Note: this item by J.P. Green was originally published on March 28, 2009
President Obama’s new strategy regarding Afghanistan and Pakistan is getting cautiously favorable reviews from a broad range of foreign policy experts, most of whom give him credit for narrowing the U.S. mission to defeating Al Queda and their supporters in the Taliban.
The New York Times has an editorial, “The Remembered War,” which does a good job of putting Obama’s new policy in perspective, noting:
…It was greatly encouraging simply to see the president actually focusing on this war and placing it in the broader regional framework that has been missing from American policy. That is a good first step toward fixing the dangerous situation that former President George W. Bush created when he abandoned the necessary war in Afghanistan for the ill-conceived war of choice in Iraq.
Mr. Obama has come back to first principles. Instead of Mr. Bush’s vague talk of representative democracy in Afghanistan, he defined a more specific mission. “We are not in Afghanistan to control that country or dictate its future,” Mr. Obama said, but “to disrupt, dismantle and defeat Al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan.”
Foreign Policy magazine’s ‘Flashpoints‘ leads the discussion on the pros and cons of Obama’s Af-Pak strategy paper with a package of 7 separate articles from different authors, including “Will the Real Obama Middle East Strategy Please Stand Up?” by Brian Katulis, who credits Obama with,
a much-needed step in the right direction on the Pakistan piece of its policy. Increasing support for the democratically-elected civilian government and massively increasing development assistance to the country are steps that many think tanks have been calling for
Robert Templer, Asia program director at the International Crisis Group adds this in his Flashpoints contribution, “Call in the police (but please help them first)“.
Policing is one of the most effective — and also the most ill-used — tools available to tackle extremism. Yet compared with military and other assistance, international support for policing is miniscule, and much of it is delivered in an uncoordinated and ineffectual manner. Since 2002, the United States has given the Pakistani military more than $10 billion, only the thinnest slice of which has gone to policing…Giving police forces a greater role in counterinsurgency shouldn’t mean sending them heedlessly into harm’s way. What is needed are police to keep everyday peace on the streets. Reducing general criminality and providing security to the public provides the most widely shared and distributed public good. It is much more effective in winning hearts and minds than digging wells or building schools — and indeed encourages and protects such development activities.
In addition to the Flashpoints collection, FP is featuring “The Idiot’s Guide to Pakistan” by Nicholas Schmidle, a fellow at the New America Foundation who lived in Pakistan in 2006 and 7. Schmidle witholds judgment about the prospects of our Pakistan policy, but he provides a sobering read for gung-ho interventionists.
The New York Times also has a ‘Topic A’ roundtable addressing the President’s Af-Pak strategy with 10 short articles, one of which by Andrew Bacevich, author of “The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism,” asks an interesting big-picture question:
Ask yourself: When it comes to American prosperity and security, which matters more — Afghanistan or Mexico? The question answers itself. So if the United States has billions of dollars lying idle that it wishes to invest in development and security assistance, why prioritize Afghanistan?
More important than Afghanistan is neighboring Pakistan — bigger, at least as dysfunctional and armed with nuclear weapons. Yet the Obama plan treats Pakistan as an afterthought, promising trivial levels of assistance given the challenges facing that country. Even assuming that America can “fix” Afghanistan, does it possess the wherewithal, wisdom and will to do likewise in Pakistan?
In the NYT roundtable, former deputy national security adviser for Iraq and Afghanistan Meghan O’Sullivan takes a more positive view:
President Obama’s new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan deserves high marks on several fronts: The president made a compelling case connecting these countries with U.S. interests; he committed substantially more military and civilian resources to the effort; and he placed equal weight on Afghanistan and Pakistan — the latter being the true epicenter of this conflict. It is reasonable to wonder whether the new strategy is informed by the most important lesson from Iraq: Nothing is more important than winning the support of the population by providing security. Obama announced a “shift [in] the emphasis of our mission to training and increasing the size of the Afghan security forces.”
Then there is the thorny question about how welcome we are in Muslim countries. Juan Cole, President of the Global Americana Institute, notes at his Informed Comment blog:
In a recent poll, Muslim publics, including that in Pakistan, overwhelmingly rejected US military presence in Muslim countries. A year ago, an opinion poll of Pakistanis found that “most Pakistanis do not believe that Pakistan-U.S. security cooperation has benefited Pakistan, and a majority (84 percent) sees the U.S. military presence in Asia as a greater threat to Pakistan than Al Qaeda and the Taliban (60 percent). Two-thirds of the Pakistanis polled do not trust the United States to “act responsibly in the world,” and a vast majority thinks the United States aims to “weaken and divide the Islamic world.” A recent poll of residents of the tribal belt themselves found majority support for the US Predator strikes, but polls show that Pakistanis in general view the US as a destabilizing factor for their country.
Cole told Rachel Maddow “I didn’t think we were at war with Pakistan so much as with some Pushtun tribes on either side of the Hindu Kush. And I didn’t think it was likely that they would be brought under “control.”
Meanwhile I’m hoping President Obama and Secretary Clinton read an interesting article in the current issue of Foreign Affairs, “How Development Leads to Democracy” by Ronald Inglehart and Christian Welzel, co-authors of Modernization, Cultural Change, and Democracy. A couple of nut graphs:
…The bad news is that it is unrealistic to assume that democratic institutions can be set up easily, almost anywhere, at any time. Although the outlook is never hopeless, democracy is most likely to emerge and survive when certain social and cultural conditions are in place. The Bush administration ignored this reality when it attempted to implant democracy in Iraq without first establishing internal security and overlooked cultural conditions that endangered the effort.
The good news, however, is that the conditions conducive to democracy can and do emerge — and the process of “modernization,” according to abundant empirical evidence, advances them. Modernization is a syndrome of social changes linked to industrialization. Once set in motion, it tends to penetrate all aspects of life, bringing occupational specialization, urbanization, rising educational levels, rising life expectancy, and rapid economic growth. These create a self-reinforcing process that transforms social life and political institutions, bringing rising mass participation in politics and — in the long run — making the establishment of democratic political institutions increasingly likely…
It’s a good point to keep in mind as the Obama Administration refines its long range strategy in the mid and near east and we invest billions of dollars to fight terrorism and promote democracy.