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3/28/2009
OBAMA’S AFPAK PLAN JUST ABOUT RIGHT

I am not a military expert. But those that are seem generally pleased with President Obama’s new Afghanistan/Pakistan strategy.

An exception to that is Michael Yon:

The President’s words were disappointing. He talked about our goal to reach a force level of 134,000 Afghan soldiers and 82,000 police by 2011. This is not even in the neighborhood of being enough. Further, the increase of 21,000 U.S. troops is likely just a bucket of water on the growing bonfire. One can only expect that sometime in 2010, the President will again be forced to announce another increase in U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

If there were not people like Gates and Petraeus up there, my gut would say to pull out. It is only my faith in the military, and what I saw them accomplish against heavy odds in Iraq, that gives me hope.

I would add to Petreaus and Gates the name of Richard Holbrooke. This is one tough dude who also has the courage and ability to think outside the box. Here he talks about corruption and the huge challenge facing both the US and the Karzai government in dealing with the problem:

I would just point you to the fact that no American chief executive has spoken about corruption this way ever before in open. Isn’t that a fair statement, Bruce? And on the way out, a former Assistant Secretary of State, who many of you know, but I better not give his name, since he isn’t…said to me, I’ve been waiting six years to hear a speech like that, and the emphasis on corruption is essential. You’ve all been reporting it for years. We view it as a cancer eating away at the country and it has to be dealt with. And obviously we’re not going to lay out how we’re going to deal with it. To some extent, we don’t know yet. There’s so much dispute about it. Senators have talked about it, including senators who are now President, Vice President and Secretary of State. And they bring what they said as senators to this issue.

And speaking for myself, I’ve written about it a lot. I don’t take back anything I ever wrote as a private citizen. Now we’ve been offered the extraordinary challenge of trying to deal with this problem. And we’re here to say, it is at the highest levels. Why? This isn’t baksheesh. We’ve got to make a distinction between ordinary problems that happen in every society. This is massive efforts that undermine the government. President Karzai himself has said this, and we need to work on this. It’s a huge recruiting draw—excuse me, huge recruiting opportunity for the Taliban. It’s one of their major things they exploit. But I can’t lay out to you how exactly we’re going to do this. We’re just starting out. And by the way, we’re in the middle of an election campaign in Afghanistan, which complicates everything enormously.

Holbrooke has shown in the past a unique ability among diplomats; to speak the brutal truth when necessary. If anyone can get Karzai to start dealing with corruption, it’s Richard Holbrooke.

And that goes double for speaking truth to power in Pakistan where it appears we are finally going to have a policy that directly and closely links what is happening in Islamabad with our military efforts in Afghanistan. I understand the Bush Administration’s reluctance to take this step for the last few years. Pakistani politics is a minefield even in normal times and Bush depended heavily on former President Musharraf to keep the factions from causing the country to descend into the kind of chaos we see now. But in the end, it was a shortsighted policy because Musharraf couldn’t hang on forever. Eventually, he was forced by blunders of his own making to make concessions on political parties and elections. That pretty much sealed his fate.

But what is going on there now is more akin to a circular firing squad with us smack dab in the middle. There is no nation with a more anti-American population in the world than Pakistan but at the same time, there are few governments in the world that need American assistance more. This has caused something of a schizophrenic response by Islamabad to our non-authorized Predator attacks in the NWFP where the writ of Pakistani law doesn’t run anyway. They condemn them but there is some evidence that at least a small faction in the Pakistani intelligence service, the ISI, is helping us with intelligence and targeting al-Qaeda. Of course, at the same time, there appears to be another ISI faction assisting the Taliban in their incursions into Afghanistan - something that has been going on for years.

Clearly, Holbrooke has his work cut out for him. One of his first tasks will be to answer the question “Who’s on our side?” The faction-ridden government of President Zardari is having trouble enough staying together without pulling at that scab too hard. Pakistan has their own fish to fry in Afghanistan, seeing that country as within their own sphere of influence. Their desire to assist us is limited by that fact as well as the recognition that any overt cooperation on their part will be met with violent opposition in the streets.

