Permissible Arms

The World, Viewed from a Hotel Basement

I’m hoping to write more on CNAS’s fourth annual conference tomorrow, when my entire day doesn’t get devoted to live-tweeting the event! To read through the day, check out the #CNAS2010 tag on Twitter. But here’s a couple of my particular notes from the day.

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Tellis: Mutual suspicions between Pak & Ind over Afgh continue unabated. #CNAS2010 The existential battleground is emplaced in Afgh today.

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Okay, Richard Fontaine wins points for addressing Madam President. #CNAS2010

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Fontaine “…Accepting that a US presence in South Asia has become the new normal.” #CNAS2010

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India is unwilling to push Iran to the point where they might lose a potential ally; but India doesn’t want Iran to have nuclear weapons. #CNAS2010

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Flournoy: We are still trying to face 21st century challenges with Cold War systems and projects. #CNAS2010

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Flournoy: “We cannot keep spending more and more to get less and less.” #CNAS2010 as with everything, money talks.

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Fick: Rule #4 for future questions: No quoting TS Eliot! #CNAS2010

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Flournoy: “We have never resourced State to build an expeditionary civilian capacity.” #CNAS2010 There is not enough “word” in the world.

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Sanger: You tend to view the engagement strategy through the most challenging country…it’s only interesting if it’s difficult. #CNAS2010

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Cronin: We have a growing mismatch between our means and needs. #CNAS2010

There’s more at the hashtag, but that gives you a good idea of how the day went. I think overall it was a very strong series of panels, asking difficult questions and providing something of a roadmap towards answering them. We’re still left with a lot of uncertainty in a many different directions–how do we build up a civilian reconstruction program that we’ve never funded or incentivized, how do you balance talking to repressive regimes with the less accessible citizens of repressive nations, what will our conflict environment look like in the next several decades and how should we incorporate lessons learned from Iraq and Afghanistan–but I think it lived up to its playbill slogan of “Shaping the Agenda.”

More tomorrow.

Just turn off your phone. It’s not that hard.

I don’t care if the Army said it was nifty keen, I can’t get this stupid Lady Gaga song OUT OF MY HEAD and I’m blaming it on paratroopers.

Of note: Stephen McInerney’s article on budget & appropriations for the Middle East in 2011. His analysis notes the increases in funding for Yemen, the withdrawal of support to Iraq in line with the withdrawal of assets and personnel, and the continued increase in funding to Afghanistan/Pakistan. The URL itself is actually a nice brief on Obama’s budget submission, but there’s a longer PDF as well. Shadi Hamid at Democracy Arsenal responds, noting the Problem of Egypt.

USAID has released a couple of reports of note, including a report on internally displaced persons in Iraq, and human resources and logistical support in Afghanistan (both PDF). The GAO has also released Operation Iraqi Freedom: Actions Needed to Facilitate the Efficient Drawdown of U.S. Forces and Equipment from Iraq, which is sure to be a scintillating read, and a report on the problems of aid and contracting in Iraq and Afganistan (both PDF, more at Diplopundit).

Break the Kandahar Mafia:

It’s even worse than that, according to an in-depth poll of Kandahar residents completed last month for the U.S. and ISAF command. Conducted by U.S. Army human terrain teams, the poll found that corruption is viewed as “a widespread problem,” and that “most people have sympathy for the reasons AGEs (anti-government elements, i.e., the Taliban) take up arms against the government.”

A majority of the 1,994 people surveyed said a lack of security was their biggest problem, and that they felt danger mostly from Afghan army and police checkpoints and convoys.

The poll found “almost universal agreement that negotiation with the Taliban is preferable to continued fighting.”

At leas the Human Terrain Teams are working? I feel like my comparison of Ahmed Wali Karzai to Don Corleone is a little more on the nose now. From the Washington Post, the US is shoring up support the actual, technical governor of Kandahar:

In the hope of pushing power brokers such as Karzai to the sidelines, American officials are trying to infuse Wesa and his government with more clout and credibility. They see better governance as a central part of a U.S.-led effort that has brought thousands of troops to the region for a summer offensive against the Taliban.

