Published: November 21st, 2011
Author: Mary KaszynskiLast week, we noted that most of the GOP presidential candidates don’t seem to be on the same page as the American public when it comes to the war in Afghanistan. This week, however, we have a more encouraging sign that some members of Congress are listening.
The indication that support for ending the war in Afghanistan came in the form of an amendment to the National Defense Authorization bill, introduced by Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon. Merkley, a Democrat, was joined by two Republicans (Rand Paul, Kentucky, and Mike Lee from Utah) and five Democrats (Tom Udall of New Mexico, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, New York’s Kirsten Gillibrand, Dick Durbin of Illinois, and Iowa’s Tom Harkin) in sponsoring the amendment, a Sense of the Congress on Transition of Military and Security Operations in Afghanistan.The amendment (text available here) notes the continued high costs of continuing the war in Afghanistan, the fact that the primary US objectives have already been achieved, and that the US “will continue to support the development of Afghanistan with a strong diplomatic and counterterrorism presence in the region” even after troops are withdrawn. It calls on the president to plan an expedited timetable – bringing troops home earlier than the currently planned 2014.
The Merkley amendment represents the growing momentum in efforts to end the war. If passed, it would be a tremendous achievement.
As always, however, there are several caveats. First, this amendment is simply a “sense of” resolution. It is not legally binding, as the text makes very clear:
“It is the sense of Congress that…the President should expedite the transition of the responsibility for military and security operations in Afghanistan to the Government of Afghanistan…” [emphasis added]
Sense of the Congress resolutions may create political pressure for the administration, but have no direct effect on policy.
Secondly, even if the amendment is passed and even if it does create political space for an accelarated drawdown, it may be too little too late. If momentum for ending the drawdown is growing, there are signs that the opposition is growing stronger as well. Afghanistan’s recent Loya Jirga laid the groundwork for a ten-year strategic agreement with the US that could allow US troops to remain in the country long after 2014.
Speaking of the drawdown deadline, it’s far from clear what is supposed to happen by December 2014, the date which President Obama established as the goal for removal of all United States combat troops from Afghanistan and the transition to local security forces.
The Merkley amendment says that “President Obama has established a goal of removing all United States combat troops from Afghanistan by December 2014.” Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michèle Fluornoy has a completely different take on the 2014 deadline:
“2014 is not a withdrawal date,” she said in a recent interview. “It’s an inflection point where we put Afghans firmly in the lead and we step back into a consistently supporting role, but with much lower numbers of troops.”
Those who want to prolong the war are gearing up for a long debate. Passing the Mekley amendment would be a welcome step, but it is just one step. Ending the war will require many more.
Published: June 22nd, 2011
Author: Matthew Hoh
Matthew Hoh – Afghanistan Study Group Director
As he was announcing his second increase in troops for Afghanistan in December 2009, President Obama promised that by July 2011 those troops would begin coming home. As relayed by Bob Woodward’s book, Obama’s Wars, we know the president was skeptical about the United States’ war effort in Afghanistan. Now, as we review the results of that policy, we find his skepticism justified and his call for a drawdown prescient.
President Obama announced his first surge of 20,000 troops in spring 2009. Pushing American forces well above the 50,000 mark and reinforcing a counterinsurgency campaign, he escalated a war entering its fourth decade for the Afghan people.
Thousands of Marines and soldiers were rushed in, with the announcement that they were there to ensure free and fair Afghan elections. That summer, these troops found an insurgency fueled by resentment of their presence. Either because of hostility to foreign occupation or because our troops simply sided with someone else’s rival, akin to supporting just one side in a Hatfield-McCoy feud, 2009 became the deadliest year of the war, doubling the amount of American dead in 2008.
Meanwhile, the fire hydrant-like stream of dollars, being pumped into the second most corrupt nation in the world , seemed to purchase only further grievances among the population against a government radiantly kleptokratic. When President Hamid Karzai blatantly stole the elections in August, American officials were forced to abandon any narrative of Americans fighting and dying for democracy in Afghanistan. Then, in October, the president’s National Security Advisor, Jim Jones, announced that al-Qaeda had fewer than 100 members in Afghanistan.
However, given little political cover from the left, feeling little political pressure from the right and receiving nothing but a choice of small, medium or large escalation of the war by the Pentagon, President Obama in December 2009, ordered 30,000 more troops and billions of dollars into what soon would become America’s longest war.