We can encourage Islamabad’s efforts to fight al-Qaeda but we must recognize the government’s decision to negotiate with tribal leaders that are friendly to the Taliban is an internal matter and probably not subject to any entreaties on our part for them to desist. At the same time, the Obama Administration’s decision to continue the Predator attacks begun under Bush (perhaps soon to be augmented by incursions into Pakistan by Special Forces) without seeking the permission of Islamabad is the right one for both countries.

Meanwhile, the strongest statement yet from President Obama laid down clear goals for the Afpak theater:

“I want the American people to understand that we have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaida in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future,” Obama said. “That’s the goal that must be achieved. That is a cause that could not be more just.”

This is a very tall order and I can see where Michael Yon doesn’t think there is enough muscle behind the tough rhetoric. But what the president did offer was a multi-pronged strategy that augments what President Bush was doing while changing the emphasis slightly to placing more urgency on training the Afghan military and increasing civilian reconstruction teams:

The president, who declared last weekend an “exit strategy” was needed for Afghanistan, never used those words in announcing his plans on Friday. His strategy is built on an ambitious goal of boosting the Afghan army from 80,000 to 134,000 troops by 2011 — and greatly increasing training by U.S. troops accompanying them — so the Afghan military can defeat Taliban insurgents and take control of the war.

That, he said, is “how we will ultimately be able to bring our troops home.”

There is no timetable for withdrawal, and the White House said it had no estimate yet on how many billions of dollars its plan will cost.

The essence of Obama’s strategy is to set clear goals for a war gone awry, to get the American people behind them, to provide more resources and to make a better case for international support. He is heading next week to a NATO meeting in France and Germany, where he expects allies to pledge more help of their own.

And his words that bound Afghanistan and Pakistan together showed a marked departure from the past:

He tied Afghanistan and Pakistan together as one conflict, pledging regular three-way diplomacy with both countries and intensive outreach to the world for help in the region. He pledged to send in 4,000 forces to train the Afghan army and police force. He is sending in hundreds of U.S. civilians — agricultural specialists, educators and engineers — to help a poor, broken country try to build itself up from the provincial level.

The president promised that the U.S. will hold itself and others accountable by using benchmarks, although those measures are just starting to be shaped.

And showing the frustration of many in American government, Obama spoke bluntly about the leadership of the government it is trying to help.

He said Pakistan must no longer expect a “blank check” for its U.S. aid and must be willing to take on extremists within its borders. He suggested that the U.S. would strike terrorist targets in Pakistan if the country did not do so itself, saying he will insist that action be taken “one way or another.”

On Afghanistan, he said the U.S. would not “turn a blind eye to the corruption that causes Afghans to lose faith in the own leaders.”

Can it work? I would say our chances of seeing more success than failure in Afghanistan went up considerably with this plan. I am anxious to see these “benchmarks” the Administration will use to measure success but I imagine they will be modest and fully achievable. But the key is the president. I am very happy to see him using his rhetorical gifts to tell the American people how important this conflict is to our security (”For the American people, this border region has become the most dangerous place in the world.”) and that he appears to have the best people in government to work on the problem.

Combine that with the continued superior performance of our combat troops and I think we have a recipe for at least a modest success in Afghanistan that would drive the Taliban into the hills and make their incursions from Pakistan more difficult and less frequent. Much depends on what progress we can make with the Pakistani government, an admittedly difficult proposition. But I have some faith that Holbrooke can accomplish his mission and get the Pakistanis to engage those extremists who won’t talk to them (or who go back on their agreements) while continuing to target al-Qaeda and blow them to Kingdom Come wherever they hide.

By: Rick Moran at 8:35 am
19 Responses to “OBAMA’S AFPAK PLAN JUST ABOUT RIGHT”
  1. 1
    michael reynolds Said:
    11:30 am 

    I agree with you. At best in the short term we can pull out a semi-stable Afghanistan and force AQ to keep their heads down in Pakistan.

    In the longer term I suppose it is just barely possible that Afghanistan will manage a degree of democracy and stability.

    But the key is Pakistan. We can’t really win so long at the border is porous and the Taliban has the will and capacity to attack us. It’s just about impossible to win a war where we allow the enemy to decide when and where to initiate conflict, and where we are limited to deniable responses.

  2. 2
    Neo Said:
    12:08 pm 

    This plan is about as good as anyone could expect from Obama. The real question is how the benchmarks are used down the road.

