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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General David Petraeus, Commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, told Congress this week "I am concerned that funding for our State Department and USAID partners will not sufficiently enable them to build on the hard-fought security achievements of our men and women in uniform. Inadequate resourcing of our civilian partners could, in fact, jeopardize accomplishment of the overall mission."
Congressional testimony is usually bland and does not often contain any real news. Petraeus' remarks mostly wrote themselves: he started by announcing that the Taliban's momentum "has been arrested," but progress is "fragile and reversible." You might as well say "Progress Made, Challenges Remain." Nothing new here.
But then Petraeus came out with that bombshell about funding for civilians near the end of his testimony. He could not have been more stark. We will lose the war in Afghanistan unless we pony up more money for our civilian efforts-which is to say, for nation building.
Nation building, as I've argued earlier, is not international charity. It is not a superfluous and dispensable exercise in appeasing western guilt, an expensive tribute to humanitarianism, or an act of unvarnished selflessness and goodwill. Nation building is a response to the threat of failed states that threaten regional stability. It is a pragmatic exercise of hard power to protect vital national interests. In the context of Afghanistan, nation building is the civilian side of counterinsurgency, the primary objective of which is to "foster the development of effective governance by a legitimate government," according to the Counterinsurgency Field Manual Petraeus wrote.
Afghanistan's weakness threatens America's security. State failure, chaos, or Taliban rule in Afghanistan will provide a safe haven for al-Qaida, destabilize western Pakistan and endanger its nuclear weapons, become a worldwide headquarters for narcotics traffickers, discredit NATO, invite Iranian and Russian adventurism, and sully self-government and civil liberties in the Muslim world. We must rebuild Afghanistan to prevent these catastrophic outcomes.
There are no practical alternatives. Vice President Biden and a growing chorus of others believe we should give up rebuilding Afghanistan and, instead, sustain an indefinite worldwide assassination campaign against al Qaida's senior leaders. His view of the war is myopic, narrow, and troubling. Such a campaign would do nothing to address Pakistan, the drug trade, NATO, the other great powers, or any of our other interests across South Asia. It is also morally troubling -- it amounts to a declaration that we reserve the right to kill anyone we deem to be a terrorist, anywhere in the world, forever. Call it the Biden Doctrine of the Forever War. States should not maintain a state of war indefinitely just because it is too inconvenient to settle the political conditions that led to the war in the first place. War should be the last resort, not the first.
Nation building in Afghanistan is the only pragmatic policy option that will secure the full range of our interests in South Asia and yield an actual end-point to the war, which is why Petraeus is right to be alarmed about the funding levels for our civilians. They are the ones who are acting as embedded advisors to Afghan ministers; helping set up local dispute-resolution councils in provinces and districts; dispensing funds for Afghans to build roads, schools, and hospitals; training Afghans on electric power plant maintenance; and helping cut deals between rival Afghan politicians in Kabul. These things are, in fact, vital war aims because they help create stability in Afghanistan and, thus, South Asia. Under-funding these efforts amounts to trying to kill our way out of the insurgency, which we all know is impossible.
Plenty of critics challenge this assessment on the grounds that it can't be done-because nation building is impossible, because Afghanistan is ungovernable, because we've already lost, because Karzai is corrupt and illegitimate, because the Afghans are invincible warriors who will inevitably defeat any foreigners, etc. I've responded to most of these objections elsewhere (see here, here, and here for starters). I might also invoke the ethos of the Seabees in World War II: "the difficult we do immediately. The impossible takes a little longer." No one said rebuilding Afghanistan would be easy; but foreign policy isn't supposed to be easy. If it were, we'd have world peace by now.
Finally, there is another reason to stick it out in Afghanistan, a reason that is often overlooked or simply discounted by critics. Helping the Afghans is the right thing to do. Afghanistan was the worst country on earth in 2001. We dithered about for the better part of a decade before coming to our senses around 2007-8 and started putting out even a half-hearted effort. If today we can do no better than to walk away and leave the place a shambles, it will be a national disgrace. The Afghans deserve better.
1. The U.N.'s surprising backbone. The U.N. has never moved so swiftly to take sides in a civil war. It demonstrates that the U.N.'s gradually expanding activism and broadening interpretation of its charter since 1989 continues apace. Iraq and Afghanistan did not kill liberal interventionism after all. It is reassuring that there is robust global support for holding tyrants accountable; but the problem with liberal interventionism is that it is fickle (Why Libya and not North Korea, Burma, Zimbabwe, Cuba, or Uzbekistan?) and sometimes ineffective. Having started this, let us hope the U.N.'s ability to succeed at such operations grows in proportion with its ambitions.
