bet. Consider the factors that might daunt an irresolute decider:
Under those circumstances, President George W. Bush probably still would have ordered the attack, as did President Obama. But is anyone confident that President Clinton would have?
The decision President Obama faced was a hard one and he took a gamble that paid off. He deserves credit for it -- credit that Americans of both parties have been reliably paying him. However, let's be honest that it is a decision that compares favorably not with Republicans but with other Democrats.
Islamabad is unhappy with the United States. As the anniversary of the killing of Bin Laden approaches, Pakistani officials, and especially parliamentarians, are spewing even more venom against the United States than they usually do -- which is saying a lot. Pakistan is full of grievances. It is furious that the United States is launching drone attacks against al Qaeda terrorists on its territory. Pakistan has not yet reopened the logistics support line to Afghanistan through its territory, which it closed in retaliation against the previous spate of American drone attacks. The future of that line now appears to be in real jeopardy.
Pakistan wants $3 billion from the Coalition Support Fund as compensation for its operations in support of the American effort against terrorists operating from the Tribal Areas. Washington is prepared to reimburse about a third of that amount, and is not yet ready to pay even that.
Finally, Islamabad is uneasy with the Afghan-American agreement that commits Washington to a decade of support for Afghanistan once American and coalition troops withdraw in 2014. No one really knows how much American assistance will really be available. Ten years is a very long time, and American interests could lie elsewhere. But Pakistanis, ever seeking to render Afghanistan firmly within their sphere of influence -- and to prevent it from becoming part of India's sphere -- are uneasy about the thought of close American ties to Kabul for the foreseeable future.
There are those in Washington who persist in calling Pakistan an American ally. It is no such thing. The American-Pakistani relationship is a forced marriage of inconvenience. American-Pakistani relations are a shadow of the cooperation that had reached its zenith when Pervez Mussharraf committed himself to the fight against al Qaeda. Early in the past decade, Pakistan redirected its forces from the Indian border, and undertook serious operations against al Qaeda. Pakistan lost many troops in the effort, and the United States, recognizing Islamabad's contribution, established the Coalition Support Fund, which, at least when I was in charge of payments, covered over 80 percent of all Pakistani claims.
But times have changed. Pakistan's military has become increasingly radicalized, even as the size of its nuclear weapons arsenal continues to grow apace. The country's president, Asif Ali Zardari, has struggled with the military virtually since the day he took office. The Pakistani "street," whose history of hostility to the United States dates back at least to the 1979 burning of the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, is even more violently anti-American today. The power and influence of the Imams, and of the students who graduate their madrasas, continues to grow unabated. And the possibility that the country will break apart, with Pashtu, Baluch, Sindhis, and Punjabis, each going their own way, is considered more real than ever before.
The United States cannot abandon Pakistan. To do so is to invite open Pakistani support for the likes of the Haqqanis, who probably are now America's most dangerous adversaries in Afghanistan. However bad the relationship with Pakistan's military might be, having no relationship would be even worse. After all, not all of Pakistan's generals are radical Muslims; many still retain a Western-oriented outlook.
Moreover, the only way to combat the influence of radical Islam in Pakistan is to fund schools that can compete with the madrasas, by offering both religious and secular studies, as well as the hot meals that impoverished students can obtain nowhere else. While reeling economically, only the United States, despite its own economic headaches, is still in a position to finance directly the creation and sustenance of such an educational system.
Finally, however uncomfortable the relationship with Pakistan may be today, a Pakistan that becomes even more radicalized, or worse still, breaks apart, will represent a true danger to American security. Washington is right to ignore Pakistani protests and once again to employ drones against those who seek to harm America. It is also right to withhold payments of Coalition Support Funding until the road to Afghanistan is once again re-opened. But America must do more, in other ways, particularly in developing a much more ambitious plan to support modern education in Pakistan's poorest areas -that would also encompass traditional Koranic studies. Perhaps direct American assistance will not be feasible -- Islamabad may prohibit such aid. In that case, indirect means will have to be found -- perhaps via international organizations. If the United States truly hopes for a cooperative relationship with Pakistan, it must do all it can to shed the light of modern education on the darker corners of that country's psyche. Nothing less will do, and no action at all would constitute a tragedy, for Pakistan, for the entire region, and for the United States as well.
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Terrorism, as the United States has learned at a high cost in recent years, comes in many forms and from unexpected sources. The government of Ecuador has once again crossed the line between irresponsible policies and ideologically driven actions that have created a serious security problem not only for its citizens but also for the entire Western Hemisphere. The disarray created in Ecuador's immigration policy has permitted transnational criminal organizations and terrorist groups -- possibly including al Qaeda -- to potentially use the country as a base of operations with the ultimate objective of harming the United States.
In June of 2008, the Ecuadorian government opened its borders to foreigners and ended visa requirements to enter its territory. This opened the floodgates to nationals from Africa, the Middle East, and Asia (e.g., Afghanistan, China, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iraq, Iran, Kenya, Nigeria, Cuba, Pakistan, and Somalia). For example, according to statistics of its own National Immigration Office, in 2006 (before the policy change) there were 92 entries of Pakistani citizens, by 2008 were already 178 and in 2010, 518. This is an increase of 550 percent in 4 years. More significantly, just between 2008 and 2010 an estimated 60,000 Cubans entered Ecuador, according to intelligence sources.
Records shows that large numbers of these immigrants enter to obtain Ecuadorian nationality by naturalization and thus be able to travel freely throughout Latin America and eventually to the United States without arousing suspicion because of their original nationalities. The routes by which they enter the Americas generally include a first stop in Cuba or Venezuela, countries with highly subjective immigration controls. Two routes that are used repeatedly are Pakistan/Afghanistan-Iran-Venezuela-Ecuador, and Somalia-Dubai-Russia-Cuba-Ecuador.
According to U.S. diplomatic cables, Ecuadorian authorities were alerted in 2009 by various international intelligence agencies about this deception. However, it was not until mid-2010 when they began to again administer their immigration policies. Thereafter, the Ecuadorian government somewhat modified its visa policy for nationals of certain countries that were considered the riskiest.
Nevertheless, some reports suggest that despite this change, these immigrant groups have developed a criminal infrastructure of sufficient magnitude to keep functioning independently. To bypass the stricter immigration controls, criminal gangs have specialized in forging travel documents, visas, birth certificates, and fake residency permits that ultimately lead to illegally obtaining an Ecuadorian passport. Documents are not difficult to obtain because the Mafiosi suborn government administrators including civil registry officials, judges, and other government officials.
Of particular concern to U.S. security is the case of nationals of third countries who enter Ecuador with passports issued by Iran, Cuba, and Venezuela, countries for which Ecuador still does not require visas.