  3. 3
    bsjones Said:
    12:59 pm 

    Neo,

    Rick seems to imply that what Obama proposed may prove a better long term strategy than the one implemented by former President Bush:

    “I understand the Bush Administration’s reluctance to take this step for the last few years. Pakistani politics is a minefield even in normal times and Bush depended heavily on former President Musharraf to keep the factions from causing the country to descend into the kind of chaos we see now. But in the end, it was a shortsighted policy because Musharraf couldn’t hang on forever. Eventually, he was forced by blunders of his own making to make concessions on political parties and elections. That pretty much sealed his fate.”

    It is almost as if President Bush kicked the can down the road leaving his predecessor to find a strategy that will lead to victory and a lasting peace.

    Perhaps the “best we can expect from Obama” will be better than what we got from President Bush with regard to the country that launched the 9/11 attacks.

  4. 4
    B.Poster Said:
    3:57 pm 

    The strategy may be a good one, however, I don’t think we have the resources to implement a viable military strategy there or anywhere else in the world for that matter right now. The United States military is worn down almost to the breaking point, the economy is deeply struggling, and the national debt is massive. The massive national debt was a huge problem even before the Obama administration and his allies in Congress piled on even more debt. In other words, even before the new debt added by the Obama Administration the nation lacked the resources to implement a viable military strategy for Afghanistan or any where in the world for that matter.

    Given the above issues, the United States does not have the man power, the financial resources, or the equipment to fight effectively in Afghanistan right now. Maybe our brave troops and brilliant generals can pull off the impossible again, as they seem to have done in Iraq, however, I would not bet the survival of the United States on such miracles repeating themselves.

    Our best option and perhaps the only one with a realistic shot at success would be to do the following: 1.)Immediately pull all troops and advisors out of Iraq and Afghanistan. 2.)Secure the Northern and Southern borders. 3.) Place a moratorium on immigration from Islamic countries for an indefinite period of time. 4.) Place a moratorium on immigration from all countries for a minimum of ten years or until we can fix our immigration system. The ten year moratorium will give those immigrants already here a chance to properly assimilate into America. 5.)Closely monitor the mosques. 6.)Develop all of our domestic oil and gas resources. 7.)Build more refineries.

  5. 5
    B.Poster Said:
    4:00 pm 

    I did not include number 8. This would be to upgrade and expand the nuclear arsenal. We may not have the resources to do this right now but it is vital to the long range interests of the United States.

  6. 6
    funny man Said:
    4:48 pm 

    I would like to start by adding that part of a more ‘realistic’ strategy and foreign policy was already started by Condi Rice. Fortunately, both Rice and Holbrook belong to that bipartisan approach to foreign policy that was only briefly interrupted by the neocons (good riddance hopefully).
    IMHO the biggest problem is actually Pakistan with its defunct secret service (there actually was a pretty good report in the NYT) and politics that neutralize each other. Good for Al-Qaeda, not for an effective policy. Success in this balancing act is key to drive Al-Qaeda out. It would be great if the US military was allowed to operate in the tribal areas but given the hostility throughout Pakistan this is pretty unlikely. The Taliban is a Pashtun problem not so much global terrorism, I trust General Petreaus in his judgment.
    Immigration is a totally different issue. We need highly qualified, educated people especially from these countries (I’m not talking masses here) to better understand the culture, politics and gather intelligence. Qualified immigrants have served the United States very well in the last century, why change that? That doesn’t apply to farm workers from Morelia or Sina Loa obviously.

  7. 7
    Hyde Park Libertarian Said:
    9:05 pm 

    B.Poster states our troops are worn down and at the breaking point. Where do you get your information? As the father of 2 US Army officers one now in Iraq, and one on his way to Afghanistan in May, I can say with complete confidence you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. Their equipment is top line, their morale is extremely high, and they have confidence in their leadeship, including, believe it or not Obama. Retention and recruitment rates are excellent and they believe in their mission. The first Styker units will deploy to Afghanistan sometime in early summer, and will make our Afghan forces more agile and deadly then they have been to date. They will get the job done.

    Some of your political arguments may have merit but your take on our troops, their morale, and their equipment, I suspect, are based more on your own feelings about the Afghan war rather then the facts. Our military is well trained, well equipped, competent, intelligent, more then willing to engage and kill the enemy and above all ready to complete the mission.

