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.

Karaka Pend karakapend

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

Karaka Pendkarakapend

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.

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And then they’ll make more news.

Posted in afghanistan, africa, american media, japan, united nations by Karaka on 6 May 2010

As a follow up to yesterday, Okinawans respond to PM Hatoyama’s walkback:

Mr Hatoyama made a fundamental mistake by promising something he knew he couldn’t do. He did that just so that he could win the election. He misled the people of Okinawa, he raised their expectations, he gave them an empty hope.

Relocation might be an option, but the problem is that no-one will accept a US base relocating to their backyard. For instance, the government proposed relocating part of the base to Tokunoshima island and there was an outcry from the local population who refused to accept it. A relocation is not going to achieve anything, it will only antagonise a different group of people.

I do think Hatoyama has lost a good chunk of political credibility. It’s a shame, considering he’s viewed as the ascendancy of the DPJ. They’re off to a rocky start.

Things I’ve been reading:

And I’ve been finishing up my March/April Foreign Affairs; it’s remained readable despite its unfortunate whiskey incident:

But I’ve been engrossed in other things and hadn’t gotten around to it. Next up, the whiskey free May/June FA. (Stupid Foreign Policy still hasn’t shown up. That is the single most delayed paper mail subscription I’ve ever had.)

And what can’t be done?

Posted in afghanistan, united kingdom, united nations by Karaka on 22 April 2010

I haven’t done a post on pieces I’ve liked that talk about women lately, so I figured its timely.

Rex at Afghanistan: My Last Tour conducted an interview with female ANA soldiers, which I thought was generally awesome, but also deeply informative.

My next stop was the ANA Family Support Center. Inside I was greeted by two women dressed in traditional Afghan clothing, complete with the hajib hair covering. But these two women are not civilians; instead, they are both Captains in the ANA army. Using my interpreter, I asked permission to conduct an interview so I could learn more about them. They agreed and I used my tape recorder to record our conversation.

Both of the women are married, have 4 children and similar educational backgrounds with completing high school and 3 years of medical studies at a local college. The younger Captain has served in the Army for 20 years and the other 33 years respectively. They are responsible for assisting ANA widows and wounded soldiers’ family members. The younger captain revealed even as a child, she has always wanted to join the Army. Her father was an Army officer and supported her dream and now her sister is in the process of becoming an ANA officer too.

I inquired why they didn’t wear the ANA military uniform. They explained that due to culture perceptions and criticisms, it is better to wear civilian clothes.

I read pretty comprehensively on this subject, so it’s of note to me that stories/accounts like this don’t float up terribly frequently. I appreciate Rex noting both the challenges that female ANA soldiers face, and also the problems of negotiating correct cultural manners when there’s no clear rule to follow–especially when the female soldiers themselves are considered by their fellow soldiers to be breaking taboos.

Last month the NYT had a feature on female-staffed UN peacekeeping units that I thought was generally positive, though a couple stray comments (“the thin pink line”) were desultory and detracted from the strength of their subjects. Sgt. Monia Gusain commands a peacekeeping unit for the UN out of India, based in Liberia.

Liberia — a West African country created in 1847 to settle freed American slaves — is something of a modern laboratory for the rise of women making peace. Women are marching in foot patrols; the head of the U.N. mission, Ellen Margrethe Loj of Denmark, is a woman; and the Liberian president, Mrs. Sirleaf, is the first woman elected as an African head of state, in 2005.

Mrs. Sirleaf — whose nickname is “Iron Lady” — is particularly blunt about the role of women in the recovery of her fragile country, which was battered by 14 years of civil war that left about 200,000 people dead and survivors haunted by torture, systematic rapes and the exploitation of drug-addicted boy soldiers.

“What a woman brings to the task is extra sensitivity, more caring,” Mrs. Sirleaf said in an interview. “I think that these are the characteristics that come from being a mother, taking care of a family, being concerned about children, managing the home.”

