I’ve been enjoying Steve Levine’s work over at his new Foreign Policy blog, The Oil and the Glory. Subtitled “the geopolitics of energy,” it hits two of the major interests in my life: energy, and national security/foreign policy. I don’t talk much about my job here, but it involves the energy industry and keeps me very engaged in consumer politics, climate change, and different kinds of energy mechanisms. Levine is pretty much at the intersection of my work and my passion, which makes Oil and the Glory of great interest to me.
It’s not as though these actions are operating in a vacuum. The White House and Department of State are likely as concerned about the START treaty and the public ramifications of stepping into Russia’s sphere of influence, as it were. Despite having a base at Manas, it seems clear that the US would defer to Russia’s involvement so as not to upset existing long-standing talks with a much wider effect.
I think it is easy to overstate US involvement in Kyrgyzstan–there was uncertainty, initially after the coup, as to whether the lease at Manas would in fact be renewed, and it is primarily used as a support base for Afghanistan, rather than an influential long-term base for the region itself. It would be a challenge for State to put more resources into assisting Kyrgyzstan in light of all of this. Not impossible. But a challenge.
and Steve responded:
A Washington stress on weapons has been a constant vis-a-vis Moscow across administrations, including in the post-Soviet era. What is different here is that, in most of the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, the policy attitude was a focus on the independence of the ‘Stans and the Caucasus, and almost an indifference as to Russia’s opinion on the region. You accurately describe the State Department’s state of mind. But it is precisely that state of mind that separates the present from the past. Washington made it appear to the Central Asians and the Caucasus countries that they were part of the grand sweep of history favoring democracy and the market, with the implication that they were to be made safe by the West. The 2008 war in Georgia and the current state of affairs in Kyrgyzstan punctured that myth. The current attitude appears to me at least to be more realpolitik than the past, which claimed to be realpolitik.
Hey, speaking of energy and security, let me re-point you to Natural Security, which I’ve been working my way through in my copious (ha, ha) spare time. I can’t overstate the relationship of our internal energy policy to both our capabilities abroad and at home. It’s why I’m disappointed both that Lindsey Graham walked away from the climate bill, and that Congress/White House aren’t using this bloody oil spill to railroad some efficiency measures and renewables through to legislation. I mean, seriously, as terrible as this spill is, it’s also an ideal platform to achieve some base-level energy austerity mechanisms. Way to waste a disaster, politicians.
George Packer’s assessment of Obama’s foreign policy words and actions gets my pick for read of the day.
Over time, the President and his officials have acquired a more supple voice, finding a better balance between engagement and criticism. In January, for example, Clinton delivered an important speech on freedom of the Internet, a blow aimed at Beijing, among others. Obama has begun to speak more frequently and forcefully about what he calls “universal rights,” emphasizing that they are not an American invention. But the perception has been established: this Administration will devote its energy to repairing relations with foreign governments, and will not risk them for the sake of human rights. Where the stakes are low, as in the West African nation of Guinea, the Administration speaks out against atrocities, with positive effect; but where there’s a strategic interest, as in Ethiopia, which has jailed dozens of journalists and opposition politicians, the policy is mainly accommodation.
Obama never placed democracy and human rights at the center of his foreign policy. He campaigned on three initiatives—withdrawing from Iraq, redoubling in Afghanistan, and reëngaging with friends and enemies alike. He has expressed admiration for the foreign policy of the first President Bush and his national-security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, and, on one level, Obama fits their mold of classic realism: wary of moral posturing, he analyzes the world country by country, calibrating American interests accordingly, without trying to impose a single abstract doctrine everywhere.
It’s been interesting, in a not particularly surprising sort of way, to watch Obama slowly shift to a less idealistic and more grounded set of policies. I think it has as much to do with the aides that advise him as the political realities of America’s friends and enemies. The groundspring of support he received in 2008, both domestically and internationally, perhaps buoyed public opinion that his administration would be able to enact more sweeping changes than have actually happened. Or are likely to happen.
