11/30/08

What Comes Next

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has said, flatly, that we are not winning the war in Afghanistan.

American casualties are increasing; in the last six months, one Marine battalion in Afghanistan lost more soldiers than all of the 20,000 Marines in Iraq. The Taliban is resurgent and Al Qaeda--or its viral offspring--are gathering momentum. It seems likely that this week's attacks in Mumbai originated in the mountainous region between Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the Taliban is entrenched.

Pakistan's own intelligence agency is known to be supportive of the Taliban, largely because they see the Taliban as a potential counterweight to the perceived collusion between India, Afghanistan and the U.S. Recently, a redrawn map of Pakistan originating in American, neoconservative circles made its way out into the world. It showed Pakistan largely subsumed by Afghanistan, India and an autonomous Baluchistan. Obviously, this didn't help.

In October, Frontline aired a documentary about the war in Afghanistan that details the effects on the region as a whole. Of particular interest is the tension that American missteps in Afghanistan create between India and Pakistan.

In this context, it is difficult to know how to proceed in Afghanistan. Simply exiting seems irresponsible: the Taliban would almost certainly return to power and what comes next could be worse than 9/11, if not for the U.S. then for Pakistan or India. At the same time, military solutions are proving ineffective if not disastrous. Virtually no one interviewed for Frontline believes that the war is winnable within the near future. And the prospect of a grinding, twenty-year military endeavor is not enticing. Simply put, the way that we are currently fighting the war in Afghanistan is creating more problems than it is solving. The worst case scenario would be indirectly fomenting a war between two, nuclear powers, for unilateral strikes against the Taliban over the border in Pakistan may implicitly give the green light to India to do the same.

It is in this context that the President-elect's plans for Central Asia seem so intriguing.

The New York Times reports that in selecting his National Security team, President-elect Obama has chosen advisers who, although they are more hawkish than he, share his vision of a fundamentally altered foreign policy.
The shift would create a greatly expanded corps of diplomats and aid workers that, in the vision of the incoming Obama administration, would be engaged in projects around the world aimed at preventing conflicts and rebuilding failed states.
The Obama Administration is proposing an overhaul of American foreign policy in what the Times calls "a sweeping shift of priorities and resources in the national security arena." The solution in Afghanistan will not be solely diplomatic, but with an infusion of badly needed troops coming from the draw down in Iraq, areas can be secured. Then, by focusing on rebuilding infrastructure and providing services in Afghanistan, we may be able to prevent a replay of what happened after the Soviets withdrew. If we had invested in more than just guns in Afghanistan back then, who knows what the world would look like now?

Update: Despite rampant speculation, the area that the Mumbai attacks originated from is still as yet unknown. Although the hills of Pakistan was an educated guess, it was a premature one.

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