Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Afghanistan, the Recession, and National Defense

From what I heard last week, Obama may be pushing for more civilians than soldiers. That fits into what David Ignatius reports in David Kilcullen's Road Map for Afghanistan:
"Obama's policy choices for Afghanistan are usually presented in stark terms: Either he authorizes a major new escalation, well beyond the 17,000 additional troops he has already approved, or he scales back the mission to a narrower counterterrorism effort aimed at preventing al-Qaeda from mounting attacks.

Kilcullen argues that either of these extreme options would be a mistake. 'It would be the height of folly to commit to a large-scale escalation now,' when the political climate in both Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan is so uncertain. We should use the extra 17,000 troops to stabilize the situation but delay the big decision about escalation until after Afghanistan's presidential election in August."


Kilcullen offers a four-stage model to explain the radicalization of the typical Taliban supporter in Afghanistan. The process begins with "infection," as al-Qaeda establishes a presence; next comes "contagion," as al-Qaeda uses its haven to mount attacks; then follows "intervention" by the United States to destroy al-Qaeda's sanctuary and its Taliban protectors; and that produces "rejection," as the local population allies with al-Qaeda and the Taliban against the foreign invaders.

For America, it's a costly and self-defeating exercise -- which is precisely what al-Qaeda intends. Kilcullen quotes a haunting 2004 statement by Osama bin Laden: "All we have to do is send two mujaheddin to the furthest point east to raise a cloth on which is written al-Qaeda, in order to make the [U.S.] generals race there to cause America to suffer human, economic and political losses . . . so we are continuing this policy of bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy."

From New York Times comes Obama Says a Way Out of Afghanistan Is Needed:

“There’s got to be an exit strategy,” Mr. Obama said in a wide-ranging interview shown Sunday on “60 Minutes” on CBS. “There’s got to be a sense that this is not perpetual drift.”

European officials have been outspoken about their plans to leave Afghanistan in the next three to four years. Mr. Obama’s remarks, which were recorded on Friday, indicated that the administration, which has more troops and resources in Afghanistan than European countries do, is also working toward a long-term strategy.


In the interview, Mr. Obama also signaled that the United States was redefining its mission in Afghanistan, away from the Bush administration’s broader strategy of promoting democracy, civil society and governance in Afghanistan and toward getting the country to a point where it is not used to start attacks on the United States.

Asked what the United States’ mission in Afghanistan should be, Mr. Obama replied: “Making sure that Al Qaeda cannot attack the U.S. homeland and U.S. interests and our allies. That’s our No. 1 priority.”

That this might have to do as much with the economy as with ideology, take a look at Robert Kaplan's The Shrinking Superpower:

Nonetheless, I do not expect any sudden slashing of defense budgets. What I foresee is a more gradual siphoning of money away from vital programs over the next decade, even as China, India, and other countries enlarge their navies and other forces. This will not necessarily lead to a security dilemma for the U.S., but it will certainly lead to a multipolar world and the end of American dominance. The only development that could change this equation would be a new and sudden threat – and one other than mass-casualty terrorism. For while terrorism would lead to larger budgets for the intelligence establishment, the conventional air and sea platforms from which great powers are made would not be affected.

Defense policy will be increasingly geared toward protecting the homeland, even as globalization makes for a smaller, more intricately connected world. America, in the final analysis, will be better protected, even as its global reach wanes. That is what to expect if the recession is still with us a year from now.

And what is so wrong with that?

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