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.
I'm deeply skeptical our government can pull off the pivot away from Pakistan that my friend and colleague Dan Twining outlines below. While I wish we could orchestrate an alignment to isolate and punish Pakistan for its invidiousness, I don't think we can realistically bring the necessary alternatives into play on anywhere near the timeline we need for the war in Afghanistan. Sadly, we need the Pakistanis more than they need us, so until we can find ways to manage by other means the threats emanating from Afghanistan and Pakistan, we're stuck with grudging partial assistance by a Pakistani government that's hedging against our abandonment.
I agree with Dan's assessment of the extent to which the Pakistani military and intelligence community is working against us, and that the civilian government in Pakistan is a generation away from having the power to control their national security apparatus. I likewise agree with Dan's evaluation of the factors the U.S. would need to bring on line to successfully sever our partnership with Islamabad: keeping troops in Afghanistan indefinitely, denying Pakistan a sphere of influence, replacing Pakistani supply routes for ISAF, cutting off intelligence cooperation, redoubling our support for India, persuading China not to fill the void with Pakistan, and acknowledging our own complicity in the current mess. But there are severe impediments to our attaining every one of the items on that daunting list.
Continuing the fight beyond 2014. The president's already made his decision to end the surge and wind down the war. And as he's shown in Iraq, he's willing to tolerate significantly poor outcomes rather than revisit his politically-driven timelines. The behavior of the Pakistanis will more likely be used as one more justification for ending, rather than winning, the war. He will be betting that our defensive game has improved enough, and our intelligence from the region is now accurate enough, to prevent a successful attack on the American homeland. The frequency with which senior administration officials say al Qaeda is near defeat suggests they really believe it.
Prevent Islamabad's sphere of influence. Experts on South Asia were unanimous in denouncing the president's timeline for the surge on the basis that it would undercut our efforts as regional powers, and it has come to pass. Effectively preventing the spread of Pakistan's influence would require assisting the efforts of other countries equally or more opposed to the outcomes we want: Iran, Russia and China. And they, too, are playing off our timeline, so have little incentive to strike deals with us.
Establish alternative supply routes. Even with the 2009 opening of routes through Russia and Central Asia, three-quarters of all supplies still come through Pakistan; that would be impossible to replicate, exorbitantly expensive even if we could (recall Russia egging on former Kyrgyz President Bakiyev on during negotiations over Manas airbase), and an obvious choke point of diplomatic retaliation by Pakistan.
Cease CIA cooperation with ISI. If we continue to be dependent on Pakistani intelligence "for access to the region," it seems they must have more operational latitude than we do, so cutting off cooperation with the ISI would diminish our ability to collect and act on intelligence. If we haven't diversified our intel relationships, it's probably because we cannot, not because the benefits of it never occurred to the folks at Langley. Our fundamental goals may be incompatible, but if ten years into the Afghan war, we're still relying on the ISI, cutting cooperation could significantly degrade our intelligence -- even before the ISI started working harder at achieving that effect.
Doubling down with India. The India-U.S. relationship has strategic potential, but we're a long way from having the government-to-government relationship that could sustain the kind of pressure involved in countering Pakistan with India in Afghanistan, especially since that agenda is already crowded with our aspirations for India to work with us, the Australians, Japanese and others to "manage" China from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific. The difficulties encountered implementing the nuclear agreement suggest we may be nearly as far in time from a reliable India-U.S. partnership as we are from a strong civilian government in Pakistan.
Convince Beijing not to take advantage. Hard to imagine that Beijing would resist filling the void a breach in our relations with Pakistan would leave and instead "pursue approaches that complement ours rather than continuing to provide unqualified support" to Islamabad. China was essential to Pakistan's nuclear program, has close links to their military (facilitated by our cessation of assistance after Pakistan's nuclear test) and needs help infiltrating its Muslim separatist groups. Moreover, their values-neutral mercantilism will appeal to the corrupt elements in both Afghanistan and Pakistan exasperated with us.
Acknowledge our complicity. In "taking a hard look at our own history in the region," Dan cautions that our own policy choices in the 1990s and beyond contributed to the problems we are now facing. There's much to that, but it will be moot in the storm of anti-Pakistani sentiment sweeping Congress after Admiral Mullen's testimony. It's the president's job to do what is in our country's interests when Congress overreacts, and to make the case for the funds necessary to conduct important policies even when they are running into the wind of Congressional opposition. If the president doesn't step up and make the case that we have no better option, Congress is likely to remove the one option of the administration's current policy.