But the government headed by Wesa has severe problems of its own. It remains understaffed, is viewed by many as corrupt and does not reflect the province’s tribal mix. Karzai and other allegedly corrupt political bosses who dominate Kandahar show no sign of giving way.

“Wesa is a weak governor,” said Rahmatullah Raufi, a former general and Kandahar governor. “If Ahmed Wali Karzai wants him to die, he will die. If he says, ‘Live,’ he’ll live.”

Isn’t that something. If it looks like a warlord, quacks like a warlord, it must be…

AP via Stars & Stripes covers the perils of contracting in Afghanistan:

Afghan companies often bid on projects that they don’t have the money or skills to complete, Wilson said. Quality inspectors end up teaching the basics of drainage or safe electrical wiring.

Small Afghan companies are also under more pressure to pay bribes to local authorities than large international firms, Wilson said. The military has received invoices for as much as $40,000 from Afghan contractors for bogus building permits, he said. International companies either have the power to say no or don’t even try to get their money back from the military.

On NATO bases, hours are also lost each day getting Afghan workers through security.

Despite the problems, Wilson says the “Afghan First” program is the right approach given the new focus on winning over the population. The problem is that this year, in the midst of a troop surge, there’s just too much to build.

Makes you wonder how much of the appropriations for Afghanistan in the budget above will actually be used for stated purposes.

Anthony Cordesman issued a pointed critique of the Obama administration’s communications efforts (or lack thereof) on Afghanistan et cetera via CSIS; some good notes, though I wonder what, if anything, Cordesman might have changed if this had been released after the Afghanistan report instead of before.

In addition to his whirlwind speaking schedule, Secdef Gates published an article in the May/June Foreign Affairs, Helping Others Defend Themselves (PDF). It effectively articulates what Gates (and presumably Clinton) would like to see change in the duration of their time with the Obama administration, perhaps in part from the conclusion of the QDR and QDDR.

The United States now recognizes that the security sectors of at-risk countries are really systems of systems tying together the military, the police, the justice system, and other governance and oversight mechanisms. As such, building a partner’s overall governance and security capacity is a shared responsibility across multiple agencies and departments of the U.S. national security apparatus — and one that requires flexible, responsive tools that provide incentives for cooperation. Operations against extremist groups in the Philippines and, more recently, Yemen have shown how well-integrated training and assistance efforts can achieve real success.

But for all the improvements of recent years, the United States’ interagency tool kit is still
a hodgepodge of jury-rigged arrangements constrained by a dated and complex patchwork of authorities, persistent shortfalls in resources, and unwieldy processes. The National Security Act that created most of the current interagency structure was passed in 1947, the last major legislation structuring how Washington dispenses foreign assistance was signed by President John F. Kennedy, and the law governing U.S. exports of military equipment was passed in 1976. All the while, other countries that do not suffer from such encumbrances have been more quickly funding projects, selling weapons, and building relationships.

Yemen, Yemen, Yemen. The Martha Brady of insurgency-riddled nations. Anyway, I’m curious to see what Gates says in his next speech–he seems to be on something of a campaign. Also, let me point out this rebuttal of Gates’ Navy League speech from Brian McGrath at Information Dissemination; it’s a point by point response, and really gets into the meat of what Gates is proposing.

Maybe they could do this with tobacco! No, wait, we like that one.

Posted in afghanistan, nato, us military by Karaka on 15 April 2010

Marines pay Afghan farmers to destroy opium:

Last year, Afghanistan produced 90 percent of the world’s opium, the raw ingredient of heroin, with some 60 percent grown in Helmand alone. The Taliban are said to siphon off hundreds of thousands of dollars each year from the trade of the drug.

