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Entries in Hamid Karzai (6)


Afghanistan Special: Exposing the Trail of Drug Money --- Who's Involved?

AFGHANISTAN FLAGJulian Mercille, our colleague at University College Dublin, investigates the politics and conflict behind Afghanistan's drug production and profits, involving not only the Taliban but also other Afghan groups, the US military, and NATO forces:

As United States President Barack Obama and his advisors debated future troop levels for Afghanistan - which resulted in the decision to send an additional 30,000 troops - a new report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) muddied the water on one of the most important issues in the debate - the effects of Afghanistan's drug production.

The report, entitled "Addiction, Crime, and Insurgency: The Transnational Threat of Afghan Opium," gives the false impression that the Taliban are the main culprits behind Afghanistan's skyrocketing drug production. It also implies that drugs are the main reason why the Taliban are gaining in strength, absolving the United States and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) of their own responsibility in fomenting the insurgency.

In fact, the United States and its Afghan allies bear a large share of responsibility for the drug industry's dramatic expansion since the invasion. Buried deep in the report, its authors admit that reduced levels of drug production would have little effect on the insurgency's vigor.

The following annotation rebuffs some of the report's main assertions, puts in perspective the Taliban's role in the opium economy and highlights US/NATO responsibility for its expansion and potential reduction.
Taliban insurgents draw some US$125 million annually from drugs, which is more money than 10 years ago, [and as a result] the perfect storm of drugs and terrorism, that has struck the Afghan/Pakistani border for years, may be heading towards Central Asia. A big part of the region could be engulfed in large-scale terrorism, endangering its massive energy resources.

These claims are supposed to make us shudder in the face of an impending narco-terrorist seizure of a large chunk of the world's energy resources. UNODC states that a decade ago the Taliban earned $85 million per year from drugs, but that since 2005 this figure has jumped to $125 million. Although this is pitched as a significant increase, the Taliban play a more minor role in the opium economy than UNODC would have us believe and drug money is probably a secondary source of funding for them. Indeed, the report estimates that only 10-15% of Taliban funding is drawn from drugs and 85% comes from "non-opium sources".

The total revenue generated by opiates within Afghanistan is about $3.4 billion per year. Of this figure, according to UNODC, the Taliban get only 4% of the sum. Farmers, meanwhile, get 21%.

And the remaining 75%? Al-Qaeda? No: The report specifies that it "does not appear to have a direct role in the Afghan opiates trade", although it may participate in "low-level drugs and/or arms smuggling" along the Pakistani border.

Instead, the remaining 75% is captured by government officials, the police, local and regional power brokers and traffickers - in short, many of the groups now supported (or tolerated) by the United States and NATO are important actors in the drug trade.

The New York Times recently revealed that Ahmed Wali Karzai, President Hamid Karzai's brother, has long been on the Central Intelligence Agency's (CIA's) payroll, in addition to his probable shady dealings in drugs. But this is only the tip of the iceberg, as US and NATO forces have long supported warlords, commanders and illegal militias with a record of human-rights abuses and involvement in narcotics. A former CIA officer said, "Virtually every significant Afghan figure has had brushes with the drug trade." According to a New York University report, General Nazri Mahmad, a warlord who "control[s] a significant portion of the province's lucrative opium industry," has the contract to provide security for the German Provincial Reconstruction Team.

UNODC insists on making the Taliban-drugs connection front-page news while not chasing with the same intensity those supported by Washington. The agency seems to be acting as an enabler of US/NATO policies in Afghanistan.

When I asked the UNODC official who supervised the report what percentage of total drug income in Afghanistan was captured by government officials, the reply was quick: "We don't do that, I don't know."

Instead of pointing a finger directly at the US/NATO-backed government, the report gives the impression that the problem lies mostly with rotten apples who threaten an otherwise well-intentioned government.

But the roots of Afghanistan's upsurge in drug production since 2001 are directly related to US policies and the government that was installed in the wake of the invasion. The United States attacked Afghanistan in 2001, in alliance with anti-Taliban warlords and drug lords, showering them with millions of dollars and other forms of support. The empowerment and enrichment of the warlords with whom the US allied itself enabled them to tax and protect opium traffickers, leading to the quick resumption of opium production after the hiatus of the 2000 Taliban ban.

To blame "corruption" and "criminals" for the state of affairs is to ignore the direct and predictable effects of US policies, which have simply followed a historical pattern of toleration and empowerment of local drug lords in the pursuit of broader foreign policy objectives, as Alfred McCoy and others have documented in detail.

Impunity for drug lords and warlords continues: a US Senate report noted in August that no major traffickers have been arrested in Afghanistan since 2006, and that successful prosecutions of significant traffickers are often overturned by a simple bribe or protection from above, revealing counter-narcotics efforts to be deficient at best.

Identifying drugs as the main cause behind Taliban advances absolves the US/NATO of their own responsibility in fomenting the insurgency: their very presence in the country, as well as their destructive attacks on civilians account for a good deal of the recent increase in popular support for the Taliban.

