I haven’t yet had a chance to read Dana Priest and William Arkin’s investigative bombshell in the Washington Post (called “Top Secret America”), but from the endless amount of responses on the blogosphere, I felt like I’ve memorized the whole thing (for a nice replay of what people have said so far, click here, here, or here).
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I highly suggest you jump online, because it only takes a few clicks (if that) to get a glimpse of the story.
But in any case, the entire Washington Post series is a two-year project in the making that takes a rare in-depth look into how large and secretive the U.S. intelligence community has become. Through Priest and Arkin’s remarkable work- with personalized interviews, declassified records, and a frank tone to back that work up- the reader gets the sense that the United States is hostage to a besieged mentality. Private contractors with top-secret security clearance are lurking in your neighborhoods, the National Security Agency is wiretapping your phones, and every move that you make (from swiping your credit card to calling a distant relative) is tracked by the government and packed away in a database for future use. You are, in effect, a citizen with a million eyes on you at all times; a citizen who’s heard earned money is sent to fund this “Top Secret America” behemoth. The trouble is that you don’t know who is really spying on you, or which agency your money is going to.
Here’s the summary in a nutshell: beware, because 854,000 people on the government’s payroll are watching you.
I don’t want to say that the article exaggerates the situation, because in many ways, Priest and Arkin are accurate in their reporting. U.S. intelligence has grown dramatically since the September 11 attacks, with more workers in the industry than ever before. There are 16 separate intelligence agencies across the U.S. Government, most of whom track the same information and come to the same conclusions.
But I can’t help but wonder if this whole story has another motive buried deep between the lines. Could one of the Post’s messages be “look how much of your money is being wasted on keeping this country safe?” From all of the comments surfacing up on blogs and editorials across the country, it appears that this could be a motive. I doubt the Washington Post (or anyone in journalism) would be talking about the bloated national security bureaucracy if the U.S. economy were still in relatively healthy shape.
Arkin and Priest are not only making the point that U.S. Intel has gotten redundant and overweight (which is not necessarily a bad thing, as Dan Drezner pointed out earlier this week), but that this redundancy is costing American taxpayers billions upon billions of dollars every year. It’s a quick and classic way to discredit a particular policy, and it’s also an easy way to criticize how things are being done inside the government. Reporters have done this many times in the past, for good or for ill.
I don’t know if Arkin and Priest have a partisan agenda here, but by drilling the money aspect into this investigation, it gives you a reason to believe that they both may be trying to expose their own true feelings.
This isn’t an exercise in poor judgment, because democracy is all about conflicting views and outspoken mantra. It’s just another factor to consider as you read the article.
-Daniel R. DePetris
**Comments courtesy of Dan Drezner, Thomas G. Mahnken, and Peter Feaver**
We have all heard about China’s rapid rise as a world power. Economically, China is projected to pass the United States as the world’s largest economy by 2040; politically, China is projecting itself to be the most influential state on the Asian continent…or at least in its immediate neighborhood.
India, too, is experiencing this same trend. The Indian population is expected to increase in the next decade, with more people entering into the types of jobs that actually make a decent living (like doctors, lawyers, computer engineers, and professors). The Indian GDP- currently a hefty $3.56 trillion- will likely improve as the Indian economy diversifies into different areas, particularly the technology sector which is already extremely popular among educated Indians. The CIA World Factbook confirms that the Indian economy grew by over 6 percent in 2009, which is an astounding rate given the global economic recession of the past two years.
It seems like the future for China and India is all roses. But what happens when energy demand starts to outweigh Beijing and New Delhi’s supply? India is already ranked 6th in oil consumption as of 2009, and China’s place on the consumption scale is even higher (they are in 3rd place, behind the European Union and the good old U.S.A.). Given future trends in population, oil imports will have to substantially climb if both countries want to maintain their economic success.