Predictably, by doubling-down on a policy that had proved counter-productive, betrayed our national values and failed to inflict damage on al-Qaeda, we went from being waist-deep to chest-deep in quicksand.
This past year surpassed 2009 as the deadliest year of the conflict, killing 57 percent more American service members.
Tragically, but unsurprisingly, 2011 has been even more deadly. Insurgent attacks from January to March increased nearly 50 percent from the same period in 2010, while American deaths from March to May of this year increased 41 percent from last spring’s totals.
Nationwide, a U.S.-led campaign of night raids on homes has terrorized families, while a massive nation-building program funded by U.S. taxpayers has enriched a corrupt few and disenfranchised a poor majority. Again, betraying our own values, we looked the other way when elections were stolen for the second time in as many years. The number of civilian deaths are on pace to surpass the totals from 2010, the deadliest year of the war for civilians since 2001. The result: Eight in ten Afghan men now say the U.S. presence is bad for Afghanistan.
Al-Qaeda has not existed in any meaningful capacity in Afghanistan since we successfully scattered them in 2001. Over the last decade, they have evolved into an increasingly flat or networked organization(s) of individuals and small cells around the globe that is most successfully attacked through good intelligence, international law-enforcement cooperation and surgical-strikes, such as the raid against Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan. Our Afghan war policy does not affect al-Qaeda.
American troops killed or maimed in Afghanistan and others who have returned home with physical and mental injuries, increasing numbers of whom are taking their own lives, cannot be said to have made a worthy sacrifice. We must acknowledge to families that their losses did not prevent another September 11th.
Moreover, our policies have destabilized the region, most notably in Pakistan, a nuclear nation with 170 million people.
Indeed, President Obama was right to be skeptical.
It is in the United States’ moral, fiscal and security interests to drawdown its forces and de-escalate the Afghan war.
That drawdown should be significant — removing the most recent 30,000 surge troops by the end of 2011 and reducing to a total of fewer than 30,000 troops by the end of 2012. Combined with sincere political efforts in Afghanistan and the broader region, and by maintaining a focus on al-Qaeda, the United States can move Afghanistan and the region toward stability.
Unfortunately, it is expected that President Obama will announce this evening a withdrawal of 30,000 troops over 18 months. Such a withdrawal, particularly without a change in strategy commensurate with America’s actual interests in Afghanistan, will only bring us back to where we in December 2009. Further, an 18 month long process will push the next decision point on the war to January 2013, effectively punting the war from the US’s 2012 election cycle. By not making significant cuts in our troops in Afghanistan and no real changes in our strategy, we will continue to be stuck in Afghanistan’s quicksand for years to come.
Published: June 1st, 2011
Author: Will Keola Thomas
Will Keola Thomas – Afghanistan Study Group
Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty has been on a foreign policy tear since beginning his campaign for the White House. In brandishing his foreign policy credentials (such as…<cough> “governor” <cough>), Pawlenty is apparently attempting to fill a void, which some observers have noticed among the Republican candidates, a lack of experience in international affairs.
If Pawlenty’s performance so far is any indication, the void remains.
“You may have learned it on the playground, you may have learned it in business, sports. You may have learned it in some other walk of life, but it’s always true. If you’re dealing with thugs and bullies, they understand strength. They don’t respect weakness.”
Okay, so Pawlenty admitted he was oversimplifying in the interest of time when he distilled his foreign policy vision as “strength.” Still, staking out a “pro-strength” position isn’t going to put much distance between the former governor and his opponents.
But it was hard to hear the reporter’s question and Gov. Pawlenty is undoubtedly tired from all the campaigning and it’s just that one damned letter separating the two countries anyway, right? It wouldn’t be fair to judge the governor’s potential for strong leadership on foreign affairs based on such minor details.
The war in Afghanistan, on the other hand, is no detail. And when Pawlenty was asked what he would do if he found himself in charge of the longest war in U.S. history, a war that is currently maxing out the national credit card at almost $120 billion a year with no end in sight, the governor essentially dodges the question like it was a bullet in The Matrix.