2. Qaddafi: "I'm not dead yet!" Champions of liberal interventionism are indulging in a fit of triumphalism (here, here, and here), but it is greatly premature to be hanging a "Mission Accomplished" banner. Good intentions do not automatically make good policy. Proponents of the no-fly zone seem to have focused all their attention on getting it approved, as if that by itself would validate their agenda. That, however, is aiming at the wrong target. Having approved the mission, we could very well fail at implementing it, adding "Libya" to "Somalia," "Angola," and "Congo" to the collection of bywords for the U.N.'s proverbial failings. Nothing will legitimize the liberal ideals behind the intervention so well as ensuring its success, and proponents have been disturbingly vague about how exactly they plan to do that-or even what constitutes success.
3. "How does this end?" A no-fly zone is not a goal; it is a means to an end. What is the end? Ostensibly, it is to protect Libyan civilians, in which case we'll have to keep the no-fly zone operating forever. In practice, it means we'll have to keep the no-fly zone in place until a new government takes power in Libya that does not have a score to settle with rebellious citizens. Thus, the goal is implicitly the overthrow of the Libyan government (the first time the U.N. has voted to overthrow the government of one of its member states). But having ruled out ground forces, we are left with insufficient tools with which to accomplish our goal. We are forced to rely on the Libyan rebels, who have taken a serious beating in the last week, and hope-which is not a strategy. If Qaddafi hangs on, Libya will be effectively partitioned, isolated from the world, and splintered into failed statelets, of which those held by the rebels become an international protectorate like Kosovo, or Iraqi Kurdistan in the 1990s. What's the strategy then? (See Micah Zenko's excellent post on this topic).
4. Masterly Inactivity. Whether by clever design or a failure of leadership, the Obama administration managed to minimize U.S. involvement and maximize allied leadership, which is a good thing. The British and French are leading an international military intervention, something they haven't presumed to try since the Suez Crisis of 1956. The United States has long been shouldering more than its far share of the burden for global security for decades. We've been lecturing the allies for years that they needed to step up and do more. We've got what we asked for; it would be naïve to assume that they will do more only of what we want. What's odd is that this energetic multipolarity is coming from "old Europe." The new great power aspirants-India and Brazil-are on the sidelines.
5. Politics 2012. Obama just handed Republican presidential challengers a gift. I think Republicans have been wary of criticizing Obama's foreign policy because, in truth, they are the strongest supporters of his biggest initiative: the war in Afghanistan. Now Republicans have an opportunity. They can voice caution over aspects of the intervention in Libya without looking like peaceniks or isolationists because they still support the war in Afghanistan. And they can safely continue supporting the war in Afghanistan without looking like knee-jerk boosters for every military intervention by expressing concern over the intervention in Libya.
The New York Times reports that the Obama administration has committed itself to a policy of regime change in Libya and is now publicly contemplating military action, "The administration [has] declared all options on the table in its diplomatic, economic and military campaign to drive Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi from power." The talk is of imposing a no-fly zone over Libya, which may sound like an incremental and moderate step. Defense Secretary Gates helpfully clarified to Congress that a no-fly zone "begins with an attack on Libya to destroy the air defenses." It is an act of war.
On first glance, the move appears to represent a dramatic departure for the Obama administration and, indeed, U.S. foreign policy. Until now the United States did not have a policy of overthrowing governments solely because they violated human rights. If we did, we would be at war with half the world, starting with China. Not even the neoconservatives at their most bellicose had such grand ambitions.
In reality, Obama probably does not either. More likely, Obama is moving against Libya because Qaddafi's actions have shocked the world's conscience and Obama felt the United States, as leader of the free world, ought to act.
In other words, his attempt to overthrow the Libyan government is not a principled stand for liberty; it is an opportunistic attempt to stay in the good graces of world opinion. It is otherwise unclear what U.S. interests Obama thinks are at stake in North Africa that would justify military force and regime change. It cannot be human rights: nothing in the administration's record would suggest it values human rights highly enough that their violation would prompt the overthrow of a government.
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When drama fills the headlines, reason deserts the pundits. Here are just a few thoughts:
1. Egypt says nothing about Obama. The United States had no control over events in Egypt. It is silly to proclaim that events in Egypt proved Obama either feckless or brilliant in his foreign policy. All he could do is watch, make carefully-moderated public statements, and place a few private phone calls. Making that a test of his foreign policy acumen is like judging the Super Bowl by the coin toss. Obama's foreign policy mettle is tested on issues in which he actually has a role to play, like the war in Afghanistan.
2. If Obama gets any credit, so does Bush. Obama rightly sided (albeit cautiously) with the protesters. His pro-democracy rhetoric would have been stupendously hypocritical and opportunistic if George W. Bush hadn't given Obama legs to stand on. Bush reversed decades of U.S. foreign policy by publicly criticizing Egypt and Saudi Arabia for their political oppression. Obama sounded more plausible as a result when he threw Mubarak under the bus and reached out a hand to the protesters.