China and India could get on Russia’s good side in order to fulfill its energy needs, but dealing with those pesky Ruskies is a tricky business (they love to spy, and they have some interests that conflict with China in particular, like control of Central Asia). So once again, the Middle East- with all of its oil glory- is not going to go away. In fact, if you like to bet, place your wager on the Middle East being the most important region for at least the next ten or twenty years.
It’s going to be interesting to see how China and India- who have thus far been able to distance themselves from the turbulent politics of the Middle East- maneuver with governments in the Islamic world. Are they going to assert themselves, much like the United States has in the last three decades? Or will they take a more passive approach; building economic ties while keeping a distance from the region’s messy politics?
The second option is by the far the most desired. If there is anything that can be taken away from America’s involvement in the Middle East, it is the fact that the region’s politics is a terribly frustrating and spurious thing to deal with. The problem is that the same energy demands that drew the U.S. to the Persian Gulf could eventually drag China and India into a similar predicament.
Middle Eastern politics is full of cataclysmic situations where violence always seems to be one step away. Political turmoil between Sunnis and Shias in Iraq, the expansion of Iran’s nuclear program, and the continued frustration of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may eventually threaten the oil market. What would Beijing or New Delhi’s reactions be in this circumstance?
If the oil market is volatile, or if regional tensions somehow stop the oil from flowing at a relatively low cost, China or India may need to get involved in a much more aggressive fashion. One of the reasons why the United States decided to establish military bases across the Middle East (despite preserving a balance of power among the Middle Eastern states) was to protect oil interests and ensure that a conflict doesn’t get out of control. China and India (and perhaps Japan) may need to act in much the same way.
But in all honesty, Chinese and Indian foreign policy is not want I’m concerned with. Rather, the reason I’m bringing this whole affair to light is because China and India’s future energy needs could actually lift some of the burden from America’s strained shoulders.
Most Americans are sick and tired of acting as the world’s policemen, and some simply want to withdraw all together. Being the world’s primary guardian requires lots of manpower and lots of taxpayer money, and after three decades of filling that role, Americans want to cut their losses and stop spending money on what many deem to be hopeless ventures (like the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, although wouldn’t put myself in this camp).
A resurgent China and India in perhaps just the excuse Americans are looking for to finally cut back their forces and disengage militarily from the region. The United States will no longer feel the pressure of going it alone on some of the world’s most important security issues.
Whether this is what Washington is thinking is a whole other story. Lawmakers probably view a strong China as a threat to U.S. interests, and they may be right in some areas. But they should also remember that the U.S. has the strongest and most technologically advanced military in the world…not to mention the ability to influence countries indirectly through billions in economic assistance. A few Chinese soldiers won’t change that.
-Daniel R. DePetris
**Comments courtesy of Geoffrey Kemp of the Nixon Center. His article can be read on FP.com**
Of all the instruments used to determine what people are thinking, polling is the most widely used in social science and the easiest to conduct. But you have to be careful of the results, because polls are also used to bolster partisanship on certain issues (like war or health-care), or to damage a person’s reputation during an election cycle.
Take this poll by the USA Today, which is used by Third Way‘s Kyle Spector on why Americans still support President Obama on Afghanistan:
—A recent USA Today/Gallup poll found that 58 percent support the president’s timetable to begin withdrawing some troops in July 2011. And, although the question isn’t asked as frequently, other polls found significant majorities believe in the mission in Afghanistan even as they see U.S. efforts hitting obstacles. Sixty-one percent believe that “eliminating the threat from terrorists operating from Afghanistan is a worthwhile goal for American troops to fight and possibly die for,” and 76 percent believe what happens in Afghanistan matters to their security in the U.S.—
Poll results are only as accurate and reliable as the poll themselves. So when a poll asks a very specific question, geared towards a specific answer, like “eliminating the threat from terrorists operating from Afghanistan is a worthwhile goal,” the poll itself doesn’t really capture the real opinions of Americans. How can American citizens not respond positively to the question of eliminating terrorists? That’s like asking an American if he/she likes democracy, or giving a fat kid the choice between a piece of cake and a carrot stick. Obviously he’s going to choose the cake.