It is noteworthy that by Executive Order No. 1065 signed by President Correa on February 16, 2012, Ecuador has substantially eased the process of naturalization of foreign citizens. This resolution orders the granting of letters of naturalization to people who had provided "relevant services" to Ecuador and have resided for more than two years in the country, opening the door for virtually anyone to become a naturalized Ecuadorian and obtain a passport.
The danger these criminal networks pose is illustrated by two examples, among many: In 2011 an investigation was conducted by the U.S. Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) attaché in Quito, Ecuador, the HIS office in Atlanta, the Miami division of the FBI and the Ecuadorian National Police. The operation led to the arrest of Irfan Ul Haq, a Pakistani citizen who according to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) was conducting a "human smuggling operation in Quito, Ecuador, that attempted to smuggle an individual they believed to be a member of the TTP from Pakistan (Tehrik-e Taliban) into the United States." The TTP was designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the State Department on Sept. 1, 2010.
A second case, which resulted in the arrest of Yaee Dawit, alias Jack Flora, probably the most important human trafficker in Africa and linked to different cells of al-Qaeda in East Africa, illustrates the good work of international cooperation, but also the importance that Ecuadorian cities have acquired as "hubs" for terrorists and transnational criminals.
These cases not only illuminate the crime of human trafficking, but they also show how they continuously finance other terrorist and criminal activities. Assistant U.S. Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer, of the Criminal Division, describes these criminals as follows: "For financial profit, they [were] willing to jeopardize the safety and security of the American people. Human smuggling operations pose a serious risk to our national security, and we will continue to work closely with our law enforcement partners at home and abroad to combat this dangerous threat."
While there is no evidence to show that the Correa government established the policy of "open borders" in an effort to attract criminal organizations, that has been the result. On the other hand, there is no evidence of Correa wanting to stem the flow. These examples show how Rafael Correa's Ecuador is becoming a failed state, hosting all sorts of dangerous actors. They also help to understand the context in which various financial, commercial, and energy agreements are being developed by Ecuador with the governments of Iran, Cuba, and Venezuela. While many of the agreements are not yet completed, they serve as "government-authorized illicit tunnels" through which anything and anyone can pass, from terrorists and drugs to money and arms. The time has come to close these tunnels.
Otto J. Reich is president of the consulting firm Otto Reich & Associates LLC. He is a former U.S. assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere, and U.S. ambassador to Venezuela. Twitter: @ottoreich
Ezequiel Vázquez Ger is an associate at Otto Reich Associates LLC and collaborates with the non-profit organization The Americas Forum. Twitter: @ezequielvazquez
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Afghan President Hamid Karzai delivered yet another broadside against Pakistan yesterday, just before heading out to India for a state visit. He said "Pakistan has pursued a double game toward Afghanistan, and using terrorism as a means continues," closing out with a threat that "the government of Afghanistan has the responsibility to decisively fight against the enemies of independence and peace in Afghanistan."
Those are pretty bold words for a leader who can't govern his own country, much less win a war against Pakistan. While he's not wrong that Pakistan is interfering in Afghanistan, Karzai's attempt to shift blame across the border is just one more avoidance of responsibility for his corrupt and incapable government. Like most unsuccessful governments, Karzai's Afghanistan finds others to blame instead of working to improve what is in their power to fix. Pakistan sees a dysfunctional Afghanistan that the United States is about to walk away from, and is trying to create a buffer against its chaos seeping further into Pakistan or providing India a springboard for influence. Pakistan's strategy is not wrong in its assessment, but has chosen a means of influence that is ultimately self-defeating.
By contrast, India has been making incredibly smart choices in Afghanistan. And at no small cost: their embassy in Kabul was bombed in 2008 and 2009, killing scores. A developing country itself, India has provided $1.5 billion in aid to Afghanistan, predominantly for road building, medical treatment, training government bureaucrats, and now expanding to training of anti-terrorism police. They have worked cooperatively with the U.S. to help Afghanistan without provoking Pakistan, restraining the visibility of their efforts at our request.
Karzai lashing out at Pakistan increases the risk for India, both by connecting India more closely with a government that has not succeeded in gaining democratic legitimacy at home and by stoking Pakistan's paranoia about Indian influence. Expect the Afghan-Indian summit these next two days to have Indian Prime Minister Singh emphasizing "civilizational ties," while Karzai trumpets security cooperation.
The respective approaches of Pakistan and India in Afghanistan illustrate the potential problem of President Obama's shift to stand-off military strikes from a presence-heavy counterinsurgency. While Pakistan relies on proxy military power in the form of aiding insurgents to affect political developments in Afghanistan, the Indian government is showing a positive agenda of helping Afghans increase their capacity to deal with their problems. It's the difference between a strategy overly reliant on drone strikes and a counter-insurgency that builds support from within the society we are trying to affect. In its rush to the exits of Afghanistan, the Obama Administration might want to consider the respective attractions of the approaches undertaken by Pakistan and India in Afghanistan.
Dan and Kori have great posts about U.S. policy towards Pakistan. Dan seems to suggest that we should war game what it would look like to walk away from our 57-year-old alliance with Pakistan, come what may. Kori thinks that is impractical and we are stuck with the ally we have, not with the ally we want. Both are primarily focused on Pakistan's foreign policy and how it affects American interests. But the thing we need to recognize is that Pakistan today is teetering on the brink of civil war, and this may be the greater danger to the United States than anything it does in Afghanistan or India.
According to the Brookings Index on Pakistan, insurgents, militants, and terrorists regularly launch more than 150 attacks on Pakistani government, military, and infrastructure targets per month, and have been for at least the last three years. Pakistan has deployed nearly 100,000 regular army soldiers to its western provinces since 2001 -- to combat fellow Pakistanis, not to counter an external threat. Nearly 3,000 soldiers have been killed in combat with militants since 2007. Tens of thousands of Pakistani civilians and militants -- the distinction between which is not always clear -- have been killed in daily insurgent and counterinsurgent operations that have accelerated dramatically in recent years across Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, and Baluchistan. Pakistan is facing its gravest domestic crisis since the Civil War of 1971 sundered the country in two and changed the map of South Asia.
The war is, broadly, between Islamist jihadists and the autocratic Pakistani Army. That is a vast simplification, because the jihadists are split into dozens of factions who all have different agendas, and the Pakistani military is hiding behind the fiction of civilian authority. (And, of course, the Pakistani military has ties to other militant groups and uses them as proxies in Afghanistan and India. They are mostly different groups from those waging an insurgency inside Pakistan). But the real contest for power is between those who want an Islamic State in all or part of Pakistan and those who want to continue the military-enforced secular order that has held power for most of Pakistan's national existence.