There’s more gender reductionist verbiage in there, and similar ideology propagated by several people interviewed, but it’s generally positive and endlessly fascinating.

Finally, the Guardian’s Elizabeth Rubin wrote a remarkable account of her experience as an embedded reporter in Afghanistan, in the first few months of her pregnancy. Western culture has a strange relationship with pregnancy: revered, unwanted, and political all at once. I think I’d like to meet this woman who took her pregnancy into a war zone.

On a muggy August afternoon, I dragged myself and my flu to an infectious-disease doctor. I asked him if he could give me some antibiotics for Afghanistan that were safe to take when you’re pregnant. His eyes leapt up from his notes.

“How far along are you?”

“Three months and a bit.”

I stared at a James Nachtwey photograph on his wall as he regaled me with stories about his war-photographer patients, all of whom were men. Clearly, I posed a different equation.

“Are you sure you will be able to run?” he said. “Because you’re going to need to run, and I have to advise you not to go in your condition.” Suddenly he was rigging up a heart-monitoring machine on my chest and pointing out my supposedly irregular heartbeat arrowing up and down the page. “I just came for a prescription,” I said. “If I wanted someone to tell me not to go to Afghanistan, I could have called my mother.”

I’m trying to tweet more–you’re welcome to add me there if you like–but I’ll be the first to admit I’m kind of bad at it. Not so great at 140-character expressions of stream of conscious; I think I’m just too long winded.

Wednesday Errata

Posted in afghanistan, american media, iraq, pakistan, united nations, united states, us politics by Karaka on 21 October 2009

H/t Dawn Patrol, Obama’s press conference with Maliki:

From the Times of London, Violence threatens Barack Obama’s pledge to pull troops out of Iraq:

General Ray Odierno said that militant groups were likely to conduct a bloody campaign in the months ahead, as Iraqis prepare for national elections at the beginning of next year.

“It’s clear that al-Qaeda and other groups do not want the elections to occur,” he said in an interview. “What I think they will try to do is discourage people from voting by undermining the authority of the Government of Iraq with attacks, so that people lose faith in the democratic process.”

As the fourth of five parts of David Rohde’s account is published, Noah Schachtman at Danger Room draws this criticism from it about the use of drones in Pakistan: But, in the next breath, Rohde also validates some of the criticisms of the robotic assaults — that the drones are handing the Taliban a propaganda win, and driving fresh jihadists to their ranks. Interesting. Also, on Pakistan, Ahsan Butt makes four good points about what we don’t know about Pakistan’s offense against the Taliban in Waziristan.

Starbuck collects a couple thoughts on terrain and the Battle of Wanat; I read Hershel Smith’s post at The Captain’s Journal this morning and think he has a point, though I remember reading somewhere that the placement of those bases had as much to do with usable MSRs as anything else. Though I can’t remember where I read that, so I might be misremembering.

The UN says Afghan opium fuels ‘global chaos’, which seems to be a surprise to squarely no one:

Afghanistan produces 92% of the world’s opium, with the equivalent of 3,500 tonnes leaving the country each year.

Most of the opium that leaves Afghanistan makes its way through Pakistan, Central Asia and Iran, leaving a trail of addiction, criminality and death in its wake, according to the report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

It says more people die globally from Afghan opium than any other drug but just a tiny percentage of what is produced is seized on route.

From Afghanistan–My Last Tour, I found the account of Drinking Tea with the Sgt. Major to be illuminating:

As we sipped our tea, the conversation switched to the HA drops in the villages. The CSM gave me some insight about how people steal these items and who to trust and who not to trust. I was totally dumbfounded when he said, “Please don’t give me any of those items, because I would be tempted to steal them too.” I explained our process on how we hand out items. We do not give them to select families, instead we provide to an entire village or school. He nodded in agreement.