From the Des Moines Register’s account of a meeting between Pawlenty and Republican party activists in Iowa:
“Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty said the country should try to decrease its troop levels in Afghanistan within the next two years, if conditions are right…
When addressing specific troop levels, Pawlenty deferred to recommendations from military leadership, who have said decisions should be based on conditions in the country.”
“…try to decrease troop levels…” + “…deferred to recommendations from military leadership…” + “…based on conditions in the country…” = PUNT
Why would he pass off responsibility for the most important foreign policy issue facing the country?
“Pawlenty said General David Petraeus told him during a visit to Afghanistan last fall that troop levels could be decreased in two years. Petraeus has since said the timeline could be shortened to about a year and a half.”
Come on, Governor…you fell for the “two-years” line? Man, that one is just plain tired.
Inside the Oval Office, Obama asked Petraeus, “David, tell me now. I want you to be honest with me. You can do this in 18 months?”
“Sir, I’m confident we can train and hand over to the ANA [Afghan National Army] in that time frame,” Petraeus replied.
“Good. No problem,” the president said. “If you can’t do the things you say you can in 18 months, then no one is going to suggest we stay, right?”
“Yes, sir, in agreement,” Petraeus said.
So much for projecting strength. Pawlenty is showing deference to the big boys and girls at the Pentagon before he even steps foot onto the presidential playground, Gov. Pawlenty is guaranteeing that if he is in charge the taxpayer’s lunch money is going to get “taken”.
New Poll Finds Record # of Americans Against War in Afghanistan: Obama and Boehner Still Leading from the Rear
Published: April 29th, 2011
Will Keola Thomas – Afghanistan Study Group
A Washington Post / ABC News poll released this week found that a record 49% of Americans disapprove of President Obama’s handling of the war in Afghanistan. Opposition to American involvement in the conflict is increasing more rapidly than ever before. Public disapproval has shot up 8 points since the previous WaPo / ABC poll was taken just three months ago.
These numbers highlight the sentiment of an American public that is connecting the dots between a strategically aimless war that will cost taxpayers almost $120 billion in its tenth (and most violent) year and a grinding economic recession at home. Two-thirds of Americans say the war in Afghanistan isn’t worth this cost in dollars and lives. And they’re right.
The poll numbers also represent an enormous opportunity for President Obama to lead. If Obama orders a truly “significant” withdrawal of troops in July he won’t be pandering to public opinion. On the contrary, Obama would be living up to the promise he made to the American public in December of ‘09 when he announced the troop surge.
And the political winds are at Obama’s back if he follows through. In February, the Democratic National Committee adopted a resolution which cited the 72% of Americans who want to speed up the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan in calling for a “significant and sizable reduction” in U.S. forces no later than July 2011. The DNC is responsible for getting Democrats, most notably President Obama himself, elected to office. They’ve read the tea leaves and recognize that the American public wants a focus on job creation and economic growth. These goals don’t jibe with the prosecution of trillion dollar land wars in Central Asia that produce no measurable improvements in national security. (Economic vitality, on the other hand, is the foundation of national security.)
Two weeks ago, Obama was quoted saying that this summer’s drawdown in troops would be significant and “not just a token gesture.” The Afghanistan Study Group has outlined what a significant reduction in troops would look like:
- a decrease of 32,000 troops by October of this year
- another decrease of 35,000 by July 2012
- leaving some 30,000 U.S. troops to train Afghan security forces, block a Taliban takeover and conduct operations against Al Qaeda cells leading up to the 2014 full transfer of security to Afghan control
- which will save taxpayers $60 – $80 billion a year while securing America’s vital national interests
To those who doubt this can be done while still achieving our core goals: please direct your attention to the withdrawal of US forces from the Pech Valley in eastern Afghanistan earlier this year. Also, note that former President Bush pulled out the 20,000 “surge troops” from Iraq within 18 months of announcing their deployment (this withdrawal was accomplished while Iraq was still extremely violent and far from stable). It has now been 24 months since the first surge of 20,000 troops was sent to Afghanistan.
What will Obama’s definition of “significant” look like? Matt Southworth of the Friend’s Committee on National Legislation put his training as a former U.S. Army intelligence analyst to work compiling a list of planned troop deployments for 2011. The number his research produced: somewhere between 9,000 – 12,000.
