Day: May 7, 2014

Success is not built on lies

Ron Neumann joined CSIS’s Gerry Hyman and Tony Cordesman this morning for a presentation of Gerry’s “Afghanistan after the Drawdown:  US Civilian Engagement in Afghanistan Post-2014.”

Gerry’s focus is on defining limited, feasible objectives and deploying the resources needed to achieve them after the US draws down its forces by the end of the year.  As things stand today, both we and the Afghans have too many objectives that are too ambitious.  We need to rethink and make difficult choices.  He proposes we focus on three critical areas:  security, governance and economic growth, in that order of priority.  Civilians should focus on governance and economic growth.

He lays out three scenarios:  optimistic, muddling through and pessimistic.  In all three, he throws health, education, infrastructure, civil society and women’s empowerment overboard.  He anticipates funding will decline in all the scenarios, but what can be achieved is obviously less difficult in the optimistic scenario and more difficult in the pessimistic scenario.  Muddling through is the best a reasonable observer would hope for.

But it won’t be easy.  The report says:

It is hard to see any scenario in which the A[fghan] N[ational] S[ecurity] F[orces] will maintain their ground let alone defeat the insurgency.

The war will continue in Afghanistan, even if the US is no longer a daily participant.  Prospects for a negotiated solution with the Taliban are minimal.  US forces at the level anticipated (below 9000) will be able to do little.  The security environment for civilians working on governance and the economy will be perilous.

Governance in Afghanistan “remains troubled.”  The government

is weak, ineffective, and accountable (if at all) mostly through payments and concessions to the demands of rapacious power-holders.  Corruption is rampant.  Public positions are…bought and sold….Performance is modest.  Public suspicion and animosity is high.

The centralized state that Karzai and the internationals have sought to impose lacks legitimacy with the people.  It does not reflect the complexity of social and political reality in Afghanistan.  The country needs more local governance, including through traditional communal mechanisms.  The presidential election, currently between its first and second rounds, represents the best near-term hope for improving the situation.

The Afghan economy, as Tony illustrated in his commentary, is currently dependent on the foreign military presence, aid, drugs and–this one surprised me–abundant rain.  Recent good growing seasons, he said, account for a good deal of the economic growth that AID and the State Department try to take credit for.  The CSIS report suggests that minerals are a likely future source of economic growth, but mining will not provide the numbers of jobs required (500,000 new workers enter the labor force each year).  Carpets are not going to soak up the rest.

Cordesman added his usual dose of well-documented negativity.  We face three threats in Afghanistan as elsewhere:   the enemy, the host government and ourselves.  The US government has done no decent planning.  The surge did not work.  Things are getting worse.  The much-vaunted improvements in education and life expectancy have little statistical basis.  Budget execution has been miserable.  Revenues are dropping.  The funding gap is growing.  The commitments made at the 2012 Tokyo conference have amounted to zero.  There is a big increase in opium cultivation.  Success is never built on lies.

Poor Ron.  He was presumably there to counter-balance Tony (Marc Grossman couldn’t make it due to illness).  He tried, with the kind of good-humored anecdata diplomats employ well:  Afghans are optimistic, election security was good, twice as many people voted as last time around, Kandahar is improved.  No, the war is not ending, just the heavy American participation.  But what we do still matters.  It is time for us to be steady, not make big strategic choices.*  Governance and economic growth are difficult.  They have long lead times.  We should not be too pessimistic about the ANSF.  They can hold territory.

That’s when I got a phone call.  I didn’t stay for the Q and A.  Too much of a downer already.  I went off to enjoy Syrian Opposition Coalition President Jarba.  Not a proper antidote, obviously.

*Ron Neumann informs me that I missed some key points.  He does not want avoid strategy indefinitely but to build it in consultation with next Afghan government and president when we can make reasonable estimation of we can expect from him. We also need to know what our troop decision will be. At that point we will have most elements necessary for a strategy. I don’t think that can be well done only on a scenario basis that excludes key participants and decisions.

Tags : ,

Still righting the balance

These are my speaking notes for the talk I gave last night at the DC World Affairs Council on my book,
Righting the Balance (Potomac, 2013).  I’ve added a bit about Ukraine, which is in part an instance of state weakness.  It also illustrates the limited usefulness of conventional military instruments in meeting asymmetrical challenges, a key theme in the book.  Click there on the right to order your own copy!

1. It is truly an honor to present here at the World Affairs Council. The 98 World Affairs Councils throughout this country play a key role in generating and sustaining the kind of citizen engagement in foreign policy that I think is so important in today’s increasingly interconnected world.

2. As I am going to say some harsh things about the State Department and USAID, and even suggest they be abolished in favor of a single Foreign Office, I would like to emphasize from the first that I have enormous respect for the Foreign Service and the devotion of its officers to pursuing America’s interests abroad. I feel the same way about the US military.

3. But I don’t think the Foreign Service is well served by the institutions that hire, pay and deploy our diplomats and aid workers. And I don’t think our military should be called upon to make up for civilian deficiencies.

4. My book, Righting the Balance, is aimed at correcting those imbalances. But it does not start there.

5. It starts with the sweep of American history, which has given our military a leading role in America’s foreign affairs since at least the French and Indian war.

6. Americans think of their country as a peaceful one, but in fact we have had troops deployed in conflict zones for more than a quarter of our history—not even counting wars against native Americans and pirates—and every year since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

7. With each of those wars, we improved our technology and expanded our reach, becoming by the end of the 20th century the world’s only remaining superpower.

8. We have a strong, well-exercised military arm for projecting power. It is so strong that it is reaching a point of diminishing returns: every additional dollar buys miniscule improvement.