Our conversation continued to revolve about the corrupt government and how millions if not billions of dollars of foreign aid have been siphoned off by corrupt government officials. But he put it into perspective and compared it to the United States. Afghanistan doesn’t have the lobbyist organizations like the US. Instead it utilizes tribal connections and nepotism. Enterprising businessmen and government officials who receive the money subcontract out using inferior quality and then pocket the rest. As a result, individuals who are illiterate become millionaires over night. We also discussed about US contractors working in Afghanistan. Most of them get paid over $100,000 and then the parent company charges the US government double or triple this rate, but nobody in the US seems to complain about this. It’s just a different way of doing business.

Well, not nobody.

Stratfor’s account of the US Challenge in Afghanistan is well worth the read, as is Tom Ricks’ article at the Daily Beast. See also Gilles Dorronsoro’s op-ed and Diplopundit’s following of the Department of State’s Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review.

I’m going home to the dog and chicken alfredo over homemade pasta. Take it easy, blogosphere.

Monday Reading

Posted in afghanistan, american media, iran, united nations, united states, us politics by Karaka on 19 October 2009

Things I’m reading this morning:

Steve Coll’s piece in this week’s New Yorker:

A second round of voting now looks probable; it could help calm the country, or it could make things worse. In any event, the election is not yet an utter catastrophe. Two years ago, in Kenya, Mwai Kibaki allegedly stole his reëlection to the Presidency, and the country erupted in mass riots and militia killings. In June, Iran’s fraud-riddled vote ignited a protest movement with revolutionary ambitions. In Afghanistan, despite possibly decisive fraud, the opposition has barely thrown a rock. Abdullah Abdullah, the aggrieved second-place finisher, just holds press conferences in his garden.

It goes without saying that Afghans have had enough of violence. Abdullah’s restraint signals a broader, resilient desire among many political and tribal leaders to avoid having their country descend into chaos again. This is the opening that American policy has repeatedly failed to grasp since the Taliban’s fall in late 2001: an opportunity to reject the false expediency of warlords and indispensable men, in favor of deepening participatory, Afghan-led political reform and national reconciliation.

Christopher Hitchens on Iran:

So backward has the theocracy made its wretched country that it is even vulnerable to sanctions on refined petroleum, for heaven’s sake. Unlike neighboring secular Turkey, which has almost no oil but is almost qualified—at least economically—to join the European Union, Iran is as much a pistachio-and-rug-exporting country as it was when the sadistic medievalists first seized power. So it wouldn’t be surprising in the least if a regime that has no genuine respect for science and no internal self-critical feedback had screwed up its rogue acquisition of modern weaponry. A system in which nothing really works except the military and the police will, like North Korea, end up producing somewhat spastic missiles and low-yield nukes, as well.

But spastic missiles and low-yield nukes can still ruin the whole day of a neighboring state, as well as make a travesty of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and such international laws and treaties as are left to us. Thus, if it is true that Iran is not as close to “break-out” as we have sometimes feared, should that not make our deliberations more urgent rather than less? Might it not mean, in effect, that now is a better time to disarm the mullahs than later?

Juan Cole on Pakistan:

In other words, this military campaign is not just a matter of troops versus guerrillas. It is becoming a rallying point for Muslim radicals, with volunteers coming in from Afghanistan and others from madrasahs from all over Pakistan — and with Pakistan’s own security hanging in the balance.

Tariq took responsibility for the recent horrific bombings in the Punjabi city of Lahore, which targeted Pakistani security forces, thus claiming that South Waziristan had a very long reach into the rest of the country.

Pakistani security forces also arrested some 300 Afghans on Sunday.

David Rohde’s account of being held by the Afghan Taliban:

Eight days earlier, a Taliban faction had kidnapped me along with an Afghan journalist, Tahir Luddin, and our driver, Asad Mangal, during a reporting trip just outside Kabul. The faction’s commander, a man who called himself Atiqullah, had lied to us. He had said we were being moved to southern Afghanistan and would be freed.

Instead, on Nov. 18, we arrived in Pakistan’s tribal areas, an isolated belt of Taliban-controlled territory. We were now in “the Islamic emirate” — the fundamentalist state that existed in Afghanistan before the 2001 American-led invasion. The loss of thousands of Afghan, Pakistani and American lives and billions in American aid had merely moved it a few miles east, not eliminated it.