This is not to say that Obama has been unsuccessful in his fairly moderate foreign policy goals; but I suspect that, internally, his crowning achievement would be considered the halting of nuclear proliferation, and reduction (or at least the promise of reduction) of nuclear arms throughout the world. If he can get a clean landing on that one, even Israel-Palestine might not look so bad.
It’s funny–the more I come to learn about World War II, the more I realize how distant it is from me. That is certainly in part due to my age, but also the sheer amount of cultural drift over sixty-five years. I can’t even really conceptualize the Japanese, or the Germans, as a potential enemy. All I think of is nifty gadgets and spending Christmas in Berlin.
I’ve been educating myself about WWII for several years now; you can’t stumble around Britain without hitting a WWI or WWII memorial, and I’ve spent plenty of time stumbling around Britain. But I can understand the political struggles, and have an academic understanding of the conflict, and still can never quite grasp the reality of the past.
Packard tackles the rapidly changing relationship between the United States and Japan. After the 1951 Treaty of Peace with Japan came into effect in 1952, Japan maintained a stable (if asymmetrical) relationship with the United States; that relationship was renegotiated into a more equitable relationship in 1960 with a newly inked treaty. That treaty has remained in effect to date, and largely the current unevenness–meaning, a reduction of US military presence in Japan–is due to unprecedented political shift from within the Diet.
One of the central themes of the Democratic Party of Japan’s rise to power was a promise to address concerns about American presence in Japan. This is a long-nurtured issue, borne of many things but certainly not helped by the rape incident on Okinawa in 1995. Prime Minister Hatoyama took office in September 2009, and nearly from the first week of the DPJ’s government he began to address the potential displacement of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.
This has been ongoing for the last six months; heck, talk about moving Futenma has been going on since 2005.
PM Hatoyama clearly saw it as a show of power to readdress Japan’s relationship with the US, particularly the part that concerns national security. But the realities of changing the terms of a sixty-year old agreement are legion, both from a foreign policy standpoint with a long-time ally and internally from the now-opposition party, the Liberal Democratic Party, and the traditional divides of the Japanese (particularly the charged relationship of Okinawans to the rest of the country). The show of power has devolved somewhat.
The thrust of Packard’s analysis suggests a more reduced influence for the US, and a paternalistic pride in Japan’s thriving democracy.
The U.S. government should respect Japan’s desire to reduce the U.S. military presence on its territory, as it has respected the same desire on the part of Germany, South Korea, and the Philippines. It should be willing to renegotiate the agreement that governs the presence of U.S. troops in Japan, which to some is redolent of nineteenth-century assertions of extraterritoriality. It should be aware that, at the end of the day, Japanese voters will determine the future course of the alliance. Above all, U.S. negotiators should start with the premise that the security treaty with Japan, important as it is, is only part of a larger partnership between two of the world’s greatest democracies and economies. Washington stands to gain far more by working with Tokyo on the environment, health issues, human rights, the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons, and counterterrorism.
In return for the removal of some U.S. troops and bases from its territory, the Japanese government should make far larger contributions to mutual security and global peace. It should explicitly state that it has the right to engage in operations of collective self-defense. Tokyo would be foolish to establish a community of East Asian nations without U.S. participation. It needs to work with Washington in the six-party talks on how to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula. The Japanese government should also stop protecting its uncompetitive agricultural sector and join in a free-trade agreement with the United States, an idea that has been kicking around for two decades and that the DPJ endorsed in its election manifesto.
Now, I think it’s more likely that the Obama administration would take a route similar to what Packard describes, more so than previous administrations, but that cedes a lot of military authority–especially given the nascent, if uncertain, threat of Chinese action. And it seems improbable that the US would actively change current foreign policy when it’s in a clearly more favorable position. But I find intriguing the idea that Japan might take a more active role in denuclearization and regional security measures. (There’s a lot to be said regarding Japan’s economy and market practices as well, but I am not as versed in that topic.)