Obama could find a way to increase these numbers on the military’s planned re-deployment schedule. His recent shake-up of top national security officials might, if read in the most optimistic light, point in this direction. But as of now the summer drawdown looks as if the only “significant” thing it will provide is further evidence of Obama’s inability to counter the voices calling for an open-ended commitment to the war in Afghanistan.
In failing to bring America’s commitment to Afghanistan back into balance with its interests there, Obama will risk further alienating his already disaffected political base and will be handing Republicans an enormous opportunity in the 2012 elections.
This is evidenced by the WaPo / ABC poll numbers, which found that the spike in disapproval of the war is almost entirely due to a drop in support among conservatives. The poll found that disapproval is up 21% among Republicans, 12% among conservatives, and 11% among Tea Party supporters.
If Obama offers a token drawdown in Afghanistan he will be handing Republicans like House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) a shiny new gift horse with a bow tied around it for 2012.
Leave it to Rep. Boehner to look a gift horse in the mouth…and then kick it in the teeth.
Upon returning from a two-day public relations junket to Afghanistan Boehner told Obama that, “Any drawdown of U.S. troops must be based on the conditions on the ground, not political calculations.”
Such statements showcase the distinctive leadership style of those who make political calculations from the safety of the rear echelon. Oblivious both to the conditions on the ground in Afghanistan and the demands of the public at home to begin a withdrawal and put the full weight of our presence behind finding a political solution to this political conflict.
Political hopefuls for 2012 take note of the leadership vacancy. The American public is now accepting applications.
Published: February 25th, 2011
Author: Ed Kenney
Afghanistan Study Group Blogger
With all the hullabaloo around yesterday’s bombshell Rolling Stone piece about the U.S. Military using psy-ops on sitting members of Congress and their own Chair of the Joint Chiefs, one key story has gone relatively unnoticed. I’ll start by saying that Mike Huckabee has taken some pretty far-out positions on foreign policy. In 2009, he famously said that there is no room in the middle of the Jewish homeland for a Palestinian state. Early this year, he elaborated on this point by suggesting that the Palestinians repatriate to Muslim lands.
But give the Huck some credit. He is the second potential GOP presidential candidate after Ron Paul to express doubt about the war in Afghanistan. At a session with journalists sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor, Huckabee reportedly asked whether there was a viable exit strategy.
From the Washington Post:
“What’s the endgame we’re playing here?” [Huckabee] told reporters at a session hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. “I can’t see a conclusion.”
This is an important question. If our goal is a “Valhalla in Afghanistan”, the U.S. will never complete this mission. If the goal is to protect the U.S.’s vital national interests, a change strategy can achieve this objective at considerably less cost in both blood and treasure. Hopefully, Huckabee’s openness to ask these hard questions will encourage a real debate in the Republican presidential primary about the wisdom of our strategy in Afghanistan. It’s perhaps the best opportunity yet to educate the American people about what’s actually going right and wrong, and to debate what the best course for American national security is going forward.
Kudos to Huckabee.
Published: November 5th, 2010
Author: Edward Kenney
Afghanistan Study Group Blogger
Yesterday was the 64th annual Middle East Institute conference entitled Rethinking the Middle East in Transition. The conference included panels on non-state armed actors and Af-Pak security.
al Qaeda Consensus — Pakistani Nukes may now be the U.S. Security Issue at Stake in Afghanistan
One positive outcome from the Middle East Institute Conference was a consensus that the al Qaeda threat in Afghanistan is largely imagined. Kilcullen said it was unlikely that al Qaeda would leave its relatively safe sanctuaries in Pakistan, even if the Taliban were to emerge victorious. Pillar argued that geographic-centric approach to fighting terrorism is misguided as the terrorist can always flee Pakistan toward Yemen, Somalia or a dozen other countries. Biddle’s critique of Pillar emphasized the nuclear threat in Pakistan as the main rational for U.S. occupation of Afghanistan, not al Qaeda. Clearly the importance of the global terrorism network has greatly diminished as a reason for war.
Pakistan, however, remains the sticking point between those in favor of expanding the war, and those who want to pull out. For those who believe in Pakistani connection, two questions must be answered. Where is the compelling evidence that Pakistan is more stable today than it was prior to the U.S. invasion? Most of the evidence suggests the opposite. Our drone attacks are creating civil unrest in border regions; our military offensives in Afghanistan are pushing Taliban members across the border into Pakistan. Secondly, if U.S. “victory” is so critical to Pakistani security, why is it that Pakistani security forces are actively aiding the Afghan Taliban? Unless you believe that the ISI is somehow irrational, this explanation does not add up.
