Mar 29 2008

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Leadership on Afghanistan

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A Credible Policy

This journal has not been an admirer Obama foreign policy efforts to date. From the beginning, it seems the Administration has run the gamut from the morally smug to the strategically naive.

Secretary of State Clinton and a pending North Korean missile launch offers a hilarious episode of what can constitute diplomacy these days.

Asked about the launch while appearing on Greta Van Susteren’s show this week, Secretary Clinton said that she hoped North Korean officials were watching so they would know the Administration’s genuine willingness to talk the issue through; the North Koreans having previously refused to accept a US envoy.1

But foreign policy amateur hour has given way to genuine realism and leadership by the President and his senior advisers with their new strategy for Afghanistan.

The plan is deserving of support.

The strategy is steeped in pragmatism based on lessons and hard experience over the last seven years. It recognizes the continued threat from Al Qaeda and a resurgent Taliban. It prudently follows the recommendations of military leaders on the ground to implement an augmented counter-insurgency strategy.  To that end, President Obama will dispatch an additional 21,000 American troops to Afghanistan to join substantial, existing US and NATO forces.

The President is also taking a politically bold step of significantly increasing financial support for economic growth and institution building as a necessary component in stabilizing Afghanistan and Pakistan. As a leader whose country is mired in recession, it is no easy thing to explain to restive Americans that additional billions spent in Central Asia are as indispensable component of American national security.

The legacy of the Bush administration offers a useful blueprint for the Team Obama to jump-start the “soft power” side to get the most value out of US development dollars.

For instance, near the end of the Bush administration, innovative projects that emphasized job creation through public-private partnerships in Afghanistan and Pakistan were in a nascent stage of development.

These efforts are worthy of review and renewed support.

Consider that by mobilizing the resources of US private agriculture, its modern farming methods and crop-to-market logistical support, US assistance can act as a tangible incentivize to Afghan farmers to expand and diversify their crops andchoose to plant crops other than poppies.

The initial investment/partnership itself opens opportunities for local SMEs in cold storage, packaging and transportation, all along the crop supply chain, creating jobs and businesses and promoting economic growth for the country.

The program will win over farmers who will now have the ability to provide for their families without breaking the law through poppy production, while at the same time cracking the heroine trade, which is a fundamental source of finance for terrorists.

Or consider that in the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) of Pakistan, marginal investments to increase reliable power production can create jobs for Pakistanis in the marble industry. Additional technical assistance in marble quarry, transport and refinement could expand the industry and promote economic growth.

The detailed plans for these projects exist and are ready to be implemented.

Strategically the Administration is also to be commended for expanding the Afghan strategy to explicitly include institution building, support and coordination with Pakistan.

Once the bulk ward to extremism after 9-11, Pakistan has shown increasing signs of strain and political instability.  Its fragile political institutions, imbued with real power only after President Musharraf’s departure, are now besieged by waves of ideological and religious dissent that it may be unable to manage. US help is crucial.

Team Obama made the right call in recognizing Pakistan’s fragile state, as well as stating publicly what everyone knows privately; that cross border allegiances between powerful Afghans and Pakistanis who support the anti-Western objectives of Al Qaeda and the Taliban have resulted in de facto terrorist safe havens along the border. The unified dual-state solution will bring efficiencies of scale and policy coherence to the region as well as simple honesty in policy execution.

Obama’s call for an International Contact Group, made up of all nations that have a stake in the region, demonstrates the Administration’s fresh commitment to diplomacy and dialogue. Historical rivalries of those countries involved may dim any breakthrough security agreements.

However, interestingly, Afghanistan is one place where both American and Iranian self-interest are joined, at least on the basic issue of the Taliban and Al Qaeda. How that dialogue develops and what results from it could have longer range repercussions for the future of US-Iranian relations.

So, for an Administration that has thus far perfected the art of pleasing constituencies with symbolism, the Afghan initiative is a refreshingly, detailed, substantive and consequential commitment. And it does not come risk-free politically.

There is something here for a chorus of divergent domestic interests to criticize. Liberals and Democrats will grumble about continuing military adventurism abroad and “diverting” financial resources while Americans endure recession. Republicans and conservatives will grumble about a possible regional consensus that diminishes US primacy, and particularly the involvement of Iran.

But it is also a truism in Washington that if everyone is barking at you, then you’ve probably done something right. By placing the national interest above parochial interests in a well thought out plan, President Obama deserves the benefit of the doubt from skeptics across the political spectrum.

1. On the Record w/Greta Van Susteren 3-27-09


1 comment

  1. Replicaonline

    I didnЎЇt quite get this when I first read it. But when I went through it a second time, it all became clear. Thanks for the insight.

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