Neither side is very nice. Neither likes the United States very much. And neither side is committed to democracy or human rights. But between the two, the Pakistani military is plainly the better option. A jihadist-controlled nuclear Pakistan would be the gravest threat to American national security since the Axis Powers signed the Tripartite Pact in 1940 (more dangerous than the Soviet Union because the latter was more predictable and could be deterred). We need the military autocrats to win. We need them to win even though they support militant groups in Afghanistan, even though they actively oppose U.S. interests, even though they are themselves a source of instability and danger. If there were a third option, I'd take it, but there isn't.
That should be the starting point for U.S. Pakistan policy. It pains me to say it, but this is more important than the war in Afghanistan. Pakistan is too big to fail -- which, like Lehman, doesn't necessarily mean we can stop its failure, only that the consequences are so dire as to require our attention and effort. And for those bothered by the weakness of democracy in a military-controlled Pakistan, consider which side is more likely to consider reform and liberalization after the civil war is over.
That perspective I think can help us rethink through some of the issues Dan and Kori raised.
Military Aid. We should continue limited aid to the Pakistani military -- limited, that is, to counterinsurgency-relevant equipment and training. Helicopters and night-vision goggles, yes. F-16s and artillery, no. And we certainly should insist on more conditionality and transparency, even if that is unpopular with Pakistanis.
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Is Pakistan an ally or an adversary of the West? The answer, as with so much in Pakistan, is ambiguous. It remains clear that Pakistan and the United States need each other. But it is also evident that the terms of their relations need to change in light of Pakistani support for terrorism. Many of those who know Pakistan best, including leading Western and Pakistani experts convened by the German Marshall Fund, the Institute for Security and Defense Policy, and the French Ministry of Defense for a transatlantic workshop on Pakistan last weekend, have concluded that key elements of Pakistan's military/intelligence combine were complicit in sheltering bin Laden.
How should the West respond to a long history of Pakistani double-dealing? At least we know what doesn't work. In the early 1990s, after a close partnership with Islamabad to defeat the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the United States slapped sanctions on Pakistan and effectively walked away. What followed was the rampant nuclear proliferation of the A.Q. Khan network and Pakistan's creation of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Pakistan also began to fall apart as a state during this period of isolation from the West, with the result that General Pervez Musharraf's 1999 coup was welcomed by many Pakistanis and Western leaders alike. In light of this record, cutting Pakistan off today might be emotionally satisfying, but it would not serve Western interests.
Another option would be pursuing a threat-reduction strategy that reassured Pakistan on its eastern and western frontiers. This would include rapidly drawing down NATO forces in Afghanistan, giving Pakistan the lead role in shaping an Afghan political settlement, and using American leverage to force India to come to terms with its quarrelsome neighbor.
The problem here is that predatory Pakistani behavior in Afghanistan pre-dates Western military involvement there after 9/11. Geography and history may mean that the Pakistani military's obsession with "strategic depth" in Afghanistan can never be satisfied. Indeed, it is more likely that a strong, sovereign Afghanistan with long-term Western partners and capable institutions of security and governance would do more to alleviate Pakistani insecurities than a weak Afghanistan unable to control its territory or govern its people. Hence the argument that one of the best things the West can do for Pakistan is to help the Afghan people build a state that can be a good neighbor to Pakistan -- rather than a chronic source of insecurity that tempts Pakistani adventurism.
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I was on the Diane Rehm show yesterday as part of a panel discussing Afghanistan. All of the questions and comments from the audience and the host boiled down to the same plaintive query: Won't we all be better off if we leave Afghanistan sooner rather than later, faster rather than slower, and doesn't the killing of bin Laden give us the perfect excuse to do so?
Bin Laden's death certainly provides a psychological moment to exit stage left. And Obama's base seems impelled to do so, driven by two somewhat contradictory sentiments.
On the one hand, part of the desire to leave seems predicated on the notion that Afghanistan is a lost cause. We have to get out because we are essentially defeated in the mission goals of defeating al Qaeda and degrading the Taliban down to the point where we can reach a political accommodation with the remnant and thereby stabilize a unified and effectively governing representative central authority in Kabul. The killing of bin Laden doesn't change this basic fact, so the thinking goes, but like a magician's trick it provides enough of a sensational distraction to hide what is essentially a strategic retreat.
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Islamabad is in turmoil. Army Chief Ashraf Parvez Kayani, already angered by the number and intensity of American drone attacks on Pakistani soil, has made it clear that Pakistan will react strongly to any other targeted assassinations on its territory. ISI chief Ahmed Shuja Pasha faces calls for his resignation, even as his agency is suspected of leaking the name of the U.S. station chief in Islamabad. There are calls for President Asif Ali Zardari's resignation as well, while a significant segment of the Pakistani public seems overwhelmingly outraged by the killing of bin Laden.
U.S. relations with Pakistan have never been easy. Congress was uncomfortable with Pakistan's ruling generals -- be they Yahya Khan, Zia ul-Haq, or Pervez Musharraf. It imposed sanctions on civilian-ruled Pakistan in 1998 because of its nuclear test. Many on Capitol Hill are convinced that A.Q. Khan, a hero in Pakistan, could only have successfully maintained his nuclear proliferation network with the tacit cooperation of the Pakistani leadership -- whether civilian or military. And many members of Congress resent Pakistan's close ties with China, strident opposition to Israel, and support of terrorism against India.
America's relationship with Pakistan has always been little more than a loveless marriage of convenience. Whether "tilting toward Pakistan" in 1971, in order to confound pro-Soviet India; working with Zia to support the anti-Soviet mujahideen; or providing funds to Musharraf to enable him to fight al Qaeda and the Taliban, there has been neither consistency nor staying power in Washington's outreach to Islamabad. As a result, mistrust between the two governments, never far below the surface, is easily intensified and highly combustible.
What then to do about the relationship? If the United States leaves Afghanistan to its fate, as it did in the early 1990s, it could perhaps risk ignoring Pakistan as well, as it in fact did during that same period. But ignoring a nuclear-armed state is not a policy, and in any event, the United States, however many troops it draws down, is unlikely to leave Afghanistan for some time. Unless Washington is prepared to accept that renegade Taliban, Haqqani, and other groups will have a completely safe haven in Pakistan, it will still need some degree of cooperation with Islamabad. Moreover, maintaining a decent, if rocky, relationship with Pakistan would confound Iran, which almost went to war with its Sunni neighbor in the 1990s, and will perplex China, which would rather Pakistan be its exclusive client.
On the other hand, Washington certainly needs to demonstrate to Pakistan that it is not solely dependent on Islamabad's goodwill for its operations in Afghanistan. Deepening its dialogue with India on matters Afghan, and maybe even doing so with Russia, may be one way for Washington to signal to Islamabad that there are other options besides exclusive reliance on its support.
