Day: November 24, 2010

Fewer troops, more politics

The Center for American Progress weighs in with another report that advocates reducing military efforts in Afghanistan. This one should go on that shelf I suggested you clear:  it makes a good, strong argument for an improved political and diplomatic strategy.

While trying to avoid criticism of the Administration, the report is forceful and clear in faulting current efforts for failing to define a clear political end-state for Afghanistan and for giving Afghanistan a higher priority than it deserves in the hierarchy of threats to U.S. national security.

The report fails however to ask or answer explicitly that vital question:  “is Karzai worth it?”  But it gives a clear enough implicit answer:  no, not unless he cleans up a good deal, and even then there is a compelling need to decentralize, thus reducing his control, enlarging the political pie and enabling more local power brokers access to a slice.  Failing that, CAP would have us withdraw both troops and money more quickly than currently planned.

Where the report fails to convince is in arguing that troop drawdown and increased political and diplomatic effort are compatible.  When did we ever manage that trick in the past?  It gives ample examples of problems the troop presence creates, but do we really think thinning out in Helmand and Kandahar before making more progress is going to improve the situation there?

The report is big on leverage, conditionality and benchmarks:  give the Afghans things we want them to do, and cut funding (or the troops) if they don’t do them.  There may well be too much money in Afghanistan (we are spending several times the country’s GDP), but conditionality and benchmarks have rarely worked well elsewhere (certainly not in Iraq).  It is not clear why they would work much better in Afghanistan.

So yes to more politics and diplomacy, but so long as we are willing to ignore the question “is Karzai worth it?” we’ll likely do better not drawing down the troops too fast.

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Brilliant policy vs. real world resistance

Writing in the Christian Science Monitor, SAIS colleague Kurt Volker welcomes the results of the NATO Summit but wonders whether the real world will permit serious implementation.

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