A final thought. Americans often forget how much sympathy there is internationally for countries that feel pressured or abandoned by the Unites States. When we have a problem, we focus American effort on countries we had been comfortably ignoring until that time -- like Pakistan before and after 9/11. Isolating Pakistan once again would reinforce the impression of the U.S. as an unreliable ally to countries we are courting to manage the rise of China and other problems.
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The Obama Administration is working feverishly to prevent the government of Palestine from asking the United Nations for recognition as a state. The United States cannot prevent the asking, but has said it would prevent the success by vetoing the measure when it comes before the Security Council. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has declared he will then appeal to the General Assembly for recognition, which he will certainly get. But the Palestinian Liberation Organization has had observer status at the United Nations since 1974, received formal recognition as a state by numerous countries since 1988. What, then, is the big deal of such recognition?
President Abbas described the purpose as "negotiating from the position of one United Nations member whose territory is militarily occupied by another, and not as a vanquished people." Palestinian official Nabil Shaath said the appeal to the United Nations was the best of their options, which consisted of surrender, return to violence, or appeal to the international community. That is, they consider negotiations with Israel at a dead end. He dismissed Quartet envoy Tony Blair's efforts with "sounds like an Israeli diplomat," and called for "international responsibility toward the Palestinians."
For the last several years, Prime Minister Fayyad has been taking an alternative approach: creating competent government so that Palestine actually has a functional state. It's a significant difference. Our own country endorsed that approach, bilaterally contributing $600 million a year, including direct budgetary support to the Palestinian Authority and significant effort to training Palestinian security forces.
That aid to the government of Palestine was a very difficult sell to Congress, who feared we were building the military and paramilitary forces that would threaten Israel. The fear has so far not materialized -- well-trained and disciplined security forces in Palestine have been a stabilizing presence in the occupied territories, often working in conjunction with Israeli security forces. Fayyad's fait accompli strategy has worked well enough that Nabil Shaath now confidently asserts "a new culture of nonviolence." If only.
Using international institutions to threaten Israel is unlikely to make Palestine independent. For all the international sanctimony, who is going to force Israel to cede its territory, and commit to ensuring that territory's independence once arrived at?
What Abbas' gambit is likely to produce is an end to American funding and participation in professionalization of Palestinian security forces (already tenuous because of the April 2011 Fatah-Hamas power sharing agreement), and greater hostility to political engagement with the government of Palestine by the two governments it needs to make a Palestinian state a reality: the United States and Israel. It may also undercut the Palestinian case for a right of refugee return to lands in Israel.
The Obama Administration's veto in the Security Council will incur a high political cost to the United States. It is difficult to argue, as we have, for the independence of South Sudan, the dawn of representative governments throughout the Middle East, and the right of ethnic and religious enclaves to their autonomy while opposing the partition of Israel's territory along those lines. Moreover, as the last two administrations have supported a two-state solution, it leaves the United States in the awkward position of vetoing something we have said we want as the outcome. And then there's the man on the street question: if the Palestinians have a President and Prime Minister, don't they already have a state?
Arab countries will cry foul at our hypocrisy, making more difficult our partnerships in that important region. The Abbas government is surely banking on Gulf states filling in the financial assistance that the Congress will cut off; that may happen, although the record is patchy of fellow Arab states supporting Palestinians beyond rhetoric and Palestinians are already among the world's largest recipients of foreign assistance. There will also be the economic effect of tighter restrictions by Israel.
Skillful working of the U.N. rules could delay the vote until well into October, which would deny Abbas the grandstanding opportunities of the General Assembly convocation in September. That is probably the best the Obama Administration can hope for at this point.
It is difficult to see Abbas' move bringing Israel to the bargaining table. Israeli fears of international persecution will be stoked at the prospect of their security being adjudicated in the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court. An overtly confrontational move like going to the United Nations will not soften Israeli hearts or government policies. Peace in Palestine depends fundamentally on Israel feeling secure enough to trade land for peace -- something it tried before and got burned on -- and reining in the settler movement.
At the end of the day, Palestinian aspirations would be advanced more by appealing for international support on the basis of the dignity of Palestinians creating their own state rather than having a U.N. coronation for one that may not be strong enough to support itself.
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America's entry into the European theater of World War II was a military disaster at Kasserine Pass. We suffered heavy casualties and were pushed back over fifty miles. Taking the measure of this force, the Axis powers were smug -- the Americans might be fresh to the fight and have enormous resources, but there was little reason to believe any of their advantages would make a difference.