Perhaps the best policy therefore is neither to forsake nor to indulge Pakistan, but to pursue a combination of selective support and selective indifference. Drone and other operations against terrorist suspects should continue, despite Pakistani protestations. On the other hand, military aid should be maintained at or near current levels, though subject to far greater scrutiny regarding how U.S. dollars actually are spent. And economic assistance should be reduced but not eliminated.
Such a policy by its very nature will not satisfy many people. Many Washington policymakers, and wonks, prefer to view international relations in black-and-white terms. But South and Central Asia, with its web of tribal and historical rivalries, is just too complex for simplistic remedies. In these circumstances, 70 or even 60 percent solution may well be the optimum to be hoped for.
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According to the New York Times, Pakistan has demanded that the United States halt drone strikes on Pakistani territory and draw down the number of CIA and Special Forces personnel in the country. The move is in response to the United States' insistence that Pakistan release American contractor Raymond Davis, who had been arrested on charges of murder. If true, and if Pakistan holds fast to its demands, the move could represent a watershed in U.S.-Pakistani relations.
Since 2001 U.S. relations with Pakistan have been premised on the idea that Pakistan shares U.S. interests in South Asia and is willing and able to cooperate with us. The first idea -- that we share interests -- is patently wrong. The second is increasingly doubtful. What then? What should U.S. policy towards Pakistan be?
For 60 years Pakistan has defined its national interest as the ability to compete with India, retain its hold on part of Kashmir, and advance its standing in the Muslim world. To that end it fought three wars (four if you count the Kargil conflict in 1999) with India since 1947, sought hegemony over Afghanistan as "strategic depth," developed nuclear weapons, and supported a range of militants as proxies against Afghanistan and India. None of this is in America's interest.
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President Obama's speech tonight on Libya is like the intervention itself: tardy but perhaps not too late to achieve its purpose. While administration officials have spoken volumes, the president has been largely missing from the action. The president's absence may have contributed to the confusion that has characterized the Libya policy. The speech, therefore, will be a bit more important than the run-of-the-mill Big Speech every president must make when he launches a military conflict.
Here are Four Key Questions to ask yourself when the president has closed with "... and God bless the United States of America.":
1. Did President Obama take responsibility for the outcomes or did he only commit to the inputs? Many observers, myself included, have worried that the president has focused too much on inputs and not enough on outcomes. I don't expect him to comment directly on the unnamed senior administration official who said, "In some ways, how it turns out is not on our shoulders." But make no mistake: this speech is very much the administration's response to the very concerns that comments like that have exacerbated. Perhaps the most important thing President Obama will say (or not say) is whether the U.S. mission merely involves conducting airstrikes (inputs) or whether the mission has more strategic objectives. If the latter, then it is very much on our shoulders how it turns out.
2. Has the administration done any serious thinking beyond the best-case scenario? So far, the administration has only sketched out a vision of what our role is under the best-case scenario. What is our commitment and obligation in scenarios where things do not live up to the rosy expectations? Given the many partisan (and many justified) critiques levied against the Phase IV planning in the Iraq War which was similarly based on best-case assumptions, the question is all the more on point now. What did Obama say to reassure us that the administration's public spin is not indicative of the quality of the planning involved in this military operation?
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The tragic shooting in Tucson is a signal event in recent U.S. history and could well have implications for domestic politics. But the implications for U.S. foreign policy (this blog's bailiwick) are likely minimal. Indeed, from a parochial foreign-policy perspective, the truly consequential act of violence against a politician last week occurred halfway around the world: the assassination of the Pakistani reformer and the governor of the Punjab region, Salman Taseer.
So far there is no evidence that Jared Lee Loughner's murders sprang from a coherent worldview that commanded the loyalty of a significant number of his countrymen. On the contrary, all the reporting contributes to a picture of a loner who was haunted by inner demons, fueled by drug abuse, and driven to do what he did by factors as idiosyncratic as they were despicable.
No less despicable were the actions of Malik Qadri, the bodyguard-turned-assassin of Taseer, but unfortunately for Pakistan and for U.S. foreign policy, they were anything but idiosyncratic. Qadri killed Taseer, the man he had sworn to protect, because Taseer had spoken out against the application of draconian "blasphemy" laws that condemned a Christian peasant woman to die for allegedly saying derogatory things about Islam. Qadri's actions flowed directly from the militant Islamist worldview that fuels al Qaeda and is ripping Pakistan apart. And of great significance, Qadri has become a hero to many Pakistanis who share his agenda of imposing militant Islamism on the whole of Pakistan and beyond.
It is hard to spin worst-case scenarios out of the Tucson shooting that lead to an unraveling of American society. At worst, some handful of crazies will be inspired to try copycat attacks. Perhaps additional pundits will soil themselves by joining the ranks of those shameless partisans who rushed to blame this event on their political opponents. But these are minor compared to the scenarios that could well unfold in Pakistan. As Fareed Zakaria argued, the Taseer assassination springs directly from the gravest threat to Pakistan's survival, to the security of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal, and therefore to core U.S. national security interests.
Of course, the world will pay close attention to how the United States responds to the Tucson tragedy and so there will be indirect implications for foreign policy. Loughner reinforces images that many foreign elites hold of the United States as a gun-obsessed culture where even deeply mentally disturbed individuals have ready access to Glocks. Other governments may join many Americans in calling for changes to our gun laws. Of somewhat greater consequence, apologists for dictators and tyrants will doubtless invoke this episode for tu quoque ad hominem defenses when U.S. leaders press other countries on human rights violations.
Global leaders will also watch closely to see how President Obama deals with the rhetorical challenge before him: how to speak on the topic of the day -- the highly charged partisan rhetoric -- when his own rhetoric is dotted with macho boasts about bringing guns to political fights or equating the opposition party with hostage-takers or simply using the language of "enemy" to mobilize his base on the eve of elections. Given his own highly charged rhetoric that crossed the lines of civility and responsible political discourse, Obama faces a daunting challenge in calling on others to a more elevated civility in politics. But if Obama is able to rise to the occasion and offer commentary that is honest, self-aware, and healing, some of the "Obama magic" that has been lost over the past two years could return, with attendant modest boosts in U.S. prestige and influence.
But beyond that, there will likely not be much foreign-policy consequence from the tragedy in Tucson. The tragedy in Lahore, however, will likely haunt U.S. foreign policy long after the Tucson episode recedes from the public memory.
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A series of bomb scares and plots in Europe -- combined with a stepped-up campaign against jihadists in Pakistan -- reminds us once again of the threat posed by al Qaeda and the groups that support its ideology.