3. Despite the basic goodness of people rallying against autocracy and corruption, their movement won't seamlessly usher in a golden age of good governance. Recent pro-democracy movements across the developing world are largely discouraging about the long-term effects of such popular outbursts.
4. Be careful what you ask for. Every day I expected The Onion to run the headline, "Egyptians Demand Military Rule," because that, for now, is exactly what they have got. Democracy is possible, contrary to cultural determinists who think Arabs are barred by the laws of history from self-government -- but neither is it inevitable, or even particularly easy. The eventual emergence of good government and democratic elections would be a better test of Obama's handling of Egypt than parsing his utterances of the last month.
5. No one knows how the Muslim Brotherhood will react, including the Muslim Brotherhood. Elections have a track record of blunting the hard edge of some revolutionary, illiberal movements (the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq), and empowering others (the Nazis). The Brotherhood's greater freedom of action in the post-Mubarak Egypt is something to watch closely. The Brotherhood's choices in the coming months and years will be more important to Egypt and the Middle East than the toppling of one autocrat. They may be a bellwether for political Islamist movements across the world.
6. James Clapper should resign.
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Foreign aid is once again under fire. Every so often a few politicians -- usually Republicans -- get up in arms about our government's gift of large amounts of money to other countries. Equally often, media stories appear detailing how ineffective aid supposedly is. The picture emerges that foreign aid is unnecessary, ineffective, and wasteful.
For example, the Republican Study Committee (RSC) released a proposal last week to cut the budget for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) by $1.39 billion as part of a broader package of deficit-reduction proposals. (Hat tip to our friends at The Cable for their post on the subject.) There were similar rumblings after the Republican takeover in 1994. Republicans seem to have an inborn suspicion -- usually dormant, but one that fitfully flares up once per decade -- that aid is just a handout from rich countries to poor ones to help the former ease their consciences.
Or take the lengthy Wall Street Journal story last week that declares, "A massive U.S. aid program that has made Pakistan the world's second-largest recipient of American economic and development assistance is facing serious challenges, people involved in the effort say. The ambitious civilian-aid program is intended in part to bolster support for the U.S. in the volatile and strategically vital nation. But a host of problems on the ground are hampering the initiative." Despite billions of aid, the United States remains unpopular in Pakistan; thus, the article implies, aid is ineffective.
These criticisms of foreign aid rest on faulty notions of what aid is and what it is supposed to accomplish. There are two views of aid reflected here, neither of which are helpful.
I propose a third view of foreign aid.
The advantage of this view is that it is realistic. The United States can actually do this. The U.S. is not trying to change people's heart or minds, contrary to the bribery view. It is only trying to change their capacity. Additionally, this view helps the U.S. prioritize which countries should get aid, and what kind, contrary to the charity view. Giving billions to Tuvalu would be a commendable act of charity for the Salvation Army, but it would be folly for USAID because Tuvalu is not a strategic priority for the United States.
(I am not arguing that we should never be charitable. Rather, every possible foreign aid program is an act of charity. Charity by itself cannot help us decide which charitable programs to undertake. The United States either has to flip a coin to allocate our charity randomly, or consult our own interests to allocate it strategically.)
The Marshall Plan is a good model. The United States gave something like $25 billion (in today's dollars) per year to Western Europe after World War II. It was undoubtedly an act of charity. The money helped the Europeans rebuild their economies and saved tens of millions of people from poverty or even starvation. But it was also a strategic investment. Policymakers at the time worried about a return of the Great Depression following demobilization and the Marshall Plan helped Europe become a strong trading partner for the United States. Most importantly, U.S. officials feared the rise of Soviet power and hoped the Plan would bolster European governments' stability and prevent the spread of communism.
This view of foreign aid would help protect it from the kind of cuts the congressional Republicans are proposing. Aid is hard power. It is a weapon the United States uses to strengthen allies and, thus, ourselves. But this view would also help save it from the kind of limitless, grandiose visions Democrats sometimes seem to have for it. This is the sort of view that I hoped Secretary of State Clinton would incorporate in the recent Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review. But despite the document's many strengths it did not seem to offer a framework for prioritizing among the Unites States' many foreign aid opportunities.
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There is a major cottage industry among Washington analysts in Karzaiology. Karzaiologists spend weeks and months pouring over the tea leaves of the Afghan president's latest outburst or rash decision and periodically emerge to pronounce upon the United States' prospects for success in Afghanistan. I was a practiced hand in Karzaiology for years. According to the Washington Post, "There is near-universal agreement among top U.S. officials involved in Afghanistan that Karzai's behavior and leadership have a direct bearing on the outcome of the multinational counterinsurgency mission."
What worries the Karzaiologists most is that Hamid Karzai appears quite insane. He is rumored to erupt in periodic emotional outbursts. He threatens to join the Taliban. He tried to ban security barriers in Kabul in 2006 and private security firms nationwide in 2010. He exhibits paranoia about Britain, the United States, and, especially, Pakistan.