Cynicism for Reconciliation in Afghanistan
It was discouraging to hear two leading experts on insurgency naysay the prospects for reconciliation. Mitchell Reiss argued that several critical factors are absent in Afghanistan for peace talks to hold much promise. The U.S. lacks a clear partner for peace among the insurgents. Furthermore the Taliban believe they can win and therefore have no incentive to come forward and negotiate. David KilCullen basically agreed with Reiss’s analysis. Despite acknowledging reports that 90% to 95% of the Taliban are “reconcilable”, Kilcullen argued that negotiations were unlikely to work as long as the Taliban have the upper hand. He also argued that the combination of military action and diplomacy could create a “virtuous cycle” whereby radical insurgents are isolated with military strikes creating more space for moderates to reconcile and further isolating the radicals.
Reiss’s and Kilcullen’s analysis suffers from logical inconsistencies pointed out by Afghanistan Study Group Member Paul Pillar: If both sides pledge to only negotiate from a position of strength, the net result is no negotiations ever. Fighting an insurgency is a zero-sum game: one side’s strength is another side’s weakness. There is really only one requirement for negotiations to go forward: both sides must recognize that the costs of war exceed any potential benefits. This is a far lower barrier and one that, after thirty years of warfare, has been long surpassed for most Afghans.
Reiss’s other metric does have some merit, but likewise should not block the U.S. from aggressively pursuing a peace deal. Although it is true that a genuine partner for peace in Afghanistan is certainly a critical factor, this is something that the U.S. won’t know until it sits down and begins to negotiate with top level Taliban leaders—you are certainly not going to find an Afghan Gerry Adams by killing off one quarter of the Taliban’s military commanders and trying to buy off the rest.
On the subject of killing off insurgents, Kilcullen’s “virtuous cycle” sounds great in theory, but the facts suggest a far different situation. Evidence from Afghanistan shows that we are in an “un-virtuous cycle”. As the war expands and the more moderate Taliban commanders are killed, younger more radical Pashtuns are promoted and the Quetta Shura’s ability to control the insurgency diminishes. Our continued military operations are hindering any prospect for a negotiated settlement, and the situation is likely to get worse not better as the fighting continues.
 In fact, as Reiss pointed out, it is unclear whether even Mullah Omar has the capability of implementing a cease fire. When I brought this same question up with Hekmatyar’s U.S. representative Daoud Abedi, he said that the Taliban could effectively end the insurgency “tomorrow”.
 It is not clear the Taliban could march in and take Kabul next year even if the U.S. were to cut and run. The absence of a quick and easy victory for either side suggests that there are incentives for both sides to enter negotiations.
U.S. Policy Supports Pyramid Scheme
No one at yesterday’s conference gave a more impassioned description of the governance problem facing U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan than Stephen Biddle from the Council on Foreign Relations. Biddle began his discussion by pointing out that General McChrystal’s COIN strategy places an unusually large emphasis on creating good governance. Biddle went on to describe the U.S.’s focus on building government-capacity as misguided. The local leaders are predatory having developed large networks aimed at extracting resources from Afghans, and U.S. policy makes matters worse by financially supporting a virtual pyramid scheme. The problem, as Biddle sees it, is not simply a lack of capability. Local leaders have malign intentions. Those who find themselves outside the patronage network lose everything: their land is stolen and they have no place to seek redress: the courts and political leaders are all in the predatory network and NATO is bankrolling it.
Anyone listening to Biddle would conclude that Counter Insurgency has zero prospects for success. But Biddle, despite his rhetoric, does not see the governance problem for what it is: a major and perhaps fatal impediment to our war strategy. Biddle’s recommendations are prosaic: since the root of the problem is that these local Afghan leaders are being empowered, the U.S. should stop sending them money.
