Shadow Government

Harvey Sicherman, R.I.P.

I wanted to ensure that these pages marked the passing of Harvey Sicherman on Christmas Day. Harvey was a great man, a mensch of the highest order. Before leaving for Philadelphia in the early 1990s to take over the reins of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, Harvey cut quite the larger-than-life figure in Washington foreign policy circles. First, there was the matter of Harvey's physical appearance, which was a source of sheer delight to all his friends -- as well as to anyone who just happened to be lucky enough to come across the man on the street. Tall, about 6'2. Broad shouldered with an athlete's build. Bowler hat. Saddle shoes. Three-piece suit (chained, antique time-piece attached to vest pocket, naturally). Walking stick. Big cigar. Vintage car. Pure class all the way. He couldn't help but make you smile just walking into the room.  

Then there was Harvey the national security analyst and public servant. Brilliant. Tough. Wise. Independent. A master of both the written and spoken word. No one could turn a phrase with greater ease, or cut to the quick of a momentous issue with sharper analytical precision. Speech writer extraordinaire and senior advisor to three secretaries of state, Haig, Shultz, and Baker. U.S. foreign policy never had a more constructive critic. Harvey intimately understood the way the process works from the inside, with all its structural and bureaucratic constraints and defects. That knowledge, experience, and realism imbued all of Harvey's policy advice, which was invariably incisive, usually useful, and always offered in a spirit of great friendship and deep love of country.

In the first hours after Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, Harvey penned what I'm certain was one of the great strategy memos ever written at the start of a major foreign policy crisis. At the time, Harvey was working on the State Department's Policy Planning Staff. In just a few paragraphs, he captured why Saddam had acted, what was at stake for the United States, and how America needed to respond, both strategically and tactically, to protect its vital interests. Written for the influential director of Policy Planning, Dennis Ross, Harvey's memo promptly found its way into Secretary Baker's hands and without a doubt had a formative role in shaping the determined response that eventually resulted in America's astounding victory in the first Gulf War.

Finally, and no doubt most importantly, there was Harvey Sicherman the human being. Kind. Decent. Generous. And funny. Boy, was he funny. An unforgettable racconteur and jokester. An Orthodox Jew who took his faith seriously, but always took life with a smile -- and, not infrequently, with a shared shot of Dewar's that he'd pour from the flask that he occasionally carried in his briefcase. While my relationship with Harvey was limited to a professional friendship, I knew from others that he was a truly dedicated family man as well.

Harvey is gone much too early, only in his mid-60s. Always the picture of health, he apparently fell ill very recently. I deeply regret that I did not get a chance to say goodbye and to tell him how much he meant to me, personally. I fear that I will not see his likes again. I mourn his passing and express my deepest sympathies to his family and friends. R.I.P.

Shadow Government

It's time to change the headline on Afghanistan

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.