As of this week, PM Hatoyama has walked back his earlier statements about Futenma, which suggests the larger difficulty of balancing external pressures from the US and the internal demands of his constituency. Packard’s end scenario seems rather further away:
Finally, in a grand symbolic gesture, President Obama and Prime Minister Hatoyama should visit Hiroshima together after the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference in Japan next fall and should issue a resounding call to end the manufacture and spread of nuclear weapons, a cause close to the hearts of both men. Then, they should visit Pearl Harbor and declare that no such attack should ever be carried out again.
It’s certainly Obama-like in its idealism; but until Japan has more leverage in its own foreign policy and military-related choices, it seems more likely that Japan will stick with 50+ years of political tradition rather than venture forward standing without intimate support.
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).
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.
Yesterday I spent my lunch “break,” or perhaps my lunch-identified semi-working time, watching the webcast of CNAS’s panel on Natural Security: Navigating the Future Global Environment. The panel was moderated by David Kilcullen, whose new book I am eager to get my hands on, and covered a wide range of topics relating to energy security, climate change, and the interaction of the two with military emplacement, shifting foreign policy, and economic necessity. Whoever works the CNAS twitter and smart dude Herb Carmen both live-tweeted the event, as did I, to some extent. (I work in the energy industry, and national security is the thing I spend my not-working time engaged in, so it’s the intersection of two things I’m keen on.)
Sadly CNAS hasn’t made the panel, or the introductory remarks by presidential adviser Carol Browner, available online yet, and I’m not sure they will; though I hope they do, because it was a very good panel. RADM Phillip Cullom, Bob Kaplan, and Christine Parthemore all spoke knowledgeably on the subject, and it generated some interesting thoughts for me personally. The event was held in conjunction with a report released last week from CNAS called Broadening Horizons: Climate Change and the U.S. Armed Forces (available as a PDF from that link) which I haven’t had the opportunity to read yet.
Anyway, links aside, there were a couple of points I wanted to note.
1. Energy efficiency. Without a doubt–not a single one, and I don’t mean that figuratively, I mean I have exactly zero doubts about this–energy efficiency is the single greatest tool the United States and other industrialized nations has to combat the economic realities of finite resources. The West is very much a culture of waste–we dispose rather than recycle or reuse, we expect to consume more than we actually do and waste the rest, and we do not take simple measures to counter that waste. It’s possible to implement policies and practices that can counter this without a great deal of upheaval; it’s simply a matter of implementing them.
On a small scale, it’s things like sealing buildings to prevent unnecessary overproduction of interior climates. On a large scale, it’s something like “sending a nugget on a second run before bringing him for tanking,” to paraphrase RADM Cullom. Fundamentally we don’t understand our resources–all of them, not merely petrol–as finite or limited, because you can always purchase another one of whatever it is you have. But if there’s anything the economic recession has taught this generation, it’s that we cannot be a nation solely based on economic consumption.
2. Changes in foreign policy. Bob Kaplan made one of the strongest points on the panel, I think, when he outlined the correlation between China’s sweeping population growth, the subsequent need for expanded economic resources, and the shifts to a more aggressive foreign policy mandate from that nation’s diplomatic corps. I think we tend to underestimate or overshadow the driving economic needs of states as precursors to action in favor of rhetoric about political ambitions or historical ties. A nation can be driven to desperation if it needs to resource its people, and if the world’s balance of power can tip because of salt or oil, it certainly can tip because of overpopulation.
3. Infrastructure. I think it was David Kilcullen, with support from Christine Pathemore, who started talking about establishing infrastructure in Afghanistan (both for FOBs and other military emplacements, and also for local villages and towns). Afghanistan is not an industrialized nation, but there is a very strong point to be made that a nation does not necessarily require state-wide industrialization to make basic energy needs available to its populace and governance. A power grid essentially refers to points in a locale that see the distribution and transmission of electricity; such a grid can operate over vast spaces (like North America) or in small populations (several communities in Coromandel, NZ, where I volunteered at the kiwi sanctuary, operated on small self-sustaining power grids in this fashion; it also happens frequently in rural Alaskan communities). The infrastructure can be relative to the size and needs of the population, and generally speaking it’s possible to provide basic services on small independent grids without getting too far into the weeds of industrial planning and building.