Now, with harvest time only a few weeks away and up to 60,000 migrant workers expected to flow into Helmand to work the poppy fields, the Marines have launched a new scheme in Marjah where farmers are paid to plough their own fields under.

“We’ve come up with this program, it’s a completely voluntary program, that’s the most important aspect. I’m not going to touch their poppy,” said Major Jim Coffman, a Marine civil affairs officer who oversees the new project.

“If they choose to destroy or to clear … their fields, we will give them $300 (per hectare),” he said.

Interesting. This idea has been around for awhile, though–and I mean awhile in association with Afghanistan, not necessarily as an plan that’s executed here in the States. But part of the reason the ideas has had staying power for Afghanistan is that it’s more effective long-term than solely paying farmers off–this program is also providing the tools for Afghan farmers to continue to be productive at another trade.

The real stickler will be the renumerative power of those replacement crops. Farmers aren’t sowing opium poppy because it makes for a pretty field–it’s one of the highest-value cash crops in the region, and even its replaced with some cash and soybeans there is no guarantee that a market for the replacement crop exists, or that it will pay out over time in as significant a fashion as poppy currently does. At least, though, this program acknowledges that the destruction of poppy fields is not in the farmers’ or NATO’s interest.

Meanwhile, it’s a sunny and more importantly warm day here in Oregon, and I’m going to enjoy it while it lasts.

In time, a city of wonders

Posted in afghanistan, iraq, isaf, kuwait, nato, pakistan by Karaka on 8 November 2009

I really can’t deal with the incredible swathes of bigotry currently dominating blogs I normally enjoy reading, so instead I’m going to talk about a couple less immediately inflammatory yet still important items I’ve read lately.

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about Wazhma Frogh’s editorial in the Washington Post. Quick refresher:

Handing over Afghanistan to those who intend to keep the country centuries behind most of the world — to men who do not view women as human beings — would not only call into doubt the global commitment to human rights, it would also raise questions about the commitment of Western democracies to such rights and to democratic values. Bearing in mind how fragile the Afghan government is at this moment, it will not take long for the country’s women to come under attack again. The consequences will be even more bitter this time because no matter how limited our success, we have at least managed to act in the forefront of public life in Afghanistan. We have had a taste of what it’s like to have rights.

Late last month, Michelle Goldberg at the American Prospect filed an article titled, rather leadingly, A Feminist Case for War? In it, she reported on an NGO called Women for Afghan Women, and a suspended representative of Afghanistan’s parliament, Malalai Joya. The two, in the article, represent opposite sides of opinion on the NATO occupation of Afghanistan.

In fact WAW, which has over 100 staffers in Afghanistan and four in New York, is, with some reluctance, calling for a troop increase. “Women for Afghan Women deeply regrets having a position in favor of maintaining, even increasing troops,” it said in a recent statement. “We are not advocates for war, and conditions did not have to reach this dire point, but we believe that withdrawing troops means abandoning 15 million women and children to madmen who will sacrifice them to their lust for power.”

And from the opposite side:

Joya insists that contrary to mainstream American opinion, the war in Afghanistan has done little to liberate women. “As I write these words, the situation in Afghanistan is getting progressively worse,” she says. “And not just for women, but for all Afghans. We are caught between two enemies — the Taliban on one side and the U.S./NATO forces and their warlord friends on the other. And the dark-minded forces in our country are gaining power with every allied airstrike that kills civilians, with every corrupt government official who grows fat on bribes and thievery, and with every criminal who escapes justice.”

Rock, meet hard place. There are no easy answers, and while I sympathize with Joya’s argument I am inclined to agree with WAW. However, I think Golberg’s intimation, that remaining in Afghanistan as protection for women and children is justified by a feminist argument, is flawed. It would be better to make the argument from humanism, because in truth striving for the basic rights of Afghans–in the context of this article–is not necessarily gender-specific. It is a strong and accurate claim that giving women the right to vote, the right to live free of sharia, the right to enjoy their own person without fear of harm, resulted in part from the toppling of the Taliban in that country and the installation of a Western-friendly leader. But Afghan women were not the only Afghans whose personal power shifted when the Taliban were driven out–the ethnic minorities of Afghanistan, as an example, found their power shifted as well.

