WASHINGTON, D.C.– Gen. McChrystal out, Gen. Petraeus in – but the problem of U.S. policy in Afghanistan remains as it was last week: American troops have been sent to fight for a goal that is at best unclear under rules of engagement that are at best complicated and at worst deadly.
It wasn’t supposed to be that way. President Obama said, “We have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future.” The mechanism, as articulated by Gen. McChrystal and the President, was to bring the Afghan people to our side by offering clean, transparent and representative government centered in Kabul, along with infrastructure, jobs and security from the Taliban and its rules. Population protection was primary, even at greater risk to Coalition troops.
That sounds a lot like nation-building.
Nation building in a place that has no history of a strong center; in a tribal system governed by regional leaders who pay only marginal lip service to Kabul; where illiteracy is rampant and the 20th Century (never mind the 21st) is largely unknown; and where bribery, negotiation and warfare are the rule would be a tall order under any circumstances. In the current circumstance – under the literal gun of the Taliban and the figurative gun of a deadline next July – would seem impossible.
The primary elements of al Qaeda that were in Afghanistan are believed to have moved to shelter over the border in Pakistan.
Pakistan, for its part, was supposed to bring the rule of Islamabad to its own tribal areas and fight al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban while the U.S. hit its leadership from the air. While the U.S. drone war has been successful in decimating al Qaeda leadership (at the cost of a great many civilian casualties), it has become clear that elements of Pakistani intelligence are supporters of the Taliban for their own reasons. The strength of Pakistan’s civilian-led government is questionable and the fear that a nuclear-armed country will fall to internal or external radical forces is omnipresent in American military thinking.
Our European partners in Afghanistan have begun to retire – the Dutch are going this summer and others have insisted on largely training, not fighting, roles. (The Georgians are a welcome exception to the rule.)
An American Special Forces officer of our acquaintance said he has two simple metrics for whether we are winning or losing in Afghanistan – whether the Afghan people think we are losing and whether the Taliban thinks it is winning. By both metrics he believes we are losing.
This is what Gen. Petraeus has undertaken to command. The good news for the United States and the West is that Gen. Petraeus is the most thoughtful of American military officers. He considered the situation of Coalition forces in Iraq and the situation of the military and political players, changed the course of our operations there and steered the counter-surge to decimate al Qaeda in Iraq as well as the Shiite militias, providing space for political reconciliation and the hope of long-term stability for that country.
Afghanistan is harder by orders of magnitude, but if we had to bet on someone to figure out the mechanism that will make our operations match our goal, we would bet on Gen. Petraeus.
By Shoshana Bryen
WASHINGTON, D.C.–Following the attacks of September 11, 2001, the Bush Administration undertook domestic security and foreign policy decisions to cope with the threat to American interests we understood to have emerged: colored threat levels, airport security changes, the provisions of The Patriot Act at home, and better intelligence coordination and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq abroad. People asked rhetorically and/or ironically, “Are we safe yet?”
President Obama’s nuclear materials summit begs the same question. He says we are.
In an odd story, The Washington Post reported that for four hours the President led a nuclear threat reduction seminar. [Because, according to The Post, "He's never better than when he's the teacher, a European diplomat said." And because he has the most extensive knowledge of the nuclear issue and foreign policy, we presume.] During that time, only heads of state and two senior aides were permitted in the room, ensuring that everyone heard only what he/she wanted to hear and that follow-up will be almost impossible, even if anyone is so inclined.
Canada, Ukraine and Mexico were hailed for their decision to better secure or give up their highly enriched uranium. There was a whisper that Chinese Premier Hu Jin-tao used the word “sanctions,” but it couldn’t be confirmed because the press was largely shut out of the proceedings and there were no press conferences-only prepared handouts. The Chinese vice foreign minister did say China was “open to ideas” on dealing with Iran, which may mean ideas other than sanctions. The Soviets- oops, the Russians-looked perfectly happy with their new, special place in the international firmament, while Mikheil Saakashvili, Georgia’s president, NATO aspirant and Russia’s bête noir, didn’t get any face time with Mr. Obama.
What wasn’t on the table was more dangerous than what was.
The proliferators, the rogues, the nuclear weapons seekers and builders, the countries making overt threats and covert deals-Syria, Iran and North Korea-weren’t in the room. Pakistan, straddling the world’s great divide between Islamic fundamentalist violence and democratic institution-building, insisted on the right to do whatever it wanted with its nuclear material. The relationship between terrorists (including those who seek nuclear material) and the state sponsors of terrorism-many of whom were in the room-was never mentioned.
Nuclear material is not the only means for terrorists to cause large-scale destruction and mayhem. Chemical and biological weapons are easier to get and to use. Non-nuclear armed cruise missiles can devastate cities. Our ports and freight rail terminals are largely unprotected.
And speaking of cruise missiles and unprotected ports, a Russian company has announced the “Club-K container missile system.” The Club-K, according to the company’s own video, is four cruise missiles packed inside what appears to be a standard 40-foot civilian shipping container. It mounts on a ship, a freight train or a tractor-trailer. Until the top opens and the canisters rise, it could be anything. The company’s video can be seen on YouTube here.
The cruise-missile-in-a-box may in fact not be all it says it is-it wouldn’t be the first time. But it is a serious reminder that for all the posturing of 47 countries signing mushy, non-binding statements, there are real threats and real threatening countries out there. Securing Canadian fissile material is fine, but China, Russia, Iran, Syria, Pakistan and North Korea-and their friends-are where the attention of the United States and its democratic friends and allies ought to be focused.
Bryen is senior director of security policy of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs. Her column is sponsored by Waxie Sanitary Supply in memory of Morris Wax, longtime JINSA supporter and national board member
PORT AU PRINCE, Haiti (Press Release) – EL AL, Israel’s National Airline, landed in Haiti this past Thursday with dozens of medical teams and tons of emergency supplies to assist with rescue and salvage efforts. Two EL AL aircraft, a jumbo 747-400 and one 777, carried more than 80 tons of supplies along with 229 passengers consisting of medical personnel, search-and-rescue teams as well as a K9 rescue squad. The medical teams are prepared to spend at least two weeks in Haiti to care for thousands of earthquake victims. The Israel Ministry of Defense initiated this humanitarian mission.
EL AL CEO Elyezer Shkedy commented, “EL AL immediately responded to the request of the Israeli government and will do anything necessary to assist in this time of tragedy. In our view, as the national airline, it is of top national importance to help these earthquake victims.”
As the national airline of Israel, EL AL proudly and consistently provides support anywhere in the world during times of need, as evidenced by assistance to victims of Hurricane Katrina, the tsunami relief efforts in Indonesia and the rescue mission during the war between Georgia and Russia.
Preceding provided by El Al