Shadow Government

George Will is wrong about Afghanistan

By Christian Brose

I have two quick thoughts in response to George Will's argument in today's Washington Post that the United States should pull out of Afghanistan and instead "do only what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, airstrikes and small potent Special Forces units..."

First, the strategy Will proposes looks a lot closer to the one we've been following for the past few years -- to little effect -- as opposed to the one General McChrystal is now proposing. Yes, there has been much talk of counterinsurgency of late, but when you starve such a strategy of resources and rely on leaders who seem either unwilling or unable to implement it, you are largely left, by necessity, with whack-a-mole counterterrorism. And we've seen what that's gotten us: a reliance on airstrikes that have produced huge civilian casualties, the increasing loss of territory to the Taliban, a Karzai government that has grown less effective and more corrupt the weaker it has become -- in short, everything that Will is inveighing against at present. I find little reason to think that things in Afghanistan will improve to the benefit of our national interest if we do more of what clearly hasn't been working these past few years.

Second, I am happy that Will proposed an alternative strategy. Too often, especially as Afghanistan is concerned, critics criticize -- and there is certainly much to criticize in Afghanistan -- without stating what they'd do instead. That said, it seems to me that critics like Will -- or others, for that matter, like Steve Walt and Michael Cohen -- should also be willing to explain why their alternative policy is better given what would likely transpire as a result. To me, that would be some kind of a return to ethnic fighting or civil war a la the 1990s, the likely collapse or complete marginalization of the current Kabul government, the expansion of Taliban control over even more of the country, an even greater increase in civilian causalities as the United States and NATO "do what can be done from offshore," a return to backing whatever Afghan factions (read: warlords) are willing to take the fight to our enemies, a dangerous rise in regional instability, and the acceptance of all the misery that would ensue.

What's more, it seems that the burden of proof is on the critics as to why this flaming mess would not also be a threat to our interests, given recent history. The hardest of the hard core "Next-Gen Taliban" commanders seem even more violent, more radical, and more sympathetic to Al Qaeda's ideology than their elders, like Mullah Omar. So do we really think that these guys, if they gain a foothold in Afghanistan, will not then turn around and begin to press their advantage into Pakistan? Do we really think that they will not reopen Afghanistan as an Al Qaeda safe haven, considering how intermingled and intermarried and fellow-traveling the Taliban vanguard now is with Al Qaeda? All of these scenarios, and more, seem like pretty safe assumptions in the event of a U.S. withdrawal. And as for Will's point that there are other potential safe havens in the world where Al Qaeda could be (Somalia, Yemen, etc.) -- this is true, but that's not a reason to stop trying to deny Al Qaeda and its allies a safe haven where they are currently (which, admittedly, is more Pakistan than Afghanistan -- for now).

The problem in Afghanistan is not that a counterinsurgency strategy has failed, but that is hasn't really ever been tried. There are risks with either strategy, be it reinforcement or withdrawal, but I'd like to hear from the critics why their alternative is better in light of its likely implications, which to me seem pretty awful. Given how bad things would likely get in Afghanistan if we adopted Will's prescriptions, shouldn't we at least give McChrystal's plan a decent period of time to work before pulling the ripcord?

Shadow Government

Don't fear Japan's changing of the guard

By Dov Zakheim

The latest Japanese polls indicate that the Democratic Party of Japan, led by Yukio Hatoyama, is likely to inflict a crushing defeat on the Liberal Democrats, the country's long-time governing party. The DPJ, which won control of Japan's Upper House in 2007, could win as many as 300 seats in the Lower House, roughly equaling former Prime Minister's results in 2005, and sending a strong message both domestically and internationally that the victory is no fluke. That said, a DPJ victory is not likely to lead to a sea change in the U.S.-Japan alliance. In fact, the greater concern is that the United States doesn't respond enough and fails to give Japan its due as a great power.

The DPJ's electoral focus has been primarily on domestic issues, directing particular criticism at the government's career bureaucracy. With respect to national security policy, the DPJ since its inception just over ten years ago has been somewhat critical of the Japanese military build-up. In the past it has called for termination of Japanese maritime refueling of American warships supporting the war in Afghanistan and for a renegotiation of both the Status of Forces Agreement and the Japanese-American agreement to transfer 8,000 Marines from Okinawa to Guam. The latter is meant to be financed by both countries.

Nevertheless, like parties in other parliamentary democracies seizing the reins of power after more than a decade in opposition, the DPJ is unlikely to carry out its more extreme campaign promises, particularly as its powerful former leader, Ichiro Ozawa, worked closely with the United States while still a member of the Liberal Democrats. Despite its rhetoric, the DPJ, which is a mix of former right- and left-wing parties, will not necessarily cut back on Japan's recent military expansion. This is especially the case with respect to its missile defense program, given North Korea's aggressive stance on nuclear matters, and in light of both Kim Jong Il's mercurial policies and uncertainty about North Korean stability once he finally leaves the scene. Similarly, the DPJ appears to be backing away from its slogans about withdrawing support for US maritime operations related to the war in Afghanistan.

The DPJ has repeatedly called for a more equal relationship with the United States, and some observers fear that its ascension to power will lead to its demand for a renegotiation of the cost sharing provisions of   the US-Japanese Guam agreement that could result in the agreement's abrogation.  The withdrawal to Guam may well be delayed, if not halted, but less as a result of actions by a DPJ-led government than by legislation initiated by Congressman Neil Abercrombie (D-HI) to reserve 70 percent of all military construction jobs on Guam for American workers. Should the U.S. Congress pass Abercrombie's initiative, the resulting increase in the cost of developing Guam's infrastructure may well put the project on ice, given the increasing pressures on the US defense budget. Should there be a long-term delay, however, the DPJ is unlikely to object, much less offer to pour more Japanese funds into the effort.

On the other hand, the DPJ is unlikely to take a passive stance with respect to the relocation of the Marine Air Station from Futenma to Camp Schwab in Nago, both in Okinawa prefecture. The arrangement is highly unpopular in Japan, especially in Okinawa, where the local administration seeks to relocate the Marines to a more remote area off the island's coast The United States has resisted any change to the overall arrangement regarding the relocation to Guam, of which the move to Camp Schwab is an integral part. Any change would not only make training for the Marine Air Wing exceedingly difficult, but could result in demands for changes to other parts of the agreement, which has never been popular with the US military. For its part, the DPJ is holding firm on its demand for a renegotiation of the Futenma arrangement, and it will face little domestic opposition if it walks away from the deal regarding the Air Station's relocation.

All in all, the DPJ's foreign and security policy stance is unlikely to bring about fundamental changes in the relationship with the United States, or for that matter, with other countries in East Asia. The real danger to the US-Japanese relationship lies not in what Tokyo might do, but what Washington might not do. Since it became clear that Japan Inc. would not buy up the United States, past Administrations have tended to pay far more attention to China, often treating Japan as an afterthought, despite pious promises of developing a closer relationship with what is supposedly our closest Asian ally. With the DPJ in power, led by personalities who might be perceived in Washington as less accommodating to American interests in Asia and elsewhere than their Liberal Democrat predecessors, U.S. policymakers may be tempted once again to pay less attention to Japan than objective American interests call for. That would be a serious mistake. It is, moreover, a mistake that is easily avoidable, and it should not take place.