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.
My home state is under water right now, and there’s nothing like fielding panicked emails from family members over the weekend when you’re 2500 miles away. Thankfully the flooding hasn’t spread south enough to endanger my particular mountaintop, but seriously, I never want to see Tennessee in the news again.
I mentioned last week that I’d watched the CNAS webcast of their panel on Natural Security, and they’ve now put the panel online. I can’t seem to embed it because wordpress hates me, but you can watch it here. If you have some time, it was a good and interesting panel.
Also, Rage Company (and the iPad) has reached $650. Sweet. There’s still three days to bid; all proceeds go to Soldier’s Angels.
A couple quick links before I hit the sack:
After being banned almost a year ago as bug-infested cyber threats, thumb drives may soon be allowed to plug back into U.S. Defense Department computers and networks.
But not all thumb drives. And not for all computer users, according to Pentagon officials and industry sources.
Thumb drives were banned in November 2008 after thousands of military computers and networks became infected by worms, viruses and other malicious software. Many of the infections were traced to thumb drives, which acquired malicious software from computers or the Internet and passed them on.
The ban has been a major hassle for many who came to rely on thumb drives.
I seriously cannot imagine my life without the three thumb drives I carry with me every day.
U.S. Marine soldiers carry an injured Afghan boy towards a Medevac helicopter of Charly Company, 3rd Battlion 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade in the Garmser district of Helmand province, Afghanistan, August 26, 2009
Finally, I don’t always take the National Security Expert blog terribly seriously, because in a sea of wankiness their topic discussions always stand out as being particularly wanky, but I noted this week’s panel discussion. How Is Hillary Clinton Doing As Secretary Of State?
Clinton has taken charge of relations with great powers China and Russia, and is a key player in reinforcing Obama’s multilateral approach to international issues, one of the things that the Nobel committee cited in giving him the Peace Prize. People give her credit for giving this administration some spine. And she certainly is getting more resources for the State Department. David Rothkopf, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, wrote a piece in the Washington Post in August saying that Clinton is “rethinking the very nature of diplomacy and translating that vision into a revitalized State Department, one that approaches U.S. allies and rivals in ways that challenge long-held traditions.”
But we would like to know what you, the experts, think about Hillary’s performance so far, what she has accomplished, and what more she could or should be doing. So what kind of report card do you give Hillary Rodham Clinton so far as secretary of State? Was she a good, or bad, choice as the nation’s top diplomat?
The responses are a mixed criticism of celebritas, political history, and the minor accomplishments thus far this year; but the real point to me, that only a couple of the respondents touch on, is that ten months is too early to make grand proclamations about any staff member’s work. By elevating her performance to criticism so early on, she can’t help but fail in some respect. A bunch of dudes trying to discern trends and scry future challenges only focuses on a face rather than a mission, a person rather than the department. What’s the point?
There was a bit of a dust-up over at Abu Muqawama this weekend. Now, I agree that the poster was setting up a straw man argument, but it’s the comments to this post that really caught my mind.
It reflects the larger argument going on right now, within the community of similarly-focused bloggers and to a degree within the mainstream public (though not nearly as much as might perhaps be valued), about the decision to remain in or withdraw from Afghanistan; and should we remain, what strategic procedure should be employed to reach our objectives. There is also a cogent argument, as well, questioning what exactly our goals in Afghanistan are.
This month’s variation on the discussion began with George Will’s column in the WP advocating withdrawal from Afghanistan to fight this war from outside the nation’s borders. Spencer Ackerman picks up the discussion where it has come to now, a verbal spar between Yingling and Krulak that talks through some of the finer points of a) the reasons the US entered Afghanistan in the first place; b) the implementation of the newer COIN strategy; and c) reasons to remain in Afghanistan now, eight years later.
Additionally this weekend, Cliff May (Washington Times) responded to Will’s assertion that we should withdraw with something perhaps closest to my own opinion on the matter.
I would stress this: Afghanistan is not a war. It is one battle in what — I’m not the first to deduce — is going to be a long war, a global conflict to defend America and the West against an insidiously dangerous enemy…We are fighting over ideas as much as land. In fact, as real estate, Afghanistan is of minimal value. But what happens there will help determine how we — and our enemies and the millions of people around the world who have not taken sides – understand what this struggle is about and who is likely to prevail.
And yet the response to this position, which is hardly radical and is almost unabashedly pragmatic, has been something closer to “cut our losses.” Fareed Zakaria, whose work I generally admire, put it this way:
There are three ways to change security conditions in Afghanistan. First, increase American troops. Second, increase Afghan troops. Third, shrink the number of enemy forces by making them switch sides or lay down their arms. That third strategy is what worked so well in Iraq and what urgently needs to be adopted in Afghanistan. In a few years, Afghanistan will still be poor, corrupt and dysfunctional. But if we make the right deals, it will be ruled by leaders who keep the country inhospitable to al-Qaeda and similar terrorist groups. That’s my definition of success.
Where May suggests that we are, and should remain, in it for the long haul, Zakaria views Aghanistan as an entirely unwinnable war by ISAF troops. I think this is a false claim, and it’s one that I worry will be largely supported by key Democrats such as Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden. While I do feel that we, in particular, have an ethical obligation to remain in Afghanistan, I can set that aside in support of other arguments. Namely that, by withdrawing from Afghanistan, we provoke a greater risk to our national security than we do by staying, even if it is unpopular. Sylvana Q. Sinha, at the Af-Pak Channel, sums up the crux of argument well:
In light of all we know about Afghanistan after nearly eight years, it appears the only reason for President Obama to lead the U.S. to pull out of Afghanistan is because the public is tired of war. This is not a good enough reason, and making a decision based on it would not be an act of true leadership.
I think it is clear that Americans are tired of war; there is certainly something to the news fatigue that so many people invested in the outcomes of our wars complain about. But it is not the responsibility of the President to be popular. It is the responsibility of the President to insure the security of the nation, and withdrawal from Afghanistan will, by anyone’s measure, do nothing further the security of the United States.
Robert Jervis, also from Af-Pak Channel, addresses a response to the above assertions:
A third but subsidiary argument is that withdrawal would undermine American credibility around the world. Again, the fact that this is an echo of Vietnam does not make it wrong, but it does seem to me much less plausible than the other arguments. Who exactly is going to lose faith in us, and what are they going to do differently? Much could depend on the course of events in other countries, especially Iraq, which could yet descend into civil war. But if it does, would American appear more resolute — and wiser — for fighting in Afghanistan?
They are fair questions, but I think Sinha does well in answering them. And here again, Londonstani’s post referenced above in Abu Muqawama brings up another relevant point, straw man though it has accurately been assessed to be: at what point does the acknowledgment of the difficult position the Afghani people are put in become something of note? Surely the discussion cannot rest entirely on enemy power, troop force, and public support. Something has to be said for the situation as it has become for the citizens of the country itself.
I do not doubt that I am still in the process of answering these questions. But it seems as though the fundamental belief in all of this is that this war can somehow only be fought by troops, and won effectively by troops, and that this win can only be achieved over a long period of time. I wonder if perhaps we’re predicating this discussion on nation building only through military action, and if instead we should take this counter-insurgency strategy published last month and look at it on a larger, only partially militaristic level.
Then again, apparently al Quaeda isn’t really a problem in Afghanistan anymore, so maybe we’re all off the mark.