This isn’t to handwave away the very real problems of the NATO occupation of Afghanistan, or the corruption that appears to be inherent in the Afghan government, or the role that NATO/ISAF played in destabilizing the lives of Afghans when a war was begun there in 2001. But as important as I view championing the voices and rights of women, theirs was not the only power that was shifted in that year, from none to some, and to view any argument solely from that perspective is to be somewhat myopic.

I do, however, wish that more journos would talk to Afghan women. It’s a perspective not heard often enough.

***

To round out this late weekend post, some recent news articles of relevance:

  • Pakistan models defy Taliban with 1st fashion week: Many of the models, designers and well-heeled fashionistas packing out each night said the gathering was a symbolic blow to the Taliban and their vision of society, where women are largely confined to the house and must wear a sack-like covering known as a burqa.
  • In Kuwait, Headscarf not a must for female lawmakers: Kuwait’s highest court ruled Wednesday that women lawmakers are not obliged by law to wear the headscarf, a blow to Muslim fundamentalists who want to fully impose Islamic Sharia law in this small oil-rich state.
  • Iraqi Women Receive Business Admin Training: Representatives from eight Iraqi women’s associations meet to discuss possible business training with members of the Ninawa Provincial Reconstruction Team in the town of Qare Qosh in Ninawa province, Oct 27.
  • 200 girls complete training courses in Kandahar: As many as 200 girls completed training courses in different skills and were awarded course completion certificates during a ceremony in this southern city on Tuesday. The training programme, organised by the Afghan-Canadian Social Centre in collaboration with Canada’s leading polytechnic institute, SAIT, included online courses in management sciences, business, English language, and Information & Communication Technology (ICT).

More to come.

Tuesday Errata

Relevant interesting links:

Judah Grunstein over at the WPR blog tackles the lack of response from NATO in regard to the tactical review going on in the White House. Michael Cohen also takes an angle on the McChrystal drama, and Greg Jaffe at the Washington Post does an op-ed comparing McChrystal to Petraeus.

These similarities were a big selling point for the Obama administration, which this summer decided it wanted its own Petraeus — a creative wartime commander and gifted manager who could push the military in Afghanistan into unfamiliar realms, such as economic development and tribal politics…These days, the last thing that the White House and the Pentagon brass want is a general who can bypass the chain of command; a general who speaks directly to the president; a general who emerges as the dominant American voice on the war. The last thing they want, in other words, is another Petraeus.

You know, I always find the USNI blog very interesting and educational, and today it and I wish the US Navy a happy birthday!

H/t Diplopundit for this article on the State Department’s conflict over aid to Pakistan, which continues my media watch on USAID.

Also regarding Pakistan, the Pakistani army launched its offensive today, in response to the significant array of attacks last week.

George Packer has a really interesting post about Rufus Phillps, Vietnam, and the Obama administration:

About to turn eighty, Phillips was contemplating a trip halfway around the world to Kabul. He was worried about the war in Afghanistan and thought that the presidential election, set for August 20th, would be a critical event. An independent Afghan group, the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan, had invited him to come over as an unpaid adviser. Having seen America try and fail to win a war without a political strategy once before, he thought he had something to contribute in Afghanistan. He asked me for advice on what to wear, what kind of cell phone to bring, how to get into the city from the airport. I asked him why he was going to put himself through it, and he replied that he believed in putting your money where your mouth is. “I’ve still got the fire,” he said as he walked me to the elevator.

Well worth your time, that.

Via S&S, AP covers the continuing conflict over the Afghan election, including the resignation of Afghan election commissioner Maulavi Mustafa Barakzai and the acknowledgment–finally–by the UN of the problems with the election process.