There are at least two problems with Biddle’s recommendation. Firstly, as he himself admitted at the beginning of his talk, promoting governance is a critical—perhaps the critical—factor in a counter insurgency strategy. How can you promote governance while simultaneously refusing to work with local leaders? There is a fundamental contradiction here. Secondly, these local leaders have supporters and armed militias. If the U.S. money well runs dry, these networks will likely go to the Taliban. As numerous news stories have discussed, warlords control strategic areas of the countryside and often provide safe passage and assistance to NATO forces. For example, if the U.S. stops working with Commander Ruhullah, who is going to guarantee safe passage for convoys between Kabul and Kandahar. The factors lead me and others to conclude that a fundamental rethinking of the war is necessary.
More on the Election Significance
One likely outcome of Tuesday’s election that I forgot to mention in Wednesday’s recap is that congressional gridlock may force President Obama to devote more time to foreign affairs. Paul Pillar hopes that if he does, President Obama will rework the Afghan policy.
Published: November 4th, 2010
Author: Edward Kenney
Afghanistan Study Group Blogger
More Evidence that the War is Going Badly
Two stories this week exemplify some of the major obstacles the U.S. faces against the growing insurgency. The New York Times on Monday ran a story on “reverse” reintegration: A police force in Khogeyani abruptly switched sides to the Taliban:
“KABUL, Afghanistan — for months, American and Afghan officials have been promoting a plan to persuade masses of rank-and-file Taliban fighters to change sides and join the government. The tactic, known as “reintegration,” is one of the big hopes for turning the tide in the war. But the Taliban, it appears, have reintegration plans of their own. On Monday morning, they claimed to have put them into effect.
In Khogeyani, a volatile area southwest of the capital, the entire police force on duty Monday morning appears to have defected to the Taliban side. A spokesman for the Taliban said the movement’s fighters made contact with the Khogeyani’s police force, cut a deal, and then sacked and burned the station. As many as 19 officers vanished, as did their guns, trucks, uniforms and food.”
Last post, I argued that two metrics that the Pentagon uses, territory controlled by ISAF and number of insurgents killed, may not give a very accurate picture of the state of the war since fallen insurgents are easily replaced and territory ceded temporarily to the coalition will not pressure the Taliban so long as there are sanctuaries in Pakistan. One metric which should be used to judge success or failure of the strategy is the level of local cooperation with coalition forces. If the police force in Khgeyani is any indication, this critical metric is not looking so good.
A major part of winning the hearts and minds in Afghanistan—ensuring that local groups do not support or defect to the Taliban—is establishing good governance. For this reason, today’s report in the Washington Post is very disheartening. Karen DeYoung and Joshua Partlow call the Afghan governance of Kandahar “ineffectual” and “incapable of functioning”. Most of the governance in Kandahar has been run by the U.S. and coalition forces. This situation poses two problems. Firstly, as U.S. forces begin to pull out, there could be a significant erosion of public services; secondly the visible role of the United States in providing basic governance may well support the myth that the U.S. wants to permanently govern the country. Both of these factors will likely lead to increased strength for the insurgency.
These two stories demonstrate two fatal flaws in the counter insurgency strategy: no local support and no local governance.
What do the Midterms Mean for Afghanistan?
The effect of Tuesday’s Democratic drubbing on the Afghanistan War and U.S. foreign policy remains hard to predict. As many people have pointed out, the economy and not the war in Afghanistan was the major issue of this mid-term election. The new Republican members have no obvious unified position on Afghanistan. Some, such as Rand Paul may even find themselves allying with the antiwar progressives.
Republicans generally have been more willing to support President Obama’s expansion of war. During the war appropriations fight earlier this year, only 12 republicans opposed the bill compared to 102 democrats. Although some of the more strident anti-war democrats were voted out of office, such as Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold, many of the democratic congressmen skeptical about the war will return to congress. Out of the seventeen progressive democratic congressmen that signed a strong antiwar letter during the appropriations process one, Alan Grayson, lost their election.
The predominant evidence at this point suggests that the election will have a minor impact on Afghanistan and foreign policy. Stephen Walt argues that congress has very little control over U.S. foreign policy. Neither party has shown the stomach to withhold defense spending, the one area where congress can influence foreign policy. Yes, left wing democrats and the occasional libertarian will continue to oppose the war, blue dogs—now fewer in number—and republicans—now greater in number—will continue to support the war. But the main driver of policy will be results on the ground and public opinion. If the war continues to go badly and if U.S. support continues to erode, two increasingly likely outcomes; positions among the moderate members of congress may well shift. By then, these midterm elections will have faded in memory.