Of course, there was plenty more discussed than just the above points. Unfortunately the webcast went out for a bit and I missed the majority of the q&a period. I wanted to ask a question about the use of renewables (particularly wind and solar) in the generation of power on small independent power grids, but I wasn’t sure if someone else had brought it up in the time that I missed. And also, what do I say? “Question from Karaka, from the Blogosphere. You may have heard of us from the Army.”
Anyway, if I were writing a paper it would be about the use of small-build power grids and renewable energy generators to provide basic electrical services to remote communities in Afghanistan. But I should probably leave that to the experts.
I have to admit, my first thought when seeing Hamid Karzai set for talks with Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh while surreptitiously reading my news feeds at a work event on Saturday was “Man, this is going to piss off Pakistan.”
See, last week I’d read this report from the Defense Studies blog, India’s Afghan Endgame, and it was foremost in my mind. I read the blog fairly cautiously, but I thought this was a fairly compelling read.
Delhi is pursuing what amounts to a “soft power” campaign in Afghanistan — one which, according to Ahmed Rashid’s Descent Into Chaos, is “designed to win over every sector of Afghan society, give India a high profile with the Afghans, gain the maximum political advantage, and of course undercut Pakistani influence.” And although India’s efforts have without a doubt unnerved the Pakistanis, Delhi has managed avoid the perception among the other states engaged in Afghanistan that it is actively seeking to antagonize Islamabad — perhaps because of the extent of the services it has provided to the Afghan population. Assuming Rashid is right about India’s desire to cultivate influence among the Afghan citizens, its strategy has been success: an ABC News/BBC poll released in early 2009 indicated that 71% of Afghans viewed India favorably. Only 8% said the same of Pakistan.
While the last twenty months or so have seen Western political and policy movement away from a sole focus on Afghan to the more encompassing view of Afghanistan-Pakistan, it would be foolish to ignore the impact India does have–or more importantly, could grow to have–in the region.
I’m not one to give credence to the general paranoia India and Pakistan harbour towards one another; for one thing, it’s pretty far out of my wheelhouse in terms of political knowledge, and secondly most of what I encounter about the subject can tend towards the hyperbolic. (The only thing I’m willing to get loud and impassioned about is whether Han shot first. Or the virtue of Pacific Northwest IPAs over just about any other American beer.) But even so I find myself agreeing with Tim Sullivan, who wrote the piece I’m referencing, when he concluded:
In the end, United States can’t expect that India will simply remain on the sidelines as the endgame in Afghanistan takes shape; we have been lucky that India has played such a benign, if not ameliorative role in Afghanistan to date. Pakistan, for its part, must be disabused of the notion that the United States will continue to indulge its insecurities, or allow it to so easily manipulate U.S. relations with a vital partner.
That sentiment has been quietly echoed in several of the documents I’ve read pertaining to ISAF’s role as arbiter between the three nations, and I think the most notable part will be not how it’s reflected in defence posture or humanitarian assistance adjacent to or part of COIN operation, but how it’s reflected in the diplomatic ring. The US, and the Western world at large, have a lot to gain by investing in India; and equally as much to lose in Pakistan.
I’m reminded of an interview Christiane Amanpour conducted with three ambassadors from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India–no small feat getting them all at the same desk!–that is worth the rewatch, even as a primer for interaction between the three closely-linked nations.Vodpod videos no longer available.
You can watch the full video here because CNN’s video playback sucks like beer made east of the Mississippi.
There are no easy answers. But the relationship between India and Afghanistan is worth keeping a bead on.
As we wait and wonder what number of troops will be allocated for the US engagement in Afghanistan, several pieces have come up all wondering the same thing: how will we staff this war?
