Are safflowers the future of Afghanistan?
A few items that people may not have seen:
1) I’m going to try not to belabor the point too much, but this program is another example of ground-up activities going on in Afghanistan that help to give the people more of a stake in their future without the Taliban.
2) Michael O’Hanlon has a good analysis of why there is reason for optimism in Afghanistan (subscriber only). Some might criticize his views as overly optimistic, but even a result that doesn’t quite match his predictions would still be a positive outcome.
Local Afghan Police, circa 1879-80
Following up on my last post on the Afghanistan Study Group report comes the news of a new initiative in Afghanistan that could help decentralize some of the power throughout the country. The Wall Street Journal reports that American commanders in Afghanistan are asking for funds and equipment to provide for local militias in rural areas outside the reach of NATO and Afghan security forces. These militias would provide villagers, most of whom probably don’t favor a Taliban return but who fear the Taliban’s violence, with some protection against the insurgents. And by connecting the militia’s to the NATO and Afghan government mission, it provides credibility on the ground to Karzai’s government, giving people, especially rural Pashtuns, a stake in the country’s future. The program sounds similar to one the Pakistani government instituted in the Swat Valley when that region was under severe threat from the Taliban. In that case, it was often local players who came together to fight the Taliban, and then looked to the government and the army for support. The combination of the grassroots opposition to the Taliban and the army’s offensive helped push back the gains that the Taliban had made, although the larger region in the northwest of the country is far from stable. If there is a similar grassroots effort in Afghanistan, and NATO and Kabul can support it, it could be an important step towards weakening the Taliban insurgency.
The New America Foundation’s Afghanistan Study Group put out a report last week on the state of the strategic direction of the war in Afghanistan. The report, entitled A New Way Forward (pdf, html), takes aim at the counter-insurgency (COIN) strategy implemented by President Obama, General McCrystal, and General Patraeus, arguing that it is exacerbating violence and the breakdown of the Afghan state, and that the best option now is to begin a nearly complete military withdrawal from the country. The Afghanistan Study Group is made up of many noted scholars and experts both on American foreign affairs and Afghanistan regional politics, and its recommendations are measured and generally well thought out. Its main argument, that America’s interest in Afghanistan is centered on the suppression of al Qaeda and the prevention of nuclear proliferation from Pakistan, highlights some of the difficulties Mr. Obama has had in sustaining support for the current strategy, since the COIN strategy goes beyond these goals to a larger nation-stabilization mission. The report also notes that one of the main failings with the current Afghan political structure is its unnatural centralization, and concurrent disenfranchisement of local forums and delegitimization of national institutions. The stories of corruption in the government of Hamid Karzai show the difficulties in relying on Kabul to help in Kandahar, and thus the push towards decentralization of political power is one of the more useful recommendations from the Study Group. One hopes that the Obama administration looks closely at its evaluations and recommendations as it looks toward the December review of the current strategy.
Jeffrey Goldberg and Fidel Castro (Source: The Atlantic)
A short post for today, just to point out this series of posts from The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, who got a rare and impromptu chance to talk intimately and at length with Fidel Castro. Castro talks about Iran and Israel (his reason for inviting Goldberg to Havana), anti-Semitism, and Cuba’s future. The interviews are so illuminating I’m inclined to disbelieve them, mainly because it’s Fidel, but that’s probably just my cynicism showing through. Keep an eye on what Goldberg will hopefully be posting in future days.
Ships of NATO’s Standing Naval Force Mediterranean (STANAVFORMED) (Source: nato.int)
As NATO prepares to potentially send another 2000 troops to Afghanistan (most of whom look likely to be American), European members continue to detach themselves from the war. The continuing imbalance in burden sharing in the ISAF mission appears to be setting up an internal Alliance crisis that could explode at the Lisbon council meeting in November. Some of the blame for this tension falls on the United States, which continues to devalue the efforts from Europe (or “Old Europe” at least). However, much of the blame has to also fall on the European governments themselves, along with their populations. European support for the war in Afghanistan has never been whole-hearted, and the fears of the elected officials to counter this ambivalence led to ISAF limitations like the infamous caveats that many NATO forces operate under. Meanwhile, European militaries continue their retrenchment, the latest news being the possibility of the British and French navies coordinating deployments of their aircraft carriers to reduce costs.
Nouri Al Maliki and Ayad Allawi (Source: AP)
A few years ago, I got into a heavy discussion with a political science grad student from a prestigious university (I won’t say which one) about the situation in Iraq. It was the summer of 2007, and the Iraqi sectarian conflict was still in full swing. Over dinner and drinks at an Ethiopian restaurant in DC, we debated whether it was time for the U.S. to cut its losses and pull out of Iraq, or whether it should maintain the presence and keep up the fight for stability. His argument (and he may have been playing political science Devil’s advocate to my historian) was that the best chance for stability in the country was to create a complete balance of power between the different sectarian communities. He advocated arming all three equally, in the expectation that the resulting stalemate would impose a triangular mutual deterrence upon them, keeping them from attacking each other.
Bellum contributor Renanah Miles has an interesting discussion of the Iranian nuclear program and Palestinian peace talks over at SWJ:
Progress in the talks is critical to buying Israel, America and wary Arab states strategic room to maneuver with Iran…Progress on the Israel-Palestine issue won‟t end fundamental tensions over Israel‟s existence in the region. But progress will go a long way in buying breathing room for all parties with a stake in deterring Iran‟s nuclear program to figure out what‟s coming after Bushehr.
Allawi (fourth from left) and the 'umbrella of fear'? (Photo: Sydney Morning Herald)
Der Spiegel published two interviews this week worth close scrutiny. The paper interviewed Ayad Allawi, contender for Iraqi prime minister, and Manouchehr Mottaki, Iran’s foreign minister. Allawi is darkly pessimistic, describing a troubled region descending under an “umbrella of fear.” In stark contrast, Mottaki blithely rejects questioning on Iran’s human rights record and shrugs off both the impact of sanctions and possibility of a military strike on its nuclear facilities.