But after his initial successes against the U.S. military, Rommel wrote worriedly to his wife that although the Americans made mistakes, they were learning from them. And indeed, after our losses in the Tobruk campaign, the American military replaced ineffectual commanders, reorganized units to improve operational control and coordination, trained better fundamental soldiering skills.
Looking back across the decade of America's response to the al Qaeda threat that resulted in the attacks of September 11th, both our government and our military made assessments and improvements of similar magnitude: revamping our intelligence collection and assessment, developing strategies for countering insurgencies, building intellectual capital on the nature of the threats and means for disrupting and destroying them, finding ways to balance liberties and security in ways our public will support and sustain.
We have made grievous and well-documented mistakes: circumventing legislative and judicial oversight of executive authority, underestimating the difficulty of successful regime change and its associated costs, isolated instances of brutality, misreading what we look like to friends and enemies. We responded to the attacks in ways expensive to ourselves and others.
Yet it is also important to note that our response has for the most part defanged the narrative of our enemies. We have fought our wars with an extraordinary care for being a positive force in shaping those societies. We have had domestic debate about the wars, as every society should, but still demonstrated the determination to prosecute those wars and bear the losses they imposed on us -- something our enemies believed we were too dissolute to do. We have demonstrated the resilience to question our own choices and find better solutions with time. We are not the brittle and overbearing leviathan they thought.
Forecasting America's decline has become a mainstay of punditry, yet the analyses almost always overlook the fact that our political culture and our political system are attuned to solving problems. Granted, it is difficult to see up close, amidst the dust and noise of our messy domestic debates; and our mistakes are many. But we are an impatient culture, one that demands solutions and excels at building better mousetraps.
In other words, America is a society that often doesn't have it right, but given a little time, generally gets it right. Fortunately, because of our prosperity and strength, our country has a wide margin of error that generally leaves us time to adapt. Whether future conditions will sustain that margin is an important question, but a question for another day. For now, it is enough to be thankful we have had the space to find solutions that have kept our country remarkably safe despite the threats to us.
On this sad anniversary for our country, let us mourn the people, the freedom, and the innocence we lost on September 11th, 2001. But let us also be proud of the vitality of our people and the institutions of our government. For all our mistakes, we have done passably well. And to America's enemies -- al Qaeda and others -- that should be as worrying as what Rommel observed in the aftermath of the battle at Kasserine Pass.
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It's incredibly discouraging to see former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney vituperatively reopen disputes from George W. Bush's administration. His scorched-earth excoriation of critics makes little distinction between those who would recklessly endanger America and those who also had the country's -- and the president's -- best interests as their motivation. This cannot assist the conservative cause; in fact, it serves to remind us how much the vice president's actions have impeded acceptance of the very policies he advocates.
By his own testimony, Cheney supported, and continues to support, all the policies that most incensed the administration's critics and even some of its supporters: "enhanced interrogation techniques," the Guantánamo prison, politicization of intelligence, assertion of executive authority, sharp-edged uses of military might, and support for Iraqi expatriates as a government-in-waiting after the 2003 invasion. He denigrated both the policies (diplomatic engagement, working through international institutions) and the people (Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice) that argued his approach was unduly driving up the cost of achieving the president's aims.
Give Cheney his due: Many of these policies were and are essential to protect Americans from terrorist attacks. The proof of which is Barack Obama himself -- a candidate who ran for president on opposition to those policies, but then adopted nearly all of them once in office, including indefinite detention and trial by military tribunal.
But if Cheney deserves credit for staunchly advocating necessary policies, he also deserves considerable blame for crafting and enacting those policies in ways that increased the cost to the president for adopting them, and made them more difficult to sustain.
The most damaging example was Cheney's vociferous support for reclaiming executive authority instead of working with congressional leaders to pass legislation that would demonstrate broad political support and establish the basis for judicial review. It freighted terrorism policies with the added requirement of subordinating the other branches of government. As Ben Wittes (whose blog Lawfare is essential reading on these issues) has often argued, in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, there was a bipartisan consensus in Congress -- as the authorizations for the use of military force showed -- and much that needed to be achieved could have been achieved with skillful engagement of the machinery of American democracy.
Executive privilege had consequences beyond setting solid foundations for sustaining the policies, too. As Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor powerfully argued at West Point in 2005, it left the U.S. military in the unfair position of being both "our combatants and our conscience," because the executive and legislative branches of government failed to provide them the proper framework for their actions.