Let's start with Europe where France, perhaps because of its vote to ban the Islamic veil in public, has become a special target for the extremists. The bomb scares began on Sept. 14, when a Metro station and the Eiffel Tower were evacuated, and have continued since then with three further evacuations of both Metro stations and the Eiffel Tower, the last of which occurred just yesterday. France's security threat warning was raised to "reinforced red," the second highest possible level, and French officials announced that they were searching for a female suicide bomber who might attempt to attack public transportation. Counterterrorism officials in France linked the threats to al Qaeda's branch in North Africa (al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghab, or AQIM) as well as to sleeper cells in France that were activated by extremists arriving from Afghanistan and Pakistan.
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I have held off commenting on the "Ground Zero mosque" controversy, in part because it seemed to be primarily a domestic political issue but mainly because I was dismayed by the hyperbole, demagoguery, and dishonest argumentation I found -- and, sadly, there are plenty of culprits on both sides of the debate. Some of the debate has been principled, nuanced, and careful, but not enough of it has and like an email flame war, the rhetoric has escalated even as the actual underlying points of dispute have narrowed.
However, one underappreciated point of consensus in the debate has prompted me to weigh in. Both sides of the debate appear to agree on one narrow claim: that the Ground Zero mosque is an important issue, symbolic or otherwise, in the ideological struggle in which the war on terror is embedded -- what Bush administration insiders referred to as the war of ideas.
I think it is certainly relevant to the war of ideas. Al Qaeda has sought to turn a broad civil war within the Muslim world into a war between Islam and the infidels (everyone else). If al Qaeda ever succeeded in that aim, our prospects for success would dim considerably. In fact, as President Bush and his advisors made clear within hours of the 9/11 attacks, and as leaders from both parties have emphasized repeatedly ever since -- and as most Americans have accepted to a remarkable degree -- the United States has not viewed the war on terror as a war against Islam. On the contrary, Americans have expended considerable blood and treasure to help protect Muslim victims of al Qaeda and other like-minded terrorist groups. And American leaders have sought, wherever possible, to reach out to the Muslim world and highlight America's long tradition of religious freedom and unrivaled record as a society that welcomes and integrates immigrants from all walks of life.
President Obama has made this particular aspect of the ideological struggle a personal priority of his and he deserves some credit for doing so.
Yet, all of the focus on the Ground Zero mosque controversy may now be having the ironic effect of distracting us from a much more important and much more urgent issue in that ideological struggle: the vast humanitarian crisis caused by the floods in Pakistan. The human toll is staggering, and that alone ought to be enough to prompt an outpouring of generosity from the American people.
But if you are not moved by the human suffering, perhaps the national-security concerns will prompt you into action. Pakistan is at the epicenter of the war on terror, and it is hard to see how that larger struggle will turn out well if the Pakistani state collapses and the society plunges into anarchy. The country was already teetering on the edge with a bankrupt economy, severe food and water problems, and an ongoing insurgency in Balochistan. And, by the way, al Qaeda and other terrorist networks are primarily in Pakistan, not Afghanistan -- indeed, several of the recent attempted terrorist attacks in the United States have originated from or had links to groups in Pakistan. Oh, and Pakistan has a sizable nuclear arsenal.
The stakes in Pakistan are exceptionally high and the international response thus far has been inadequate. The United States has done better than most, but we could do more. The most successful things the Bush administration ever did in the war of ideas were the rapid and substantial responses to the Asian tsunami of 2004/2005 and the Pakistan earthquake of 2005. More than anything, our actions confounded critics in the Muslim world (and elsewhere) and thwarted al Qaeda's goal of fostering a war between Islam and the West.
The current Pakistan crisis dwarfs both of those prior disasters, but the international response, beginning with ours, has not yet been commensurate. There are many reasons for that, but maybe one of those reasons is our national preoccupation with the mosque debate.
Perhaps it is time for our national attention to pivot from the mosque controversy on to the far more serious Pakistan crisis. Perhaps it is time for all of those political leaders and pundits who have scored points on their partisan enemies on this issue to take a pause, make a donation to the International Red Cross, and urge others to do the same.
"Pakistan is said to pursue a foothold in Afghanistan," reads today's headline. Breaking news? Old news, rather.
Nonetheless, the New York Times has done its readers a service by laying out clearly the danger the Pakistani military's intentions pose to the project of democratic state-building and security in Afghanistan. It has also reminded us, yet again, how President Obama's July 2011 date for the start of a U.S. troop drawdown has created a perverse incentive structure that encourages both the Afghan and Pakistani governments to hedge against the United States in this vital region. No matter how talented General David Petraeus proves to be commanding American and NATO forces, it is hard to see how our Afghan strategy can be successful absent a strategic reorientation by the Obama administration that creates a different calculus for leaders in Kabul and Rawalpindi (headquarters of the Pakistani armed forces) with regard to the Afghan endgame.
Pakistan's military intelligence establishment continues to define national security with reference to the weakness and pliability, rather than the strength, of its Afghan neighbor. There is both an external and an internal logic to this construction of national security.
Externally, Pakistan seeks "strategic depth" against India, whose influence and friendly relations with the government of President Hamid Karzai threaten the Pakistani nightmare of strategic encirclement. Moreover, the Pakistani security establishment's sponsorship of the Haqqani network and Lashkar-e-Taiba is today what Pakistan's sponsorship of Kashmiri militants was in the 1980s and 1990s -- a strategic tool to target and weaken India through terrorist attacks while enabling Rawalpindi to claim plausible deniability. At the same time, Pakistan's close relationship with the forces of Sirajuddin Haqqani (an important al Qaeda ally) and the Afghan Taliban give it critical leverage in its dealings with Washington.
Despite the billions of dollars of assistance the United States provides its South Asian ally, many members of Pakistan's strategic elite believe that, as a result of the influence Rawalpindi derives from its friendship with our enemies, the United States needs Pakistan more than Pakistan needs the United States. In this view, if Pakistan severed its close links to selected militants, closed down their sanctuaries in Pakistan's tribal regions, and fully endorsed the Western project in Afghanistan, Pakistani leaders might no longer enjoy the red-carpet treatment from Washington. Pakistan therefore derives strength in its dealings with America by pursuing differentiated strategic objectives rather than similar ones. This is a different conception of the notion of "ally" than applies to American relations with other key partners.