Last Weeks’s Terror Plot and Afghanistan
There have been several excellent posts from members of the Afghanistan Study Group on last week’s terror plot.
Paul Pillar discusses the how thwarted terrorist attacks are “scored” in Washington and asks why the Christmas Day Bomber was portrayed as a great failure, whereas the package bombers a great success for the Obama administration. In a previous post on the same subject Pillar suggests that the U.S.’s focus on Al Qaeda members in the Af-Pak region is misguided. The next attack against the U.S. is as likely to be homegrown individuals with unknown ties to al Qaeda using basic technology (the Ted Kaczinski Model), as it is to be an elaborate plot orchestrated from Waziristan a la 9-11.
Stephen Walt largely agrees with Pillar’s analysis. He argues that the attempted terrorist attack is yet another piece of evidence against the notion that the war in Afghanistan is an effective way to fight al Qaeda. He concludes that solid police work and intelligence gathering, not war, is perhaps the best defense against global terrorism.
Published: November 3rd, 2010
Author: Matthew Hoh
By the time this is posted and emailed to the Afghanistan Study Group list (and thank you to those who have subscribed), the polls for America’s 2010 mid-term elections will have closed. This year’s mid-term elections bore many similarities to our nation’s last mid-term in 2006: record levels of campaign spending, anger and disappointment at the President translated into popular sentiment against the incumbent party (and incumbents in general), conversation and debate between campaigns possessing the maturity and intellectual rigor of kids yelling at each other on the playground, etc. However, the lack of debate on the war in Afghanistan, 6 of 10 Americans think is now a lost cause, which is scheduled for review by a divided and conflicted Administration, is striking. All the more striking because the war in Iraq was a significant reason, if not the reason, for many voters to push the Democrats into control of Congress in 2006.
The Democrats’ win in 2006 provided the political incentive to force President Bush to adjust US strategy in Iraq. This included the resignation of Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and the adoption of recommendations from the Iraq Study Group, which included a focused troop surge for a limited duration (18 months, same time frame as President Obama instructed last December for the surge in Afghanistan), and the acceptance of a roadmap to transition Iraq to Iraqi control within a given timeframe. I have little doubt, in reality close to none, that had the 2006 mid-term campaign (starting in earnest in the fall of 2005) not had such a focus on Iraq, had the US voters not handed President Bush’s party a decisive loss in 2006, four years later we would still have American troops engaged in combat in the Euphrates and Tigris River Valleys of Iraq.
Of course, there are many factors why less than 1 in 10 Americans identified Afghanistan as being of primary concern in this year’s elections. Contrast the very real and personal effects of a depressed American economy to a war waged by a continually deployed professional military force that only 10 million Americans have any personal connection to, or contrast the circumstances for our initial involvement in Afghanistan as opposed to the false and unproven premises for our invasion of Iraq and I think you understand some of the reasons why voters were angry in 2006 and disinterested in 2010.
I’ve been told to expect both increased media and congressional attention to Afghanistan in the months ahead, particularly during next month’s White House review and in the springtime as we near President Obama’s supposed July 2011 date to transition to Afghan responsibility for the war and begin a withdrawal of US forces. However, and unless the exit polling proves me wrong, a significant portion of voters will have voted today without taking into consideration the 100,000 US troops fighting in Afghanistan, including the thousands that have been killed and wounded this year, or the $119 billion the US is planning to spend in FY 2011 in Afghanistan, a country with a GDP of $14 billion. The unfortunate reality is that neither our troops nor our money seriously effect al-Qaeda, the stated reason behind our continued involvement in Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda, whose most recent attack consisted of a lady Fed-Exing two bombs hidden in printer cartridges from Yemen. This is a fact that was not an important part of this year’s public debate and referendum. So, if the exit polls show in the next day or two that apathy among voters towards the war in Afghanistan held true, don’t expect the Administration to feel much compulsion to change a failed strategy as President Bush was forced to do in 2006
Matthew P. Hoh
Director, Afghanistan Study Group
Published: October 17th, 2010
Author: Tom Brokaw
Published: September 21st, 2010
Author: Warren Olney
Afghan officials are still counting the votes from this weekend’s parliamentary elections, marked by violence, a low turnout and widespread fraud. What are the possible consequences for US policy with troop strength rising to nearly 100,000 troops.