Through seven years of reporting in the region, I had pitied captives imprisoned here. It was arguably the worst place on earth to be an American hostage. The United States government had virtually no influence and was utterly despised.

Since 2004, dozens of missiles fired by American drones had killed hundreds of militants and civilians. The Taliban had held Afghan, Pakistani and foreign hostages in the area for years, trading lives for ransom and executions for publicity.

“We’re in Pakistan,” I said out loud in the car, venting my anger.

Elisabeth Bumiller’s presentation/reporting on Afghanistan, thirty years ago:

Afghans and Americans alike describe the country in those days as a poor nation, but one that built national roads, stood up an army and defended its borders. As a monarchy and then a constitutional monarchy, there was relative stability and by the 1960s a brief era of modernity and democratic reform. Afghan women not only attended Kabul University, they did so in miniskirts. Visitors — tourists, hippies, Indians, Pakistanis, adventurers — were stunned by the beauty of the city’s gardens and the snow-capped mountains that surround the capital.

“I lived in Afghanistan when it was very governable, from 1964 to 1974,” said Thomas E. Gouttierre, director of the Center for Afghanistan Studies at the University of Nebraska, Omaha, who met recently in Kabul with Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top NATO commander in Afghanistan. Mr. Gouttierre, who spent his decade in the country as a Peace Corps volunteer, a Fulbright scholar and the national basketball team’s coach, said, “I’ve always thought it was one of the most beautiful places in the world.”

Kabul, 1977 (William Borders/NYT)

Kabul, 1977 (William Borders/NYT)

Alex Strick Van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn’s report of living in Kandahar from Foreign Policy:

This is our life, and as the only two Westerners living permanently in Kandahar without blast walls and intrusive security restrictions to protect us, it has been a mix of isolation, boredom, disarmingly potent realizations, and outright depression in the face of what is happening. In our 18 months here, we have witnessed up close the ruinous consequences of a conflict in which no party has clean hands. We have spent countless hours talking with people of all persuasions in Kandahar, from mujahedeen who fought against the Soviets in the 1980s, to guerrillas who fought alongside the Taliban in the 1990s, to Afghans who fight against the Kabul government and foreign forces today. And we have learned that Kandahar defies simple categorization; far more understanding is necessary before we can appreciate how (and how many) mistakes have been made by the Western countries waging war here, let alone begin crafting a vision for the future.

Our Kandahar has many faces, though, not all branded by conflict. Life here is also about swimming in the nearby Arghandab River, enjoying the cool caramel taste of sheer yakh, and sitting among the branches of a friend’s pomegranate orchard. It’s listening to tales of the past 30 years told by those who directly influenced the course of history, and it’s watching the traditional atan dance at wedding celebrations.

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.

In his previous incarnation as a homeboy–

Posted in united nations by Karaka on 25 September 2009

In today’s cheeky smart-assery, Foreign Policy.com has “The Qaddafi Disaster in Pictures.

This is my favorite:

Qadaffi!

“Heyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy! You’re listening, right? To me, right? On the centre of the world stage sounding idiotic?” Wassup!”

“Excuse me, sir, we’re shutting down the club.”

People who wouldn’t sit together at the lunch table.

Posted in iran, united nations by Karaka on 24 September 2009

From the Washington Post:

The U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted a U.S-drafted resolution Thursday morning that affirms many of the steps President Obama plans to pursue as part of his vision for an eventual “world without nuclear weapons. In a first for a U.S. president, Obama presided over the 15-member meeting, joined by such leaders as Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Chinese President Hu Jintao and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. The meeting marked only the fifth head-of-state summit in U.N. history, and Obama’s presence was intended to signal the importance of the issue for the administration.

It seems Obama may have secured the leverage he’s clearly wanted going into talks with Iran. And this is certainly a different perspective from that of the 43rd President. Looks like those diplomatic moves are working.

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