This is not to say that Third Way is a bad organization. Third Way has a great reputation in Washington D.C. But this poll is a little shaky. A real good question shouldn’t introduce bias in order to sway a respondent towards a particular answer. All polling companies do this, of course, but that still doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.
-Daniel R. DePetris
**Comments courtesy of Kyle Spector of Third Way. His article appears on FP.com’s AfPak Channel**
One of the great things about having a blog is that you can publish what is “un-publishable” or rejected by newspapers and magazines. It provides a writer with a forum of expression that is wide open, even if other forums turn down what you have to say on a specific issue.
So when I found out that the Washington Post was going to pass up on my letter about an op-ed piece that one of their columnists wrote last week, I wasn’t really angry or disappointed (ok, maybe I was for a little bit…). The Post may have decided against it, but I still had the opportunity to release it in the blogosphere.
So here it is, word for word:
One of the main concerns about a nuclear-armed Iran is whether the United States would be able to contain what comes next. Charles S. Robb and Charles Wald made it abundantly clear in their July 9 op-ed (“Sanctions Alone Won’t Work on Iran”) that it is going to be exceedingly difficult- if downright impossible- for the international community to actually constrain the behavior of a newly-empowered Tehran.
Robb and Wald do make some intellectual observations about what could happen in the Middle East as a result of an Iranian bomb, such as a strengthened Hezbollah or a more violent Iraq. Yet they both conveniently neglect to mention the one concept that makes all of these consequences increasingly unlikely: nuclear deterrence.
Although the Islamic Republic of Iran is clearly different than the Soviet Union in an ideological sense, it is difficult to foresee how Tehran would be immune to a doctrine that has been successful at keeping nuclear peace for over six decades. Ever since its founding, Iran’s clerical leadership has demonstrated its obsession with self-preservation, whether it’s through harsh crackdowns on summer protestors or monetary and logistical support for unsavory characters in the Middle East.
Self-preservation is a sign of rationality. And this is precisely what Iran is: a rational state. “Overstepping its boundaries,” as Robb and Wald suggest, would not only produce a devastating international response. It would also destroy Iran’s Islamic government. The mullahs would surely want to avoid such an outcome.
-Daniel R. DePetris
After a short hour and 19 minute meeting at the White House, President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were quick to embrace one another in front of reporters, showing the world that they have both decided to change their rhetoric towards one another and work together on a common goal of Middle East peace.
Like I said a few days ago before the meeting took place, this is precisely what the bilateral event was designed for. After a tumultuous eighteen months between Israel and its greatest ally (the United States)- including disagreements over Israel’s behavior with respect to the Palestinians- Obama’s staff made sure that this diplomatic exchange went as smoothly as possible. You may recall that the last U.S.-Israel meeting did not go very well…it went so badly, in fact, that the President deliberately kept the Israeli Prime Minister waiting in the lobby for a few hours and even refused to hold a joint news conference after the talk was completed.
Three months later, Obama’s mindset towards Israel and its Prime Minister has changed dramatically. The midterm elections are fast approaching, and the last thing Obama wants to do is jeopardize his party by appearing to be anti-Israeli. Plus, Republicans in recent months have been all over the President on his Middle East policy, accusing him of compromising U.S. security interests and letting his grudge with Netanyahu get too far. Given this atmosphere, the White House probably viewed this meeting as a political opportunity to show his solidarity with Israel in the hopes of stemming this criticism and shoring up Jewish support for Democrats ahead of the vote.