  8. 8
    Scrapiron Said:
    10:30 pm 

    But when will Moron.org give O’Dumbo his firm withdrawal date? Watch military morale drop when they find out O’Dumbo will tie both hands behind they’re back and arm them with BB guns.

  9. 9
    Hyde Park Libertarian Said:
    3:48 am 

    B.Poster states our troops are worn down and at the breaking point. Where do you get your information? As the father of 2 US Army officers one now in Iraq, and one on his way to Afghanistan in May, I can say with complete confidence you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. Their equipment is top line, their morale is extremely high, and they have confidence in their leadeship, including, believe it or not Obama. Retention and recruitment rates are excellent and they believe in their mission. The first Styker units will deploy to Afghanistan sometime in early summer, and will make our Afghan forces more agile and deadly then they have been to date. They will get the job done.

    Some of your political arguments may have merit but your take on our troops, their morale, and their equipment, I suspect, are based more on your own feelings about the Afghan war rather then the facts. Our military is well trained, well equipped, competent, intelligent, more then willing to engage and kill the enemy and above all ready to complete the mission.
    Sorry… forgot to say great post - can’t wait to read your next one!

  10. 10
    rssg Said:
    10:02 am 

    The Fresh Prince’s plan? Ah, about 95% the same as Bush’s, just like the Fresh Prince announces an “end” to the war in Irag, when in fact, we’ve been drawing down troops all through 2008 and Husseins’s plan is 95% the same as Bush’s.

    What a genius our Statist in Chief is. The only correct strategy with respect to muslims is to kill the worst of the worst and reduce/prevent muslims from immigrating here. Anything short of that is failure; for they will “Sharia-ize” us just like they are doing to European countries.

    Buy a prayer rug and get your wife/girlfriend a burka - you’re gonna need both.

  11. 11
    busboy33 Said:
    12:27 pm 

    @B.Poster:
    re: upgrade and expand our nuclear arsenal — you don’t think we have enough nukes to form an effective deterrent? (not being a smarta$$, I mean it as a serious question).

    @rssg:
    . . . nope, I’m at a loss. I was trying to come up with something snarky and flippant, but I’m just speechless. That’s some serious, refined-plutonium-grade paranoia and xenophobia my brother.

  12. 12
    rssg Said:
    1:56 pm 

    busboy33 - I get a kick out of the naive like yourself.

    Islam is not just a religion but very much a political ideology as well. You do realize that, don’t you? And one hostile to the West for ahhh, centuries.

    I have lived my entire life in Dearbornistan, Michigan, which always had Arabs/Muslims but since about the early 1990’s, the Mohammedans started appearing here more and more fundamentalist and radical. Not one day goes by, not one, where you don’t see men and women dressed in the most bizarre “turd world” garb, practicing archaic “cultural customs” in their homes and yards, Sharia Law is not slowly making it’s way into our city’s civic life and our public schools.

    The liberal (left and right liberal) asks: how has this happened?

    Answer: Unrestricted, mass, family, chain immigration, that’s how. Plus combine it with the cult of multiculturalism and the lack of pride in being an American shown my most “educators” and politicians.

    Been to England, France, Germany, Holland, Italy lately? The moooslims are using immigration as a tool of conquest. Islam does not co-exist with other religions. It is a superiority, dominant ideology-religion.

    Please wake up and show some backbone before it’s too late.

  13. 13
    B.Poster Said:
    2:53 pm 

    busboy33,

    You asked a serious question. I’ll give you a serious answer. Nuclear weapons have a limited life. Ours have not been upgraded in a long time. We don’t even have the manufacturing facilities for new ones right now. Not only have they not been upgraded in quite a while. The weapons and their delivery systems have not been tested in quite a while. In contrast, the Russians, the Chinese, and even the Pakistanis have been busily modernizing and upgrading their nuclear arsenals in recent years. Given these factors, there is much doubt as to whether these weapons will work should we need them.

    Upgrading the nuclear arsenal will be an expensive undertaking. With economy deeply struggling right now and a massive national debt I’m not sure we can even afford to do this right now. The bottom line is the United States is largely finished as a major world power right now. It lacks the technology, the finanical wherewtihal, and the training to compete with the dominant powers on earth right now of Russia and China.