But Cheney displays a contempt for Congress and those who don't agree with him to an extent that is unhealthy in a free society. The former vice president is now a private citizen. Conservatives who are public citizens, engaged in running for office and crafting policies, would do well to remember how much Cheney's approach hurt both the president he served and the causes he sought to advance. Having the right answer isn't good enough. The president and his cabinet must also engage the levers of democracy to build a broad base of support, especially when the policies have few good alternatives. His legacy has made it more difficult for conservatives to support and enact the very policies he advocated.
Like my colleague Peter Feaver, I found Deputy National Security Advisor for Communications Ben Rhodes' interview with FP's Josh Rogin troubling. I share Peter's concern that the Obama Administration is early to the party of claiming credit and is disrespectful to the commitments and sacrifices our allies have made in other wars. But even beyond the unseemliness of claiming credit where others have fought and died, the Obama Administration's strategy of regime change neither encourages regime change nor addresses the hard cases where American national interests are threatened.
It is absolutely true that if local forces rebel and receive sufficient external support, they can change their countries, and that change has the greatest domestic legitimacy and can be achieved at a very low price to the United States. But it also means that we will not actually change regimes; we will advocate insurgencies against governments and assist at the margins. That is a legitimate strategy. It is not, however, one in which we should be claiming credit for the outcome. We have been marginal players in Libya, and our efforts do not merit the accolades the Administration is giving itself.
President Barack Obama's model of regime change is letting others do the work while we take credit for what they achieve. It's a cost-effective way to shape the international order, provided that local forces and other countries are willing to undertake the hard work. But do we think the experience Britain and France have had with the United States in Libya operations is likely to inspire them to the forefront of other regime changes? Do we think rebel forces in Syria or North Korea believe this model of regime change assists their cause? It is a strategy that depends fundamentally on others to create change, and accepts that we will not force a change of government -- no matter how evil or threatening to our interests that government is -- unless the conditions of domestic insurgency and multinational effort are in place.
Rhodes' approach remains innocent of consideration that it solves the easy problems, not the hard ones. Would Afghanistan have overthrown the Taliban or Iraqis overthrown Saddam Hussein on that model? Would the "growing international chorus of condemnation" that Secretary Clinton applauds for getting us "where we need to be" on Syria coalesce to undertake missions that demanding? In fact, we know the answer: it is not changing the regime in Syria, because that's too hard.
Which is to say that the Obama Administration's regime change strategy is actually not comparable to the Bush Administration's, because it isn't dealing with the hard cases. Before they can claim the laurel of a superior approach, the Obama Administration ought to have to answer how they would have dealt with Saddam Hussein remaining in violation of 17 U.N. Security Council resolutions, whose behavior toward U.N. weapons inspectors strongly suggested progress on nuclear weapons, who not only had chemical weapons and had used them on an enemy in war but had also used them on its own population, and all in the frightening aftermath of attacks on the United States. Nor is it clear from Ben Rhodes' self-congratulatory complacency how they would have dealt with the government of Afghanistan in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, when there wasn't a rebel force or the capacity in other countries to undertake the necessary military operations.
The Obama Administration's regime change strategy suggests highly unsatisfactory outcomes for cases in which the United States has actual national security interests in the conflict.
America's Secretary of State gave a stunning interview this week, in which she defended the Obama administration's foreign policy choices and claimed that soft power was working to reshape America's image in the world. It was a deeply discouraging insight into the philosophy that guides the administration. When challenged about the administration's responses to the Arab spring, Clinton said:
"This is exactly the kind of world that I want to see, where it's not just the United States and everybody is standing on the sidelines while we bear the cost, while we bear the sacrifice, while our men and women, you know, lay down their lives for universal values...look, we are, by all measurements, the strongest leader in the world, and we are leading."
Clinton is right that the United States has allowed responsibilities to accrue to us that many states benefit from, and that a more evenly distributed burden sharing arrangement would be preferable. But she seems not to understand that shoving the work off onto others and diffidently watching their struggles is not only failing to lead and disappointing the hopes of millions who consider us an ally and a champion of liberty, it is also ushering in a more dangerous international order, and one in which U.S. power will be diminished.
The soft power Clinton so adamantly believes is advancing America's cause in the world has always been hugely enhanced by the view that whatever our national failings, we stand for freedom and believe ourselves safest when other people also live in freedom. The Obama administration has squandered a fair amount of that capital by its wavering reaction to protest movements in the middle east and its unwavering commitment to exits rather than strategies in the wars of Iraq and Afghanistan.