On the other side, Netanyahu faces a similar, yet different, domestic situation on the cusp of his Washington visit. He has been taking a beating from the international community, dovish Israeli political parties, and Arab leaders for his terrible track record at peace talks, whether this includes brandish statements towards the Palestinian leadership or actual policy moves that have weakened Palestinian trust. His endorsement of Israeli settlement building on occupied Palestinian land- which the international community deems illegal under international law- has driven a deep wedge between Israel and its greatest ally, donor, and patron. Israelis critical of Netanyahu were (and continue to be) afraid that his reliance on right-wing politicians has damaged Israeli credibility in the eyes of the region and in the eyes of the international community. Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren suggested as much a month ago, arguing that a “tectonic” shift is taking place between Washington and Tel Aviv on a number of important issues.
So both leaders had reasons for shaking hands and smiling in front of the cameras today. Both men, regardless of their experience, are confronting political pressures in their home countries. Netanyahu is hearing it from Jewish peace activists, and Republicans in the peanut gallery are heckling Obama. This could help explain why the U.S.-Israel meeting went without incident. Obama stated compassionately that he always had trust in Netanyahu, despite what the press had said, and that the U.S.-Israel relationship is stronger than it has ever been. Netanyahu returned the favor by endorsing Obama’s vision for a two-state solution to the conflict…something that he previously opposed.
But logistics and sugarcoating aside, the July 6 meeting still didn’t bridge the United States and Israel when it comes to policy. President Obama’s plan for a two-state solution depends primarily on the termination of Israeli settlement building, and a willingness by Netanyahu to show the Palestinians that he is serious about peace talks. This runs right into Netanyahu’s strategy, which is both pro-settler and hawkish in its origins. It’s one thing to say that you would like a quick and smooth end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which Netanyahu has expressed. But it’s quite another to actually progress towards that goal. Given his dependency on right-wing parties, I’m still not sure if Netanyahu is willing to sacrifice his political career for a successful Israeli-Palestinian resolution.
However, one thing is clear; if Israel refuses to renew its ban on new settlement building this September, all of this talk of peace is meaningless.
By the way, Obama declared that he wants Israelis and Palestinians to stop acting like children and address one another directly in just a few weeks time. But it’s hard to see this actually happening, both because Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is opposed to the idea as long as settlement construction continues, and because Palestinian negotiators are afraid that concrete issues (like security, borders, Jerusalem) will remain off the table.
-Daniel R. DePetris
Now that the Independence Day Holiday is over with, the White House is back to business as usual. The first item on the agenda is a major diplomatic meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on July 6; a meeting that will hopefully go much better than the previous two this year (one resulted in an embarrassing moment for Obama on Israeli settlements, and the other added to an already frosty relationship between Washington and Tel Aviv). What a way to get back to reality.
As usual, pundits and talking-heads across the political spectrum are gearing up for the meeting and speculating about what the final result between the two men will be. So naturally, I have to add my two cents in, although I’m neither a pundit or a talking-head…just a loud mouthed and opinionated blogger.
Nothing substantial can happen in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict unless the United States and Israel get on the same page on the most basic requirements for peace. Administration officials are acutely aware of this, so tomorrow’s diplomatic event will probably spend most of its time and energy on bridging these policy gaps, or at least portraying to the world that the U.S. and Israel are working towards the same goal.
Washington’s demands towards Israel and the Palestinians are still the same as they have ever been. With respect to Israel, the United States wants Netanyahu to cease illegal settlement building in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem), and review his Gaza policy, which has created a devastating humanitarian crisis for over one million Palestinians. Mahmoud Abbas’ job is to put an end to Palestinian incitement in his area of control (the West Bank). But to the dismay of many and to the surprise of none, all of these requirements are still unmet, for a number of specific reasons.
Prime Minister Netanyahu is afraid of taking the first big steps for peace, out of fear that his right-wing political allies would stab him in the back and facture his governing coalition. On the other side, Mahmoud Abbas has been powerless to eliminate the old Palestinian mindset of rejectionism in the West Bank. But this is not entirely his fault; there is still a large cadre of 20th century Palestinians in the P.A. that are suspicious of whatever Israel decides to do.