U.N. spokesman Aleem Siddique called the resignation “regrettable” but said the U.N. continues to trust that the group will produce a fair outcome. “We have full confidence in the ECC as the important work continues,” Siddique said, adding that the U.N. “stands by the work that they are doing on behalf of the Afghan people.”

Barakzai’s resignation was the latest in a series of problems that have confounded the electoral process since the election, the first run by the Afghans since the war began in 2001.

The NYT reports that Secstate Clinton and Secdef Gates are working on the same side of the tactical review, which seems to have surprised everyone but me. I guess I was the only one who listened to that panel from GWU last week; they seemed pretty similar-spirited then.

Khaleej Times printed an op-ed by Ehsan Ahrari today (h/t SWJ) which doesn’t necessarily offer anything new to the debate, but does summarize a couple things nicely:

What most Western observers are missing when they offer their expert advice regarding Afghanistan is an absence of a strong sense of history and an understanding of the culture of that country. Stewart is an exception to 
that observation.

The decision to add more troops in Afghanistan cannot be made purely by couching it in the requirements of American domestic politics, and by viewing it from the perspective of what is appropriate and acceptable inside the United States. I say that because, as more troops are inserted in Afghanistan, that will be seen as an evidence of commitment by outsiders, but not necessarily by the Afghans. They need more persuading than mere escalation troops for now.

The abruptness by which the United States left Afghanistan after the redeployment of the Soviet troops in 1989 leaves them no reason to believe that we are likely to stay there. This time there is no much difference. All they have to do is to watch the current debate regarding Afghanistan inside the United States.

Mind you, I am not questioning the legitimacy of these debates. They are quite genuine in the sense that, before more US young men and women are sent there and before more money is invested, we need to debate the nature of our commitment. However, that is precisely why the Afghans are skeptical that we mean to stay there for a long while this time.

And there went my Tuesday morning.

Pick a weather already, is it hot or is it cold?

Posted in afghanistan, nato, united nations, united states, us politics by Karaka on 28 September 2009

It looks like the vote is coming down for Karzai, which is not much of a surprise.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other NATO foreign ministers, meeting Friday in New York with their Afghan counterpart, reached “consensus” that Karzai would probably “continue to be president,” whether through a runoff or as the legitimate winner of more than 50 percent of votes cast in disputed Aug. 20 elections, an Obama administration official said.

At this point, it doesn’t seem as though there remain many options. Despite the lack of confidence in the Afghan election process, it’s not likely that Abdullah Abdullah will get the run-off he wants, and Karzai and his corruption will remain in place. It’s a situation that will probably bite the nation in the ass later, though.

Secdef Gates was on State of the Union this weekend (rounding out what seems to be a brief media blitz with Clinton on Face the Nation and the McChrystal profile on 60 Minutes, probably following Obama’s dance card earlier this month) arguing for Afghanistan. It concerns me that Gates has to address the topic of withdrawal at all. You can download the show here or off of iTunes.

Meanwhile, Lietuenant General Jim Dutton, deputy commander of ISAF, publicly threw his support behind McChrystal’s request in the Times today.

“The basis of our mandate is to support the legally elected government,” General Dutton said. “If you haven’t got one, you either have to change the mandate, or you rethink the whole endeavour.”

He was confident, however, that the British public would stomach more casualties as long has he could answer yes to two key questions: “Are we right?” and “Can we win?”.

It doesn’t seem like Obama would agree with that assessment. But I suspect Gates would.

Speaking of things that spark disagreement, John Kerry issued this op-ed in the WSJ yesterday:

Before we send more of our young men and women to this war, we need a fuller debate about what constitutes success in Afghanistan. We need a clearer understanding of what constitutes the right strategy to get us there. Ultimately, we need to understand, as Gen. Colin Powell was fond of asking, “What’s the exit strategy?” Or as Gen. David Petraeus asked of Iraq, “How does it end?”