This reality, in turn, leads to the internal logic of Pakistani statecraft in Afghanistan. The military intelligence establishment's position at the core of Pakistani society and politics has been strengthened, not weakened, by Western intervention in Afghanistan over the past nine years (though the opposite would have been true had the West and our Afghan partners succeeded in building a functioning and accountable Afghan state that highlighted Pakistan's own political deficiencies). The war against al Qaeda and the Taliban made General Pervez Musharraf's military dictatorship appear indispensable to the United States. Following Pakistan's democratic transition (which Washington supported, though not soon enough) and the subsequent U.S. presidential succession, Obama forged a new Afghan strategy that has increasingly come to rely on Pakistan to deliver the Afghan Taliban (and perhaps also the militant networks run by Siraj Haqqani and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar) for an Afghan political settlement that would give these forces -- each currently allied in various ways with al Qaeda -- positions of power in a new Afghan constitutional settlement so that Western forces could come home.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
I have a few more musings on the
the war clocks" issue, specifically the question of accelerating the
Afghan battle clock by getting more help from Pakistan. What might the
outlines of a deal with Pakistan look like? I don't have specifics, but I
can think of some design features and suggest some out-of-the-box things to
think about. In the spirit of stimulating the strategic policy planners
who have better access to the information necessary to do this exercise right,
here are some considerations.
General Design Features
The absolutely essential element is explicit quid pro quo. It is fine for us to offer intangible, mood-setting quids, but their quo better be tangible and clearly spelled out in advance. The entire deal would not have to be public; indeed perhaps some elements would have to stay confidential. But the deal would have to be worth it to risk the inevitable leaks and set-backs and it is only worth it if Pakistan delivers concrete action.
The United States would also have to be willing to step back from the deal if
the other players are not doing their part. This is harder to do than it
sounds because, once established, every "deal" develops political
inertia and American leaders can be reluctant to break it off even when it is
clearly not delivering.
What should we ask for?
I would let General McChrystal draw up the list of asks, but I am pretty sure it would involve the movement of sizable Pakistani military units to put pressure on the areas that most affect the Taliban's freedom of movement as well as the sharing of intelligence that would substantially change the local balance of power on either side of the Durand line.
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images
Now that administration officials have announced that the Pakistani Taliban (the TTP) were behind the recent attempted bombing of Times Square, we can turn to the question of why there have been so many threatened and actual attacks on the United States inspired by, or actually emanating from, places where the United States is not involved in an active war. A look at arrests in the United States from May 2009 to the present shows dozens of such cases -- many involving multiple suspects -- linked to places like Somalia, Yemen, and of course Pakistan. Four of the plotters (Abulhakim Mujahid Muhammad (Yemen), Nidal Malik Hasan (Yemen), Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (Yemen), and Faisal Shahzad (Pakistan) managed to carry out attacks, although only two were "successful."
One can see how exceptional this is by looking at previous years. In 2008 there was only one such case -- Bryant Neal Vinas -- and he was caught before he could carry out his planned attack. The previous year saw about two dozen cases, but many can be traced back to Iraq or Afghanistan and, as in 2008, none led to actual attacks. The questions are: Why has there been such a spike in cases this past year, and why were four of them able to advance beyond planning to attacks? This second question might be beyond the scope of anyone outside the government, but it is worth asking, in any case. The first question, however, does have some public data points that might help to answer it.
The New York Times believes that targeting Taliban figures led directly to the attacks on the United States, as anger over the deaths of Pakistani jihadist leaders like Baytullah Mehsud have spilled over into the United States. While there seems to be something to this assertion, there must be other factors at play as well. This was, after all, the strategy followed by the Bush administration, but only now has it led to a spike in plots against the American homeland from not only the Pakistani Taliban, but other jihadist groups worldwide.
STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images
I have been struck by how the various sides in the war on terror debate have all found justification for their prior positions in the unfolding drama of the Times Square terrorist. Advocates of treating terrorism primarily as a law enforcement problem praise the rapid forensics that caught the suspect (albeit, just barely). Critics point to the near-misses and other troubling details and renew their complaints about the Obama-Holder approach to terrorism.
So far, everyone seems pretty sure that their prior convictions were sound. Alas, I am no exception. It seems to me that the following four points, all of which I already believed, are supported by this case:
It is possible that these and other similar points are merely evidence that I am a victim of confirmation bias, seeing in a new case only those things that confirm what I already believed. If so, I am probably in very good company. At least I am willing to ask: what in this case disproves these four points?
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images
I've had a bracing welcome to the blogosphere and see that there are some folks who disagree with me on the relationship between Mullah Umar, Bin Ladin, and the TTP. Of course issues like relationships are always open to interpretation and intelligence analysts with access to the full range of available sources debate this question on a daily basis. It's also a fact that the situation on the ground is fluid, and the insurgency in Pakistan-Afghanistan is continuously evolving. What is true today about relationships between groups might not be true next year.
But here's why I said that -- at least today -- the TTP are "under the authority" of both Mullah Umar and Bin Ladin: leaders of the TTP have publicly said that this is true. On March 1, Hakimullah, the head of the TTP posted a video on the Jamia Hafsa website in which he clarified the relationship between the TTP and Mullah Umar, saying among other things that "the Afghan Taliban are doing jihad under the leadership of Mullah Umar, and the mujahidin of the Tehrik-e-Taliban [TTP] are also doing jihad under his leadership. The commander of the faithful [i.e. Mullah Umar] is the leader of the Afghan Taliban as well as the Pakistani Taliban."
As for the relationship between the Pakistani Taliban and al-Qa'ida, this is how Mullah Nazir, a local commander in the TTP, put it last year in an interview with al-Qa'ida's media wing, al-Sahab. First, he confirmed their allegiance to the global jihad:
Our Jihad isn't limited to Pakistan or Afghanistan. We do not even accept these boundaries that separate us, that 'this shall be Pakistan' and 'that shall be Afghanistan...' this is nothing but an inanity devised by the Jews and we reject it...' Our Jihad is a global Jihad, and we aim to liberate Muslims throughout the world and obliterate tumult, oppression and mischief, and establish the system of Shariah all over the world.
He then affirmed their commitment to both Mullah Umar and Bin Ladin as commanders of the jihad:
Al-Sahab: What are your sentiments regarding the leadership of the Mujahidin i.e. Mullah Muhammad Umar, Commander of the Believers, and Shaykh Usama bin Ladin?
Mullah Nazir: We want to say to them that we are your Mujahidin and your soldiers. We await your orders. Do not worry, for the Mujahidin here in Waziristan alone suffice you. We are proud of your leadership and consider it an honor for us. We give away our lives at your command and feel proud to obey you at all times.
Of course, whether Bin Ladin actually gives the TTP orders and they actually obey him is another question.
A Majeed/AFP/Getty Images
This week's bad news on nuclear proliferation far outweighed the pleasant production values surrounding the Washington Nuclear Security Summit. But let's look at the good news first.
Representatives of 47 nations declared this week that nuclear terrorism is a bad possibility. They issued a communiqué to that effect and provided a non-binding work plan to counter "one of the most challenging threats to international security," as the communiqué characterized it. The White House blog was stronger, calling nuclear terrorism "the most dire threat of our time." The fact that the administration recognizes this is very welcome.