To think that a single meeting in Washington with the Israeli Prime Minister will solve any of these problems is a façade. In fact, it will be surprising if the Obama-Netanyahu meeting has any lasting effect on the conflict at all.
The funny thing is that Obama and Netanyahu understand this, so the July 6 event at the White House should perhaps be seen more as a P.R. stunt than the start of a new determination on Mideast peace.
My prediction: 1) the meeting will go well, both men will hold a joint press conference reiterating their friendship and their desire to end the conflict, and neoconservatives will end up blasting President Obama for not supporting the Israelis unconditionally. 2) Israel’s settlement policy will stay the same, but Netanyahu will end of scrapping some really big projects in East Jerusalem and the West Bank to show Obama he’s trying to act like a responsible partner. And 3) the Arab League will re-endorse the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative.
In other words, more of the same.
-Daniel R. DePetris
**Comments courtesy of Matthew Duss and David Halperin at FP.com**
When times are tough, families try to do anything they can to cut spending and save money. The privileges and treasures that often give us all a much needed break from our hectic lives- like going out to restaurants on the weekends or embarking on a long vacation at a tropical resort- are usually the first things that are sacrificed from the family budget. State governments too are forced to revamp and review their budgetary process when officials are strapped for cash. Educational programs may be eliminated to make way for more spending on social services, or taxes may be added onto specific products (like soda and alcohol) in order to throw more money at a growing deficit problem. Unfortunately, these same actions tend to marginalize and anger the same people that the state is supposed to serve, putting politicians in an uncomfortable and awkward position.
Given the horrible economic situation that the country is experiencing today, and the terrible unemployment rate that is hurting close to ten percent of American families, politics in the United States is all about saving money. But with trillions of dollars in national debt, two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, an inefficient health care system and a draining social security system, how can the government actually stop spending without harming the national interest or placing even more hardship on the average American?
I’m really not sure what the answer is, which is why I’m still in school rather than campaigning for a seat on the town board, or running for office in Washington. Nevertheless, this doesn’t hamper my understanding on where we shouldn’t cut spending…our national security infrastructure. And we especially shouldn’t do it when one of the mainstream arguments for cutting the U.S. national security budget is misleading…”you have a greater chance of being killed in a car accident or struck by lighting than being a victim of terrorism.”
To be fair, I have to concede that this critique is not necessarily inaccurate. In fact, research and numbers support the claim. According to Harvard Professor Stephen Walt, an average of 40,000 Americans die in car crashes per year, a number that is over ten times that of the most deadly terrorist attack in U.S. history. This figure becomes even more astounding when officials go on the record and use it as a comparison to terrorism.
It’s called a diversionary tactic, and it’s a clever way of portraying an act of terrorism as so miniscule and rare that Americans would be foolish to worry about it. The fact that the United States hasn’t suffered a major terrorist attack on its soil since September 11 only adds to the strength of this type of argument.
But how can you compare traffic deaths to terrorism when both are unique problems, with totally different motivations resulting in totally different situations? One is the result of careless driving and/or bad weather (in addition to other factors), while the other is the result of a coordinated and premeditated act of violence aimed to intimidate and instill fear. Using this comparison only focuses on the numbers while ignoring the circumstances and surroundings that make terrorism such a horrendous and psychologically devastating method.
More importantly, using the traffic-to-terrorism metaphor runs the risk of “dumbing down” the whole issue of terrorism and turning back the clock to a pre- 9/11 way of thinking; that somehow the United States is immune to the violence that has plagued so many other countries and killed so many of its citizens.