9. But our civilian capacities are more limited. This was glaringly apparent in Iraq and Afghanistan, where State and AID struggled, and all too often failed, to meet the requirements.

10. It has also been glaringly apparent during the Arab uprisings, which not only caught our diplomats by surprise but left them puzzled about what to do.

11. These failures are more important than ever before. The enemies who cause us problems today are not often states: Saddam Hussein’s Iraq fell quickly, as did the Taliban government in Afghanistan.

12. We won the wars. We lost the peace.

13. The main threats to America today come not from other strong states but from non-state actors who find haven and support in fragile, weak and collapsing states.

14. Even in Ukraine, the Russians are not using the full weight of their armed forces but rather relying on disruption in challenging the legitimacy of Kiev’s government and its control over territory in the east and south.

15. National security, always more than a military mission, now requires conflict prevention and state-building capacities that are sorely lacking in both State and AID. They have scrambled hard to meet the needs in Bosnia, Kosovo, South Sudan, Iraq and Afghanistan, but they are not much better configured than when I arrived in Sarajevo for the first time in November 1994.

16. Some of you will be thinking, that’s OK, because we never want to do this state-building stuff again.

17. It’s not only my colleague Michael Mandelbaum who thinks that way. Each and every president since 1989 has resisted getting involved in other countries’ internal politics, and each one has discovered that it is far easier to go to war and kill enemies than it is to withdraw, leaving behind a collapsed state that will regenerate those enemies.

18. Unless you are willing to fight on forever—even longer than the “long war”—you need to build capable states that protect their citizens reasonably well.

19. We are discovering this today in Yemen, where the drone war appears to have created more terrorists than it has killed. This is one of the main reasons President Obama has avoided military intervention in Syria, but the post-war effort there will still be a major one, even if is not primarily a U.S. responsibility. The same is true in eastern DRC and in Colombia, where peace is threatening to break out after decades of war.

20. America won’t be able to avoid being engaged when North Korea or Cuba collapses. Nor will we stay aloof if nuclear-armed Pakistan starts coming apart. Let’s not even think about Iran. If Ukraine is to be kept whole and independent, it will need a far better state than the one that has performed so badly since the Orange Revolution of 2005.

21. So my view is that we need to prepare for the day, not continue to delude ourselves that we will never do it again.

22. But I would be the first to admit that post-war state-building, a subject I teach at SAIS, is hard and expensive. Anticipation is cheaper and better. We need civilian foreign policy instruments that will take early action to prevent states from collapsing and help initiate reforms.

23. We’ve been reasonably successful at allowing this to happen in much of Latin America and East Asia, where recent decades have seen many countries turn in the direction of democratic transition. Brazil, Chile, South Korea, Indonesia are sterling examples of transitions that the United States allowed, nurtured and encouraged.

24. That’s what we failed to do effectively in the Arab world, with consequences that are now on the front pages every day. We failed to anticipate the revolution in Tunisia. In Libya we failed to help the new regime establish a monopoly on the legitimate means of violence. That failure cost us an ambassador and three of his colleagues and has left Libya adrift.

25. In Egypt, we’ve been inconstant, supporting whoever gains power. The result, as I observed during the constitutional referendum in January, is a restoration of the military autocracy, with voters intimidated into staying home rather than voting against the new constitution and human rights advocates imprisoned along with the Muslim Brotherhood leadership.

26. In Syria, we failed to support moderates, only to see them displaced and replaced by extremists. The result is a daily catastrophe of truly genocidal dimensions.

27. The specific areas I describe as lacking in today’s State and AID are these:

• Mobilizing early, preventive action
• Reforming security services
• Promoting democracy
• Countering violent extremism
• Encouraging citizen and cultural diplomacy

28. These are all efforts at the periphery of traditional diplomacy, and I readily admit that the last three are better done mainly outside government while the first two are more inherently governmental.

29. But I don’t think we can get them done with our current institutions, which were designed for different purposes in other eras. Inertia and legacy are too strong.

30. The State Department, originally the Department of the State, is now a conventional foreign ministry with a 19th century architecture: most Foreign Service personnel serve abroad in static embassies and other missions servicing agencies of the US government other than the State Department. Legacy and inertia, not current needs, dictate where it has people stationed and a good deal of what they are doing.

31. USAID was founded with a poverty alleviation and economic development mission to help fight the Cold War. Few of us still think that US government programs can fix poverty at home, much less overseas.

32. There have been a lot of proposals for reform. Let’s recall Condoleezza Rice’s transformational diplomacy and Hillary Clinton’s Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, now being reprised. None of these efforts have gained more than temporary traction.

33. What we need to do is conduct what scientists call a thought experiment: knowing what we do about the challenges we now face, what kind foreign policy instruments do we need?

34. The answer is nothing like what we’ve got.

35. My book doesn’t offer a detailed design, but it does suggest that we need a single Foreign Office with a national security focus as well as a much-enhanced nongovernmental effort, operated at arms’ length from officialdom but with much greater Congressional funding than it has today.

36. I am not however prepared to propose, as so many have before me, that this new Foreign Office be funded by passing up an F22 or two. I think State and AID have the resources needed, but unfortunately tied up in those elephantine embassies supporting other US government agencies.

37. Shrinking these dramatically would provide the funds for a much sleeker and more effective Foreign Office, including a corps of several thousand people able and willing to deploy, with or without US troops, to difficult environments to take on the hard work of conflict prevention and state-building where required.

38. What we need is a far more agile, anticipatory and mobile Foreign Service, one built for a world in which virtually everyone will soon be connected to worldwide communications at reasonable cost and ordinary citizens, including you, count for much more than ever before in world history.

Tags : , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,