But such declarations are not new. The United States saw the problem immediately after the fall of the Soviet Union and, under President Clinton, worked with Russia to safeguard nuclear material. The United Nations recognized the danger and in 2005 adopted by consensus the Convention for the Suppression of the Acts of Nuclear Terrorism. That extensive set of measures entered into force in 2007 and, by the end of last year, had been ratified and agreed by 59 nations, more than attended this summit. Both this week's communiqué and work plan recall that convention and call for its implementation.
Nothing in the work plan is binding beyond agreement to meet again in South Korea in 2012. The tentative wording of the plan often betrays its own ineffectual outcome. For example, it says:
Participating States encourage nuclear operators and architect/engineering firms to take into account and incorporate, where appropriate [emphasis added], effective measures of physical protection and security culture into the planning, construction, and operation of civilian nuclear facilities and provide technical assistance, upon request, to other States in doing so."
Is there somewhere it would be inappropriate to incorporate physical protection and safety culture into nuclear facilities? But at least the participants were able to agree that, for the most part, this is a good idea.
The other outcomes of the summit -- reiteration of a 2000 agreement between the United States and Russia on plutonium disposal, a fuzzy but positive step forward on Ukraine's disposal of nuclear materials, closure of a Russian nuclear facility that ceased production last year -- were all useful. They are, however, unlikely to achieve any real reduction in the risk of proliferation and nuclear terrorism.
ndrew Harrer-Pool/Getty Images
I find Fareed Zakaria always intriguing even, or perhaps especially, when I am not fully persuaded by his argument. Today, he writes:
President Obama gets much credit for changing America's image in the world -- he was probably awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for doing so. But even devoted fans would probably say it is too soon to cite a specific foreign policy achievement. In fact, there is a place -- crucial to U.S. national security -- where Obama's foreign policy is working: Pakistan.
I agree more or less with all four claims in that opening paragraph: Obama
deserves credit for improving America's image; image is the only plausible
justification for giving Obama the Nobel prize; Obama's foreign policy
achievements have been sparse thus far; and the results and prospects in
Pakistan are less gloomy than one might have predicted a year ago. However, the Pakistan claim is the dodgiest of those claims and I am only
partially persuaded by Zakaria's reasoning.
Zakaria argues that success (so far) in Pakistan is due to four factors, three of which he credits to the Obama team:
1) Obama properly recognized that prospects in Afghanistan are
linked to Pakistan and dramatized this fact by referring to the problem as the
2) Obama used sticks and carrots to pressure Pakistan: sticks in the form of outreach to Pakistan's rival, India; carrots in the form of massive aid.
3) Obama has put in time and effort, specifically a "whole of government" approach to Pakistan.
4) Obama got lucky because the militants over-reached in Pakistan with their brutality.
My problem with this argument is that all of these factors, except perhaps the "AfPak" label and luck (!), pre-date the Obama administration by some margin.
It is possible that Obama has
tweaked the mix of these policies just right and this has produced better
results. It is more possible that simply the steady accumulation of
continuing basically the same things has produced more progress. And it
is perhaps most possible that the critical ingredients distinguishing between
progress and reversals is the adoption of the McChrystal surge strategy in
Afghanistan, good luck, and circumstance.
Consider this: if the situation in Pakistan was worsening, there would be plenty of explanatory factors available to blame. First, just as Bush was stuck with the compromised Musharraf regime as partner, Obama is stuck the equally but differently compromised Zardari regime as partner. Second, numerous bureaucratic snafus have largely hobbled the "whole of government" effort. Third, the way the Pakistani aid package was, well, packaged produced a sharp backlash in Pakistan -- it is hard to know whether to code this a carrot or a stick or a poisoned carrot. Fourth, the tortuous Afghan Strategy Review 2.0 and the botched roll-out provided as much confusion as clarification in the region, at least initially.
In short, it seems it would be no harder to explain a lack of progress as it is to explain progress. Under the circumstances, a modified version of the old Scot verdict, "not yet proven," seems warranted.
To be fair, Zakaria duly caveats the Pakistan argument. One cannot accuse him of naïve boosterism on this issue. Indeed, he closes with a warning against naïve optimism on Pakistan and warns the Obama administration that relations with Pakistan are like running on a treadmill: "If you stop, you move backward -- and most likely fall down." He may be more right than he realized: it could be like running on a treadmill in that you can be doing the right things for a very long time and at great effort and still not appear to be any closer to your final objective.
JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images
Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban's putative No. 2 and organizer
of military operations was captured several days ago at a madrassa near the
Pakistani city of Karachi. U.S. and Pakistani intelligence operatives are
interrogating him, according to the New York Times.
This is very good news. First and foremost, a deadly and effective enemy of the United States is no longer able to plan, coordinate, or carry out attacks against us.
It will further isolate other senior leaders, such as Mullah Omar, and cause them to rely on less-trusted replacements. In the last three years, six of the nineteen members of the Taliban senior council have been killed. This is significant progress, and suggests that the United States is beginning to have the kind of intelligence, and the ability to use it to good effect, that will eventually grind down the Taliban.
The surge of NATO troops to Afghanistan, and particularly operations in the Taliban stronghold of Marjah will produce yet more intelligence, as Taliban light up communications networks, are forced to move and therefore can be tracked, their operations in the region are disrupted, their funding streams from drug trafficking reduced, and as Afghan, U.S., and British forces engaged in the fight reassure the population they will be subsequently secure.
Cooperation between Pakistan's Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence and our CIA looks to have been extensive and beneficial. The BBC cites a senior Pakistani military officer describing the capture as "a joint operation between Pakistan and the United States based on shared intelligence." CIA agents evidently were along on the raid. Such intensive cooperation would be impossible without trust between the two spy agencies, and is difficult to build even among allies of long-standing. Given Pakistan's understandable concern about American fickleness, the cooperation is extraordinary. Those who castigate the Pakistani government as not serious about the fight against the Taliban, or who believe the ISI are insubordinate to their government's direction, will have a difficult time explaining this outcome.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
The New York Times has two stories today that neatly illustrate the challenges President Obama and his team face in working with our allies, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The Afghanistan story
reveals that there may well have been a serious discussion about "doing
a Diem to Karzai" -- that is, discussion about whether to try to replace
Karzai with a more pliant leader. The proponent of this idea was Peter
Galbraith, an American who worked on the United Nations team trying to help the
Afghan government transition to full, stable democracy. Galbraith is an
interesting figure; he was the original author of what became known as the
Biden Plan to divide Iraq into 3-parts, and he gained notoriety in recent
months for not having revealed an alleged conflict
of interest (he stood to make millions of dollars from oil deals in
autonomous Kurdish region of Iraq).
