Posts tagged afghanistan
What does it mean to tell the truth about a war? Is it a lie, technically speaking, for the Administration to say that it has faith in Hamid Karzai’s government and regards him as a legitimate leader—or is it just absurd? Is it a lie to say that we have a plan for Afghanistan that makes any sense at all? If you put it that way, each of the WikiLeaks documents—from an account of an armed showdown between the Afghan police and the Afghan Army, to a few lines about a local interdiction official taking seventy-five-dollar bribes, to a sad exchange about an aid scam involving orphans—is a pixel in a picture that does, indeed, contradict official accounts of the war, and rather drastically so.
The war being waged by the United States in Afghanistan today is fundamentally different and more ambitious than anything carried out by the Bush administration. Afghanistan is very much Barack Obama’s war of choice, a point that the president underscored recently by picking Gen. David Petraeus to lead an intensified counterinsurgency effort there. After nearly nine years of war, however, continued or increased U.S. involvement in Afghanistan isn’t likely to yield lasting improvements that would be commensurate in any way with the investment of American blood and treasure. It is time to scale down our ambitions there and both reduce and redirect what we do.
Richard Haass, on Afghanistan

Annals of Leadership

In which Ron Moreau and Sami Yousafzai find that running the Taliban is much like running a large corporation: The troops really need reassurance from the top:

Omar could settle many issues among his followers, perhaps even urge them to accept a peace deal, with only a few words, either in person or in an audio recording. “But he has never done that so far,” the senior insurgent said. “The slightest sign of involvement by Mullah Omar might provide a clue to his trail. So he stays away.” That remoteness frustrates many Taliban members, even though they understand the need for secrecy. “I question the wisdom of keeping away his voice from the many fighting for the thousands who have sacrificed their lives in his name,” says a Taliban intelligence officer who declined to be named for security reasons.

"I think it is just best to say I’m a realist. The reality is that Afghanistan is hard; it is hard all the time, and what we are endeavoring to do is going to be very, very challenging. As Gen. [Stanley] McChrystal said, ‘The situation is serious, but the mission is doable.’ I do agree with that, but I do that in a way that is coldly realistic, that assesses the challenges and how difficult the tasks are."
-Gen. David Petraeus, in an interview with NEWSWEEK’s Fareed Zakaria
Photo: Charles Ommanney/Getty Images for Newsweek

"I think it is just best to say I’m a realist. The reality is that Afghanistan is hard; it is hard all the time, and what we are endeavoring to do is going to be very, very challenging. As Gen. [Stanley] McChrystal said, ‘The situation is serious, but the mission is doable.’ I do agree with that, but I do that in a way that is coldly realistic, that assesses the challenges and how difficult the tasks are."

-Gen. David Petraeus, in an interview with NEWSWEEK’s Fareed Zakaria

Photo: Charles Ommanney/Getty Images for Newsweek

Talk to Russian veterans of Afghanistan and it’s hard not to think that they’re rooting for the U.S. to lose. For these proud men, seeing NATO succeed at a job they botched would deepen the humiliation of defeat. Easier to affirm that if the Soviets couldn’t win there, no one can. “We did not succeed and you will not either,” says Gen. Victor Yermakov, who commanded Soviet forces in Afghanistan from 1982 to 1983. “They didn’t trust us. They won’t trust you.” Ambassador Zamir Kabulov, who served in Afghanistan under the occupation and has just completed a four-year term as Russia’s envoy in the country, is no more optimistic. “We tried to impose communism. You are trying to impose democracy,” he says. “There is no mistake made by the Soviet Union that the international community has not repeated.”
"In Iraq, America has committed itself to a hard exit. The U.S. and Iraqi governments have signed a pact under which all U.S. soldiers (still numbering some 120,000) are to leave Iraq by the end of 2011. In his West Point speech, President Obama committed to a "soft" exit from Afghanistan, pledging to begin reducing U.S. forces there by the summer of 2011. Left unsaid is how quickly the number of U.S. troops will come down, how many will remain, and for how long. Most important, there is no mention of what will happen if "conditions on the ground" remain poor or worsen—i.e., if it turns out that the Afghan Army and police aren’t ready to take over."—Haas, pessimistic about the chances the U.S. will actually draw down in Afghanistan.

"In Iraq, America has committed itself to a hard exit. The U.S. and Iraqi governments have signed a pact under which all U.S. soldiers (still numbering some 120,000) are to leave Iraq by the end of 2011. In his West Point speech, President Obama committed to a "soft" exit from Afghanistan, pledging to begin reducing U.S. forces there by the summer of 2011. Left unsaid is how quickly the number of U.S. troops will come down, how many will remain, and for how long. Most important, there is no mention of what will happen if "conditions on the ground" remain poor or worsen—i.e., if it turns out that the Afghan Army and police aren’t ready to take over."—Haas, pessimistic about the chances the U.S. will actually draw down in Afghanistan.

"Here lies the tension in Barack Obama’s policy. He wants a clearer, more discriminating foreign policy, one that pares down the vast commitments and open-ended interventions of the Bush era, perhaps one that is more disciplined even than Bill Clinton’s approach to the world. (On the campaign trail, Obama repeatedly invoked George H.W. Bush as the president whose foreign policy he admired most.) But America is in the midst of a war that is not going well, and scaling back now would look like cutting and running. Obama is searching for a post-imperial policy in the midst of an imperial crisis. The qualified surge—send in troops to regain the momentum but then draw down—is his answer to this dilemma. This is an understandable compromise, and it could well work, but it pushes off a final decision about Afghanistan until the troop surge can improve the situation on the ground. Eighteen months from now, Obama will have to answer the core question: is a stable and well-functioning Afghanistan worth a large and continuing American ground presence, or can American interests be secured at much lower cost?"—Fareed on Obama’s way forward.

"Here lies the tension in Barack Obama’s policy. He wants a clearer, more discriminating foreign policy, one that pares down the vast commitments and open-ended interventions of the Bush era, perhaps one that is more disciplined even than Bill Clinton’s approach to the world. (On the campaign trail, Obama repeatedly invoked George H.W. Bush as the president whose foreign policy he admired most.) But America is in the midst of a war that is not going well, and scaling back now would look like cutting and running. Obama is searching for a post-imperial policy in the midst of an imperial crisis. The qualified surge—send in troops to regain the momentum but then draw down—is his answer to this dilemma. This is an understandable compromise, and it could well work, but it pushes off a final decision about Afghanistan until the troop surge can improve the situation on the ground. Eighteen months from now, Obama will have to answer the core question: is a stable and well-functioning Afghanistan worth a large and continuing American ground presence, or can American interests be secured at much lower cost?"—Fareed on Obama’s way forward.

Instead of simply following the president, Congress must now lead as well. As the only institution directly able to hold the president’s feet to the fire on Afghanistan policy (short of the American people in 2012), Congress must hold hearings that pose difficult questions to the president’s advisers. It must demand far more specific and detailed answers than the president offered Tuesday about his exit strategy for the withdrawal of U.S. troops and the benchmarks that he will use to define success on the ground.
Here, then, is Obama’s vision of the ancient notion of America as a city upon a hill—the phrase from Jesus evoked by John Winthrop and given new life by Ronald Reagan. We are an exceptional nation, the president was saying, but our is an exceptionalism that imposes as many (if not more) burdens as it does blessings. It is an exceptionalism of obligation—to whom much is given, much is expected.