The United States has not suffered an act of foreign terrorism on its soil since September of 2001 (notice how I say foreign terrorism. Remember Maj. Nidal Hassan?). This is obviously something that we should all be celebrating. Part of this is due to luck, part of this is due to the tremendous talent of our national security officials and our military, and part of this is due to the way terrorists have chosen to operate in today’s global environment (a number of experts believe that Al’Qaeda, for instance, is focusing more of its energies on multiple, small-scale attacks against Americans than a single large and coordinated 9/11-style strike). Whatever the cause of this nine-year terror free reign, our recent successes should not be used as a rationale for slashing our defense and security budget. This is almost akin to shutting down the NYPD just because crime in New York City dropped.
Focusing on hard statistics is deceiving for another reason as well; depending on the specific organization and what they are trying to accomplish, the physical destruction of property and the killing of unarmed civilians could be secondary to the psychological impact of an attack. Look at what happened on Christmas Day when Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried to take down a passenger jet heading to Detroit. On a technical level, he failed, but judging from Washington’s schizophrenic reaction, his operation could still be considered a success. AQAP (Al’Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) certainly thought it was, and so did Osama bin-Laden, who hailed the Nigerian terrorist “a hero” to his fellow Muslims.
Can you really compare car accidents to terrorist attacks? I guess you can, but it’s really apples to oranges isn’t it? Of course, there is more behind the numbers when we talk about traffic accidents as well, like how a family’s life is affected when a relative’s life is lost. But the same is true for terrorism, except terrorist attacks have a toll on the national psyche that traffic deaths do not.
-Daniel R. DePetris
Boy was I wrong on my prediction.
In a publicized address to the nation Wednesday afternoon, President Barack Obama accepted General Stanley McChrystal’s resignation, citing the commander’s “poor judgment” over the Rolling Stone article. Sure, the General was let go because of a juvinile act of insubordination, but can you blame the president for making this decision? If I was in his shoes, I may have made the same exact judgment. The last thing the United States needs is a general who throws insults at the upper echelons of the White House national-security staff. Remarks like those tend to divide an administration, and a divided administration is not what you want when cooperation is a must in a conflict as complicated as Afghanistan.
But in a way, the McChrystal firing is only a sub-headline to a much larger story. Is this going to affect the way the U.S. Military fights the war? More importantly, will the McChrystal removal make the enemy more confident about its own operations in the war effort?
The answer to the latter is absolutely. Newsweek reports that Taliban commanders have been watching and listening with glee over the political firestorm that is occurring in Washington as a result of McChrystal’s comments. To them, a split in America’s leadership only brings positivity to their own ranks, reiterating the belief that the United States has no strategic direction inside Afghanistan. American infighting over the course of the war only adds skepticism among NATO allies as well, some of whom are withdrawing their entire troop contingent this summer (like the Netherlands and Canada). And sadly, Taliban commanders may be just in celebrating McChrystal’s removal…the American public is just about sick and tired of Afghanistan, and the White House is undergoing a tremendous amount of criticism about the lack of military and political success within the country as a whole.
The former question (is this going to affect the way the U.S. Military fights the war?) is a much more difficult one to answer. Tactics probably won’t change very much, because the man who reinvented counterinsurgency doctrine (General David Petraeus) has been tapped to takeover the U.S. Command. Both Petraeus and McChrystal are highly supportive of counterinsurgency, with Petraeus turning Iraq around with the same strategy a few years earlier and McChrystal following Petraeus’ lead in Afghanistan during his tenure. So “winning hearts and minds” (whatever that might entail at this point) is still the name of the game.
The problem is accessibility. McChrystal had a very close relationship with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the only official who was quick to lend his personal support to the general after the Rolling Stone story was published online. The two men were more than respectful to one another, and Karzai has frequently hinted that McChrystal was the only American he could trust in the entire campaign. Petraeus now has the unfortunate task of rebuilding this trust, which is absolutely key if the U.S. wishes to establish a semi-functioning national government in Kabul (which might not be possible anyway, given Afghanistan’s history). But if his record is anything to go by, this probably won’t be much of an issue for Petraeus; many Middle Eastern leaders already view him for what he is, which is an honest and intelligent person.