Why? Because one of the lessons from Vietnam—applied in the first Gulf War and sadly forgotten for too long in Iraq—is that we should not commit troops to the battlefield without a clear understanding of what we expect them to accomplish, how long it will take, and how we maintain the consent of the American people. Otherwise, we risk bringing our troops home from a mission unachieved or poorly conceived.

Way to walk it back, Kerry. I think he conflates McChrystal’s assessement with a stated goal rather than a strategy. And if, as General Dutton suggests, we have a mandate in place, that assessment seems to be in line. But as we’ve seen, the Obama administration hasn’t pinned down it’s mandate for October, other than to apparently alter its mandate in March. Can anyone seriously consider withdrawal as an option? Either way, it seems like NATO is asking one question, and some American politicians another.

Fareed Zakaria profiles Obama’s attitude in the Post today. Surprisingly, I agree with his point of view.

Obama’s outreach to the world is an experiment, and not merely to see if the world will respond. He wants to demonstrate at home that engagement does not make America weak. For decades, it’s been thought deadly for an American politician to be seen as seeking international cooperation. Denouncing, demeaning and insulting other countries was a cheap and easy way to seem strong. In the battle of images, tough and stupid always seemed to win.

Well, “win” is kind of strong. It got the job done, maybe, but at the cost of our image, certainly.

Also, Angela Merkel won the German presidency once more. Good luck to her.

Missiles, Elections, and Rallies, oh my.

Posted in afghanistan, iran, iraq, nato, united states by Karaka on 18 September 2009

I can’t say I’m all that surprised that Silvio Burlesconi announced the withdrawal of a sixth of Italian troops from Afghanistan; I think Gary Schmitt over at the new Defence Studies blog pretty much covers all the important points.

*

Everyone’s talking about Missile Shields right now. Nathan Hodge gives some of the tech specs of what the program might look like. Danger Room is always a good source of acronyms if you’re running low. The DIME Blog’s Dennis Murphy talks about Sec. Gates and strategic communication:

And so the Secretary’s action closed a proverbial say-do gap and made inroads in the elusive battle of ideas. It was a first, but important step in the right direction in this ongoing and generational ideological struggle.

Frank Kaplan at Slate breaks down the decision to step away from the Eastern European program, and the NYT reports that NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen is encouraging the US, Europe, and Russia to link their defence shields.

Robert Burns (AP) offers an analysis of this move in US Missile Defence, which segues us nicely into–

*

–Iran, where protests against the government countered a government-sponsored rally to stir anger against Israel:

But witnesses reported that demonstrators chanting anti-government slogans had taken complete control of Tehran’s expansive Seventh of Tir Square. Video posted to YouTube showed thousands of others holding up green ribbons and rallying peacefully in Tehran, Esfahan and Shiraz. Late in the morning came reports of tear gas being fired into crowds in the capital, but they could not be confirmed.

I’ll confess to being petty enough to enjoy the Iranian people not taking Ahmadinejad’s bullshit lying down.

*

Biden continues his trip through Iraq [VOA]:

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden traveled to Iraqi Kurdistan Thursday to press Kurdish leaders to compromise on the controversial issue of sharing Iraq’s oil wealth. Biden met with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and the president of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region, Massoud Barzani, in the regional capital of Irbil.

The great unanswered question about NATO withdrawal from Iraq, in my opinion, is whether Kurdish autonomy will be tolerated.

*

The US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations held a hearing called “Exploring Three Strategies on Afghanistan; video is available at that URL. I for one am going to spend part of my precious Saturday living the dream of watching Senate hearings in my pajamas.

The NYT continues coverage of the Afghani election:

The prospect of a runoff election is growing after President Hamid Karzai was awarded 54.6 percent of the votes in the much disputed presidential election last month. But even as American officials noted that the Afghan authorities had begun printing ballots for a second round of voting, these officials said they were worried that a runoff could not be held before Afghanistan’s fierce winter starts in November.

…Time to start talking about a Transitional Authority, folks.

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