Sunday, March 29, 2009

Expanding the War in Afghanistan

President Obama announced last week that he is sending additional US troops into Afghanistan. I do not agree with this decision/policy.

My understanding is that this week Obama announced the deployment of 4,000 more US troops to Afghanistan, and this is in addition to the 17,000 additional troops he announced just after the inauguration.

I think we need to be doing everything possible to draw down our level of involvement in both Afghanistan and Iraq. I fear that the motivating factor (for Obama and/or his foreign policy team) is to make a bold statement that "Democratic Presidents can assert US power too" -- rather than their knowing with any certainty that expanding the battle is actually a wise strategic decision.

Fred Kaplan has a very good examination of the policy in Slate, here. Kaplan says that there are two "camps" within the Adminstration as to how to proceed:
  1. Counterinsurgency
  2. Counterterrorism
Counterinsurgency refers to more of a nation-building goal, in which the focus is on assisting civilians and building up institutions of government.

Counterterrorism is more militaristic - the goal is a limited war in which we actually engage al Qaeda members. Kaplan says that Biden is in the camp favoring counterterrorism; he says that Obama's policy is "counterterrorism plus," in which our focus will be military action but with US soldiers having certain nation-building goals (in particular, helping to build an indigenous police and military).

Obama said, when announcing his policy, that the US's goal should be "to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future." I just don't get this --- we can't "defeat" al Qaeda any more than we can "defeat" terrorism (or drugs). One of my main problems with Bush's approach to foreign policy was the whole idea of a "war on terror," and now it seems that Obama is just going further down this road.

Kaplan says that Obama was swayed against counterinsurgency and towards counterterrorism because counterinsurgency is too open-ended (in terms of both the time and resources that will be required). How on earth, though, is sending more troops into Afghanistan not making our commitment there more -- as opposed to less -- open-ended?
Jackson Diehl, in today's Washington Post (the article is here), says that one of the hazards of current US policy is that we are building up the Afghan army to the exclusion of the other institutions necessary for a stable society:
So far the international coalition is succeeding in reconstructing only one Afghan institution: the national army. Since 2007, it has been growing at a formidable pace: 7,000 new soldiers at a time are being drilled at the principal training base in Kabul. The best of Afghanistan's high school graduates are being siphoned off for officer training and a new four-year military academy modeled on West Point. Polls show the army is the most popular institution in the country. "The army," says proud Defense Minister Rahim Wardak, "is the physical manifestation of a new Afghanistan."

That's good -- only there has been no corresponding effort to build the capacity of the Afghan government and judiciary. An attempt to rebuild the police is just gaining speed after several false starts. The new strategy envisions a doubling of the U.S. Embassy staff and a major effort to strengthen civilian institutions. But, for the moment, Afghanistan is emerging as a country with a U.S.-trained army that will tower over all other institutions -- with potential consequences that can easily be seen in the history of American-trained armies in Latin America.

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