What McChrystal will do next is anyone’s guess. He has a lot of empty time to fill, so maybe he’ll just retire into the sunset (although his roots in the special-forces might prompt him to stay). But the narrative just got a little more interesting.
One more question to consider: Did Holbrooke and U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry have a say during this entire process? Considering that both men have had public disagreements with McChrystal in the past, I wouldn’t doubt it.
-Daniel R. DePetris
Most of the time, honesty is the best policy in life. If you lie to your parents and do something behind their back, chances are that you’ll escape a much harder punishment if you confront them and admit your mistakes. And in the court of law, if you are suspected, charged, and tried of murder, you will probably end up with a much better sentence if you simply admit the crime to the judge rather than wasting taxpayer money on a drawn out trial.
But wars are extenuating circumstances. Killing people in mass quantities can hardly be considered a normal part of everyday life. So perhaps this is why General Stanley McChrystal’s remarks yesterday about President Obama and his staff are so disturbing and dangerous; they reveal a thought process that not only hurts the war effort and divides the upper echelons of the U.S. command, but embarrass the entire civil-military establishment.
The story I’m obviously referring to is a new piece by Rolling Stone Magazine that will be hitting shelves this Friday, in which the top U.S/NATO Commander in Afghanistan directs some pointed insults to his superiors in the White House. Some of these comments could be contained if they focused on a single individual. But this article is going to pretty difficult to contain and sweep under the rug, especially when every major Obama official- including President Obama himself- involved in Afghan policy was mentioned in a negative light.
The article in Rolling Stone is pretty long, and I suspect that most people won’t have time to read the entire thing…although it is a page-turner. But here are the quotes that really distinguish the controversy from the jargon, and get the General in some real trouble (courtesy of Politico):
“The article, titled “The Runaway General,” appears in the magazine later this week. It contains a number of jabs by McChrystal and his staff aimed not only at the president but also at Vice President Joe Biden, special envoy Richard Holbrooke, Karl Eikenberry, the ambassador to Afghanistan, and others.
McChrystal described his first meeting with Obama as disappointing and said that Obama was unprepared for the meeting.
National Security Adviser Jim Jones is described by a McChrystal aide as a “clown” stuck in 1985.
Others aides joked about Biden’s last name as sounding like “Bite me” since Biden opposed the surge.”
And from FP.com: “Some of the harshest criticism was reserved for Karl Eikenberry, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, whose leaked memos cast doubt on Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s trustworthiness as an ally. McChrystal said he felt “betrayed” by the ambassador, and that the leaked memos “covers his flank for the history books. Now if we fail, they can say ‘I told you so.”
Keep in mind that this isn’t the first time the top General has gotten himself in hot water with the White House. Last September, when President Obama was determining a new policy for the war, McChrystal publicly stated that he would not accept a plan to reduce U.S. combat troops in Afghanistan…a plan that VP Biden endorsed. During that time, the President recalled the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen to show his displeasure, and to basically tell him to keep a lid on McChrystal.
This time, however, the President has recalled McChrystal directly, ordering him to fly from Afghanistan to Washington for a meeting today. Is the U.S. about to see a change of command in Afghanistan? Tom Ricks seems to think so.
My bet is that McChyrstal will offer his resignation, but the President will refuse to take it…you know, for the sake of the mission.
-Daniel R. DePetris
I’ve spent a lot of time on this blog about Afghanistan and Pakistan…so much time, in fact, that I sometimes think I’ve exhausted everything I have to say about the subject. But my focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan has always remained consistent over the past year, the main one being that both nations are crucial to America’s counterterrorism efforts. And both countries, by the way, have taken on such an importance to U.S. foreign policy that the last two administrations have spent enormous amounts of presidential resources on Afghan and Pakistani relations.