  14. 14
    rssg Said:
    3:22 pm 

    B.Poster - as an Air Force veteran, I can tell you’re opinions of the USA’s arsenal are full of rubbish.

    Our nuclear deterrent is still very, very up to date and the best in the world, bar none. It is constantly being tested, modified and updated.

    And economically, we are in a recession. They happen every 10-15 years, sometimes minor ones more often. Much of the “talk of doom” is simply spin to advance an agenda. That’s The Bama’s schtick; also many in the media, “the end times are coming!”, yadda, yadda, yadda.

    We simply need to restrain government spending (excluding defense), adopt more of a flat/fair tax and let the American people use free enterprise to pull us (and the world) out of this recession.

    Will it happen with The Bama? Not likely. He’s a pretty dedicated statist/socialist/social justice/redistributor type.

    November 2010.

  15. 15
    busboy33 Said:
    3:23 pm 

    @B. Poster:

    Upgrading I have no problem with — the most expensive thing in the world is the 2nd best military, and as the nukes are our ace in the hole, they should be in top shape. Heck, the tech advances in rocketry over the last decade alone certainly deserve to be implemented.
    In addition to the upgrades, do you also think that the arsenal should be expanded? One thing I could never understand about the Cold War were the stockpiles of thousands upon thousands of nukes on each side — as a Chinese general said when questioned about China’s remarkably small number of nukes, “how many missles do you need to assure complete global destruction?”
    Asuming we still have thousands of birds, we could probably drop/close 20% of the silos/launch vehicles, and the cost savings might cover the upgrades to the rest by itself.
    I wasn’t aware that warheads “go bad”. Obviously, tech degrades over time, but do you mean that the fissionable components become unusuable? My physics education stopped well before nuclear mechanics, but I had just assumed that the material was stable and viable far beyond the mechanical/electrical components.

  16. 16
    B.Poster Said:
    7:43 pm 

    Busboy33,

    It is my understanding that there are two types of nuclear war heads. There are those that rely on atomic fission and those that rely on fusion. As I understand it, the fusion bombs are the hydrogen bombs. The ones that rely on fusion have a useful life of about 15 years or so. The ones that rely on fission will last much longer. After the Cold War the United States got rid of most of its fission bombs. The primary ones it has left are the fusion bombs. In contrast, the Russians kept most of their fission bombs. The United States government has shown no interest that I’m aware of in either upgrading the nuclear arsenal or in replacing the fusion materials in the current arsenal. In contrast, the Russians, the Chinese, and others have been busily modernizing their arsenals as well as the means of delivery.

    The reason for the large stockpiles during the Cold War is because both the United States and Russia utilized hardened facilities. Large arsenals were needed to be able to ensure all of these targets were eliminated.

  17. 17
    busboy33 Said:
    2:04 pm 

    Thanks for the information/education. Now, having fulfilled my “learn something new every day” quotient, I can happily melt my brain into tapioca with some cartoons.

  18. 18
    Rob Said:
    4:36 pm 

    Hi Rick,
    I hope all’s well.

    Obama’s plan is a recipe for defeat, and I’ll go into details as to why over at my place shortly.

    Two things I don’t think you’re taking into account in your own analysis.

    A) Afghanistan is LANDLOCKED and 75% of our supplies flow through Karachi. The aid the Bush Administration gave Pakistan was nothing more than a bribe to keep the pipeline open.Obama’s aid is more of the same, and it will flow into th epockets of some of the most corrupt rulers on earth.

    Recently, Kyrgystan tossed us out of a base we had been using adjacent to Afghanistan, but suddenly ‘reconsidered’ after the Russians made a deal with Obama to allow supplies in from the north through their territory. What that cost us is only to be imagined.And the flow can be cut off at any time.

    b)Musharraf fell primarily because Condi Rice and the State Department insisted on forcing hime to allow benazhir Bhutto in as a ‘partner’ with the idea of creating more of a Paki ‘democracy’.if we hadn’t he’d likely still be there, and he was much more of a friend to the US than either Zardari( leftist, secular, kleptocrat) or Sharif ( Islamist).

    See you later…

  19. 19
    funny man Said:
    10:27 pm 

    Rob, so what is your plan? Thank God Condi Rice got rid of those neocons. Do you want them back?

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