When pressed on whether the administration should demand that Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad step down, Clinton replied: "where we are is where we need to be, where it is a growing international chorus of condemnation...I am a big believer in results over rhetoric." But what are the results of our Syria policy? Is what is happening in Syria really the outcome we should want?
The Obama administration is more concerned about an amorphous "international chorus" than they are about the attitudes of the people working to overthrow repressive governments, and that is a major shift in American foreign policy. Secretary Clinton's claims notwithstanding, it is showing negative results. For if American soft power were working, wouldn't attitudes toward the United States be improving? Favorability ratings -- especially in the Middle East and South Asia -- have actually declined from where they were during the Bush administration. Wouldn't governments be more inclined to support our policies? Crucial test cases should be Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iraq -- all of which are less cooperative with the Obama administration than they were with the Bush administration.
The secretary of State unreflectively made the statement that it mattered more what Turkey and Saudi Arabia said about Syrian repression than the United States. "If other people say it, there is no way the Assad regime can ignore it," was Clinton's justification for doing so little. That's quite a breathtaking world view for the chief diplomat of the world's most powerful country. We are unimportant in the global debate about freedom and governance, but Saudi Arabia and Turkey have standing.
On one issue Secretary Clinton was unmistakeably correct: "it's not going to be any news if the United States says Assad needs to go." Yesterday, the White House finally issued a statement that Assad should go. And it appears to have exactly the impact Secretary Clinton anticipated: nothing. But doesn't that refute her assertions that soft power and the Obama administration's approach are working?
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The Taliban succeeded in downing an American helicopter a few days ago, killing 30 American soldiers and seven Afghans. It is the costliest single engagement of our war in Afghanistan. Their deaths will likely occasion renewed questioning of the mission in Afghanistan; this is both right and proper. For the best way to honor the sacrifice our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines make for us is to be extraordinarily stingy with their lives and to make the purposes for which they died worth the cost to our country.
Generally, when our military talks about the war dead, they do not use the terminology of lives lost. That gives too little honor to the dead. Our military describes their dead as having sacrificed their lives. It is a poignant distinction, emphasizing that the men and women in our military volunteer for service. They are not required to put their lives at risk. They choose to risk their lives for us.
We have a tendency now, when less than 1 percent of Americans are in military service, to treat them either as pitiable victims or as our society's avengers. The victim caricature comes through media focus on casualties rather than stories of the vast majority of veterans who are proud of their service and living normal lives. It comes through in shameful condescension like Senator Kerry suggesting our warriors are in the military because being poorly educated, they have no alternative.
The other extreme is the lionization of service members as comic book heroes rather than men and women we all know and can relate to. By casting them as impossibly strong and virtuous it makes them different from us. It excuses the rest of us from making our contributions.
The men and women of America's military are heroes, but mostly not in the leaps-tall-buildings-in-a-single-bound variety; instead they demonstrate the everyday heroism of doing what needs doing.
Our military go out on missions day after deadly day in Afghanistan. The fight in Helmand and now in the east of Afghanistan is especially fierce. Violence has increased, as should be expected when the enemy is determined, as they are, and we are pressing into their territorial strongholds, as we are.
The most appropriate way for us to honor their sacrifice is to appreciate that they risked their lives purposefully and to make those purposes worth all they paid for us. Lives risked and sacrificed are only part of the right way to judge war aims. We must consider not just costs, but also what the cost achieves. Capturing Iwo Jima cost our country more than 26,000 American casualties, 6,800 dead in the course of the battle. As tragic as those numbers are -- and the individual griefs they represent -- it was necessary to winning the war in the Pacific.
There will be a temptation as we discuss the war in Afghanistan to weigh only the costs, and not the purposes. This is both bad analysis and bad memorializing. The 30 American servicemen killed in the recent helicopter crash -- like the other 90,000 Americans and 43,000 allies fighting in Afghanistan -- were doing very dangerous work for a reason, and that reason was to make our country safe. We owe them not just sorrow but determination. Determination to see the fight through. Determination to make competent the "whole of government operations" on which our strategy depends. Determination to find another way to achieve our aims if the current course won't succeed or a less costly way can be found.
Abraham Lincoln put it best, writing of "the solemn pride that must be yours to have placed so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom." As we mourn our dead, honor them by always making the reasons they risk their lives worth the cost.
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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.