But my lack of clarity and my writer’s block on “AfPak” quickly disappears when I hear the same old questions being asked in the press. Why is the U.S. in Afghanistan? Why is NATO struggling to defeat the Taliban? Why is the insurgency spreading despite thousands of American troops on the ground? And why is Osama bin-Laden still at large, sitting in a cave somewhere after close to a decade of being America’s number one enemy?
All the questions may be different in some capacity, and some are actually reminiscent of doubts Americans had before September 11. But even with these supposed differences, the answer comes back to a single country that has yet to show its full capacity, but could improve the situation remarkably if they decided to cooperate in a wholehearted way. That nation is Pakistan.
The United States and NATO will be hard-pressed to achieve anything in Afghanistan if Pakistan’s security services refuses to get on board with what Washington is trying to accomplish. In fact, Pakistan’s unhelpful behavior over the last nine years is the major reason why the U.S. and its allies are fairing badly in southern Afghanistan today. Of course, this is not the only reason; a faulty war plan and an artificial timetable for withdrawal also make the job of securing Afghanistan that much more difficult (the Taliban can basically pack it in and lay low until July of next year, when the coalition pulls out).
Yet even with these mistakes (which are of America’s doing), you have to wonder if the war would be going as badly today if the Pakistanis were embracing the same strategy as the Americans.
But the causes behind Pakistan’s floundering are well known. Like the Taliban, the Pakistani Government is planning for an Afghanistan that is largely free of American (and western) influence, and the best way to do that is by solidifying a partnership with a group that has the strength and appeal to help them achieve their objectives. Islamabad is looking towards the future and trying to determine what the best course of action in order to suit their own security interests in a post-American Afghanistan. Virtually everyone in the region, from the mullahs of Tehran to the Chinese, is expecting the United States to leave the region next summer, consistent with Obama’s stated timeline. So it shouldn’t come as a shock that Pakistan is trying to get a head start over other powers in South Asia, even if this means pursuing a policy that is contradictory to America’s current position.
Today, the Taliban Movement is Pakistan’s number-one partner in Afghanistan, and historically, it has been Pakistan’s most reliable partner for the last decade and a half. Speculation aside, chances are that the Taliban would have probably died out by now if it wasn’t for the billions of dollars in military assistance that Pakistan’s gave them over the last 15-odd years. Taliban fighters have always been perceived by the Pakistani Military as a proxy force against foreign entities inside Afghanistan, as well as a hedge against an expanding Indian presence.
The sad part is that everyone pretty much knows this already, yet are still scared to admit that the situation in Afghanistan will stay the same unless Pakistan’s grievances are met.
So what can the U.S. do to reverse the tide and possibly gain Pakistan’s valuable support? Given Pakistan’s paranoia over anything Indian, the logical answer would be an American led initiative to roll back Indian influence inside Afghanistan. But it’s quite obvious that India wouldn’t accept such a proposal (would you!). Plus, India is one of America’s closest allies in South Asia, so the idea that the United States would jeopardize this relationship by asking the Indians to limit their freedom of movement is probably far-fetched anyway.
The only answer I see that could convince the Pakistanis to cooperate in Afghanistan (and against terrorism in general) is by threatening to sever (or actually severing) American military support to the regime. Islamabad is dependent on Washington for billions in military and civilian aid, the latest being a $7.5 billion American-led initiative to strengthen Pakistan’s educational system and basic infrastructure. Some see this money as a waste, but it could be turned into an opportunity for the U.S. if utilized correctly. Nothing exerts pressure over an ally than the diversion of money. Maybe its time to give the Pakistanis an ultimatum; help us achieve a somewhat stable, Al’Qaeda-free buffer zone in Afghanistan or risk losing American protection.
Is this a politically viable proposal? Considering the current atmosphere on Capital Hill, probably not. I’m guessing that no representative or senator wants to endorse a major reversal in policy ahead of the midterm elections. But what other solution is there? I’m open for suggestions, and so is the White House.
-Daniel R. DePetris
**Comments courtesy of Peter Feaver at FP.com**