There is a variant of this view, held by the likes of journalist and activist Sarah Chayes and others, that says that Karzai's government is neither weak nor crazy: it is in fact highly capable, just at the wrong things. It is highly capable of graft, corruption, extortion, and tribal nepotism. Karzai is the head of a well-oiled tribal kleptocracy, in this view.
Regardless, all members of the School of Karzaiology agree: Karzai is massively important and hugely dangerous.
This view is at least vastly overstated, if not outright wrong. It commits two basic errors. First, it underestimates Karzai's rationality. Second, it overstates his actual importance.
Karzai is a much shrewder political operator than U.S. analysts give him credit for. Western analysts have a tendency to fall prey to a perspective bias. They expect that Karzai views himself and his situation the same way we do; since his actions make no sense to us, they can't possibly make much sense to the man himself. Therefore, Karzai is "emotional," "unstable," "paranoid," and "irrational."
But Karzai is acting fairly rationally given the constraints and pressures he faces. He is head of a government that for most intents and purposes does not function, no matter what he decides. He faces an insurgency that seems to have staying power and an international force that does not. He faces a parliament that is unwieldy at best, openly hostile at worst. He "appoints" governors who likely still have their own private armies (which he lacks), who often wield more effective power than he does, and who only recently took sides in a ruinous civil war -- the renewal of which is always a tacit threat hanging like a Damocles Sword over Karzai's head. Karzai faces an impossible balancing act.
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We had a running joke in the intelligence community that started way back in 2003 or so and went on for years that the headline for anything we wrote on Afghanistan was some variant of the same thing: "Progress Made, Challenges Remain." Last week President Obama essentially repeated the headline when he announced the results of his review of progress in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He said in a press conference that "this continues to be a very difficult endeavor," but that "we are on track to achieve our goals" in Afghanistan. The administration's review, including the unclassified white paper, was a predictable, uncontroversial, middle-of-the-road reflection of establishment wisdom.
The headline isn't wrong, and the president's policy has much to commend it. We are making progress. He was right to deploy more troops last year (though he did not deploy enough to maximize our chance of success), and rightly has called for more time. I disagree in principle with a deadline for withdrawal, but if there has to be a deadline, 2014 is far better than July 2011. The president rightly claimed that "for the first time in years, we've put in place the strategy and the resources that our efforts in Afghanistan demand." (Though, as usual, Obama does not give his predecessor the credit he deserves for beginning the shift in strategy and resources in late 2006).
But I also agree with my colleague, Peter Fever, that the president has done a poor job selling his policy. The administration's strategic messaging on the war is a half-baked compromise between touting a success and ignoring a war their political base dislikes. As a result, the administration is content to pop up once a year, groundhog-like, utter establishment platitudes like "Progress Made, Challenges Remain" about Afghanistan, and go back into hiding until the next event forces them to acknowledge we're still there. If I were a newspaper editor, I'd send the headline back for rewrites. "Progress Made, Challenges Remain" does not capture the new dynamic that is emerging in Afghanistan and between the Afghans and the international community. And it does not serve Americans struggling to understand the purpose and direction of the war.
Here is a new headline: "Victory in Sight: Why We Need More Time, Money, and Civilians." As I argue in the new issue of Foreign Affairs, the war in Afghanistan has actually gone better than critics and the media portray it. The economy has grown beyond all expectations. The process of political reconstruction has succeeded better than in many post-conflict states over the past two decades. And the quadrupling of military forces since early 2009 will almost certainly have a demonstrable effect on the battlefield.
The missing ingredient is more civilian aid. Secretary Clinton touted that the U.S. mission in Kabul now comprises some 1,100 diplomats and civilian experts, which roughly doubles or triples the presence we had prior to 2009. Add together all the soldiers serving on Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) and you have several thousand more. This is still not enough. At its peak, the Allies deployed something like 63,000 people who were directly engaged with rebuilding the government and economy of West Germany after World War II. I know the cases are hardly comparable for a thousand reasons -- but most points of difference say that rebuilding Afghanistan is harder than West Germany, and so it likely needs more help, not less. All the biggest remaining challenges in Afghanistan that we have not moved to address in the last year or so -- corruption, institutional weakness, poor governance -- are civilian, not military in nature. More civilians would be the gamechanger that could change Afghanistan from a half-baked muddle-through to an outright success.
Afghanistan is winnable. We're almost there. The president's policy has many decent elements to it. But it is being sold under a stale, worn, and out-of-date headline and a poor strategic communications strategy. And it does not recognize the depth of Afghanistan's need for civilian assistance. Change that, and we will be able to look back with pride on what the United States and our allies helped achieve in Afghanistan.
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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.