In General Casey’s Doubts at FP, Robert Haddick touches on the real requirements of pulling 100k+ troops out of Iraq and upping tens of thousands in Afghanistan:
In May, prior to the Obama administration’s latest review of Afghan policy and McChrystal’s report, Casey declared the current deployment practice of “12 months deployed, 12 months home” unsustainable. The Army now considers a routine of 12 months deployed, 24 months home sustainable in the long run. The Army believes it can implement this routine if it limits its commitment to Afghanistan and Iraq to no more than 10 brigades.
But according to this open-source estimate of the current U.S. order of battle in Afghanistan, one Marine and six Army brigades are currently serving in Afghanistan. These seven brigades are part of the 68,000 U.S. troops in the country. McChrystal’s 40,000-soldier increase would bring the U.S. brigade count in Afghanistan to at least 11 and probably more.
Assuming the U.S. really does evacuate all of its troops from Iraq by the end of 2011, the Army and the Marine Corps would find a way to sustain the larger effort in Afghanistan while also increasing home-station time — assuming that this would be McChrystal’s final escalation of the war.
Paula Broadwell at KOW picks up the thread as it pertains to officers as well:
Retaining officers from all sources is essential to the health of our military. “Unlike the corporate sector, which can expand or contract quickly in response to market needs, pulling talent from various sources such as the military or various industries,” there is no lateral entry in the Army because our developmental structure and “industry-specific” training limit the ability of even a successful corporate leader to assimilate quickly into the culture.
The good new is that the Army is no longer hemorrhaging junior officers, due in part to the state of the economy and incentives like the G.I. Bill. But the underlying bad news is that it is only holding steady at a rate that is 15-20% under required strength, and there is no comprehensive Army strategy to correct the market.
Good stuff in the comments there, too.
As Danger Room reports, the problem isn’t simply retaining existing personnel but recruiting new personnel:
More than three-quarters of the nation’s 17- to 24-year-olds couldn’t serve in the military, even if they wanted to. They’re too fat, too sickly, too dumb, have too many kids, or have copped to using illegal drugs.
The armed services are willing to grant waivers for some of those conditions – asthma, or a little bit of weed. But the military’s biggest concern is how big and how weak its potential recruits have become.
And it’s not only the military. The Department of State may be undergoing the beginnings of its QDDR, but there is a more immediate question, as Diplopundit notes: where will civilian staff come from?
2007 is still remembered by some as the year when a muddy “near-revolt” happened in Foggy Bottom and diplomats were publicly threatened with directed assignments to Iraq. Just about everyone enjoyed the target; this one was the only one I remembered who tried to understand the fuller picture.
In the waning days of Secretary Rice’s tenure at the State Department there was understandably a big do to separate facts from myths (it’s harder than you think). AFSA tried to help. In it’s AFSANet message it also says that “Congress, at AFSA’s urging and with this Administration’s support, did include some FY-08 and FY-09 “bridge” funding for additional positions in the Iraq/Afghanistan War supplemental that was passed last summer. To our knowledge, State has not said how many new Foreign Service positions that funding permitted.”
In the long life of a bureaucracy, a well resourced agency like the Defense Department has hundreds of proud parents and godparents who can claim responsibility for its successes; but who claims responsibility for an underfunded/understaffed agency that must constantly wrestle with — well, people and paperclips?
Without Congress authorizing an increase in foreign service personnel, without the Department of State restructuring to provide more and easier in-roads for potential FSOs and other civilian positions into their ranks, there simply will not be, nor does really exist now, a class of trained, able civilian personnel to implement the necessary development programs in Afghanistan, or for that matter, Iraq.
If General McChrystal’s assessment is generally integrated into US foreign policy in the US under the Obama administration, and the terms of his project are implemented, there will be a significant need for human personnel, both military and civilian. But I wonder if the realism needed in assessing the situation in Afghanistan is not so much what can and should be accomplished in-country, but what can in fact be resourced by the US Departments of State and Defense with current recruitment and retention numbers. Or, put more simply, this graph courtesy Schmedlap via zenpundit:
And the Y axis is still under 100,000. There’s a lot of shortfall to make up on all sides.
Things I’m reading this morning:
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.”
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.