In the story, Galbraith emphasizes that he never actually implemented the plan, though he did apparently try to reach out to Biden's office to persuade the vice president on the matter. The problem, however, was that Galbraith's U.N. bosses were appalled at the proposal, and Karzai got wind of the plan. In short order the United States had to climb down. Karzai is (understandably) angry and suspicious about what he doubtless views to be arrogant and perhaps even imperialist behavior on the part of the Americans. And, as a consequence, our influence over the Kabul government is arguably less than it might otherwise have been.
The Pakistan story has a different lede, but perhaps is of a piece with Afghan story. The stated lede is: Pakistani harassment of U.S. contractors and junior diplomats is undermining the war effort. The implicit link to the other story is: our Pakistani allies believe the United States has been acting in an arrogant, imperialist fashion and, as a consequence, our leverage over them is less than it might otherwise be.
It may strike some as odd that an administration that has taken such pains to present itself as more reasonable and less prone to cowboy diplomacy than its predecessors would find itself in this predicament. The truth is that the Obama and Bush teams held to very different theories about how best to cajole our war allies into more constructive cooperation. The Bush team, belying the cowboy image, believed that we got better results when we pressured beleaguered allies like Karzai or Musharraf in private and offered assurances in public. The Obama team believes that they will get better results if they pressure in private and in public. Moreover, the Obama team feels the need to demonstrate to domestic critics that it really is getting tough on both the Afghan and the Pakistani government.
It is very hard, however, to do that kind of public pressuring without antagonizing the government you are trying to cajole. In the same way, it is very hard to engage in various regime-change plotting without generating similar antagonisms.
That has been part of the AfPak story over the last year and it is part of the reason that the policy results have been mixed.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
A story out of Pakistan today shows that the rhetorical/policy trimming that marred President Obama's Afghan escalation speech has done some damage to the prospects for the policy. The bottom line: the Pakistanis are not doing what we need them to do because they interpreted the escalation-plus-timeline as an indication of Obama's irresolution. Or, as the reporter put it:
The core reason for Pakistan's imperviousness is its scant faith in the Obama troop surge, and what Pakistan sees as the need to position itself for a regional realignment in Afghanistan once American forces begin to leave."
This story provides a timely, if unfortunate, rebuttal to the president's own
efforts at post-speech spin control. Obama went on "60 Minutes" on Sunday to
offer a vigorous defense
of the West Pont speech.
What struck me was this exchange recorded in the transcript:
KROFT: The West Point speech was greeted it was a great deal of confusion.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I disagree with that statement.
KROFT: You do?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I absolutely do. 40 million people watched it. And I think a whole bunch of people understood what we intend to do.
KROFT: But it raised a lot of questions. Some people thought it was contradictory. That's a fair criticism.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I don't think it's a fair criticism. The situation in Afghanistan is complex, and so people who are looking for simple black and white answers won't get them. And the speech wasn't designed to give those black and white answers.
Part of my job here, I believe, is to make sure that the American people understand what we're getting into. What we where we've been and where we're going. And they're not simple. I think that what you may be referring to is the fact that on the one hand I said, "We're gonna be sending in additional troops now." On the other hand, "By July 2011, we're gonna move into a transition phase where we're drawing out troops down."
The alternative is to stand pat where we are, in which you never have a stable Afghan security force. And we are potentially signed up for being in Afghanistan for the next decade.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: There shouldn't be anything confusing about that.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: First of all, that's something that we did in Iraq. And we executed over the last two years in Iraq. So, I think the American people are familiar with the idea of a surge.
In terms of the rationale for doing it, we don't have an Afghan military right now, security force, that can stabilize the country. If we are effective over the next two years, by putting in these additional troops -- clearing enough space and time for the Afghan security forces to get set up in an effective way -- that then frees us up to transition into a place where we can start drawing down.
This is remarkable and a bit scary, because Obama's defense is so fundamentally
misleading. It is, if you will forgive the historical reference, a moment
when President Obama channels the predecessor he usually avoids talking about,
the one who answered a direct question with the memorable line: "It depends on
what the meaning of the word is is."
For let's concede at the outset that President Obama, like President Clinton, may be technically correct. Because so many people watched the speech, and even more heard about the speech, it is almost a statistical certainty that "a whole bunch of people understood what [the Obama administration] intended to do," especially if we accept a conventional interpretation of "whole bunch" to be in the hundreds, thousands, or even ten thousands.
But Kroft's leading question is more honest than Obama's response was, because the confusion arising out of Obama's "deadline" was far, far more consequential than the statistical probability that some fraction of the audience got it. For days after the speech, administration officials offered contradictory clarifications, with Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen clearly suggesting that the deadline was a token target that would not drive the withdrawal schedule and spokesman Gibbs talking about the deadline as "etched in stone."
The policy compromise embodied in the speech and the underlying policy decision was in fact intended to square a number of circles. It was an escalation-with-a-prearranged-deadline-for-beginning-a-withdrawal-but-vagueness-about-how-fast-and-the-conditions-under-which-the-subsequent-withdrawal-would-happen sort of compromise.
It was designed to let administration hawks say we are in this war to win it and administration doves to say that we are not making an open-ended commitment to win this war.
It was designed to split Obama's
opposition so that, as has happened, some Republicans praised the escalation
part and other Republicans excoriated the artificial deadline part, and some
anti-war Democrats bit their tongues over the escalation and clung bitterly to
the artificial deadline while others saw the artificial deadline as a fiction
and loudly denounced the escalation.
It was designed to confuse domestic political enemies and it achieved that goal. An unintended consequence was that it also confused international allies, as the Pakistan story makes clear. Reasonable people can debate whether President Obama had better options that were less confusing. Reasonable people can debate whether the benefits of the confusion outweigh the costs of the confusion. Reasonable people will conclude -- and I am one of them -- that on balance the speech and the underlying policy position were worth supporting.
But -- and here is the absolutely crucial part -- no reality-based observer can pretend that the speech and the underlying policy was not confusing. To pretend otherwise is either to peddle absurd spin or, worse, to be so infected with a bunker mentality that one is operating in a bubble.
As a general rule, I don't like media interpretations that reduce to "the president and the White House team are in a fantasy world bubble." In my experience, that allegation has been leveled many times when I know for a fact that it has been untrue. But if the administration really believes that the "deadline" that is not really a deadline has not produced confusion at home and abroad, then I am hard-pressed to come up with explanations that do not mention bubbles.
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Shadow Government is a blog about U.S. foreign policy under the Obama administration, written by experienced policy makers from the loyal opposition and curated by Peter D. Feaver and William Inboden.