By Kori Schake
President Obama's plan for Afghanistan is first rate. In fact, it sounds an awful lot like John McCain's strategy for Afghanistan announced last summer, which is all to the good. And Obama outlined the resources necessary to carry it out: additional troops; greater participation by non-military departments; focus on training Afghan security forces; strengthening Afghan and Pakistani institutions of government; 5-year assistance packages for both countries; routine, high-level trilateral consultations with Afghanistan and Pakistan; creation of a Contact Group of neighbors and contributors; and trying to separate reconcilables from irreconcilables among the bad guys. Obama said he will set clear metrics to gauge progress, which is important and should be gotten underway fast.
There are, however, three serious problems with the strategy outlined yesterday:
First, Obama set unrealistic expectations of the speed at which Afghanistan can improve to his standards and timeline.
He hit one jarring note by saying that "we are not in Afghanistan to control that country or to dictate its future." We are in Afghanistan precisely to control that country, which had surrendered to Taliban control, to dictate a future that is democratic and not a haven for threats to us, and to help those outcomes become self-sustaining. I understand the president is trying not to sound imperial, but this confusion of purpose -- or, rather, this ideological unwillingness to look directly at the lack of capacity in Afghanistan and Pakistan to indigenously produce the outcomes we need -- is reminiscent of the Bush administration rushing Iraq's return to elections and self-governance in 2005. Afghanistan will struggle for years to produce capable military and police forces in the numbers Obama described (134,000 troops, 82,000 police); the president's plan optimistically calls for this to be achieved by 2011.
Second, Obama offered no concrete civilian component and no design for producing the essential U.S. civilian contribution.
The president was discouragingly vague on this important counterpart to the increase in military effort. He said "we need agricultural specialists and educators; engineers and lawyers," but he did not say how many or from where they will materialize. When President Bush tried to have a "civilian surge" to match the military part of his 2007 strategy in Iraq, the Department of Defense had to provide nearly all of the "civilians." Secretary Clinton, the Secretary of Agriculture, the Justice Department, the Education Department, and even the Treasury Department should have been tasked to undertake analysis and develop plans with the same kind of rigor that Defense has. That Secretary Clinton has only now been tasked to get this underway sadly suggests we will see yet another reprise of the military doing all the civilian departments' work.
Finally, there's the absence of allies in this strategy's development and announcement.
What worried me most was that as Obama declared this to be an international threat of grave consequence against which "we must stand together," he stood without a single ally by his side. He did not have President Zardari or President Karzai with him to show their commitment to this common endeavor. No NATO head of state was present, and although nations have been consulted, the transatlantic alliance has not committed itself to this strategy or the non-American resources necessary to make it successful.
A week in advance of NATO's 50th anniversary summit, when the alliance has taken responsibility for much of the Afghan operation, the President made this look like an American war. He should not be surprised if it becomes one.
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.