In fact, buried deep in the report, its authors admit that reducing drug production would have only "minimal impact on the insurgency's strategic threat". The Taliban receive "significant funding from private donors all over the world", a contribution which "dwarfs" drug money. Although the report will be publicized by many as a vindication of calls to target the opium economy in order to weaken the Taliban, the authors themselves are not convinced of the validity of this argument.
Of the $65 billion turnover of the global market for opiates, only 5-10% ($3-5 billion) is estimated to be laundered by informal banking systems. The rest is laundered through legal trade activities and the banking system.

This is an important claim that points to the enormous amounts of drug money swallowed by the world financial system, including Western banks.

The report says that over the last seven years (2002-2008), the transnational trade in Afghan opiates resulted in worldwide sales of $400-$500 billion (retail value). Only 5-10% of this is estimated to be laundered by informal banking systems (such as hawala). The remainder is laundered through the legal economy, and importantly, through Western banks.

In fact, Antonio Maria Costa was quoted as saying that drug money may have recently rescued some failing banks: "Interbank loans were funded by money that originated from drug trade and other illegal activities", and there were "signs that some banks were rescued in that way". "At a time of major bank failures, money doesn't smell, bankers seem to believe," he wrote in UNODC's 2009 World Drug Report (emphasis in original).
Afghanistan has the world monopoly of opium cultivation (92%), the raw material for the world's deadliest drug - heroin, [which is] causing up to 100,000 deaths per year.

Tobacco is the world's deadliest drug, not heroin, and kills about five million people every year. According to the World Health Organization, if present tobacco consumption patterns continue, the number of deaths will increase to 10 million by the year 2020. Some 70% of these will be in developing countries, which are the main target of the tobacco industry's marketing ploys. So why does the Taliban get more flak than tobacco companies?

The report estimates there are 16 million opiate users across the world, with the main consumer market being Europe, valued at $20 billion. Europeans are thus the main source of funding for the Afghan drug industry and their governments share a significant part of responsibility for failing to decrease demand and provide more treatment services within their own borders. Lowering drug use in Europe would contribute significantly to reducing the scale of the problem in Afghanistan.

Moreover, the report notes that NATO member Turkey is a "central hub" through which Afghan opiates reach Europe. Perhaps NATO should direct its efforts towards its own members before targeting the Taliban.
Some Taliban networks may be involved at the level of precursor procurement. These recent findings support the assertion that the Taliban network is more involved in drug trafficking than previously thought.

Yes, the Taliban surely take a cut out of the precursor trade (the chemicals needed to refine opium into products like heroin and morphine).

However, Western countries and some of their allies are also involved: The report identified "Europe, China and the Russian Federation" as "major acetic anhydride sources for Afghanistan". For instance, 220 liters of acetic anhydride were intercepted this year at Kabul airport, apparently originating from France. In recent years, chemicals have also been shipped from or via the Republic of Korea and UNODC's 2008 Afghan Opium Survey pointed to Germany as a source of precursors.

It is unclear what the total value of the Afghan trade in chemical precursors is, but from the report's data it can be inferred that the retail value of just one precursor, acetic anhydride, was about $450 million this year. Part of that money goes back to Western chemical corporations in the form of profits. Tighter safeguards should be in place on these products.
Areas of opium poppy cultivation and insecurity correlate geographically. In 2008, 98% of opium poppy cultivation took place in southern and western Afghanistan, the least secure regions.

UNODC associates drugs with the Taliban by pointing to the fact that most poppy cultivation takes places in regions where the Taliban are concentrated. Maps show "poppy-free" provinces in the north and a concentration of cultivation in the southern provinces, linking the Taliban with drugs.

It is true that cultivation is concentrated in the south, but such maps obscure the fact that there is plenty of drug money in the north, a region over which the Afghan government has more control. For instance, Balkh province may be poppy-free, but its center, Mazar-i Sharif, is awash in drug money. Nangarhar was also poppy-free in 2008, although it still remains a province where a large amount of opiates is trafficked.

Some Western officials are now implying that political elites in northern Afghanistan are engaging in successful counter-narcotics while the southern drug economy expands. But the fact is that although the commanders who control northern Afghanistan today may have eliminated cultivation, none have moved against trafficking. Most of them continue to profit from it, and some are believed to have become millionaires.

Afghanistan-Pakistan Transcript/Analysis: Clinton & Gates on ABC News (6 December)

CLINTON GATESVideo of the interview:

Get beyond the headline of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates' admission, "I think it has been years" since the US had good intelligence on Osama bin Laden's, and here are the important points from this interview:

1. The Obama approach on Afghanistan, no matter how many times Gates says "transition strategy", is to "kick the can down the road", putting off the deadline for another significant decision to mid-2011.

2. The Obama Administration still has no confidence that it can rely on a political center in Kabul. Look at Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's far-from-ringing endorsement of Afghan President Hamid Karzai: "The proof is in the pudding. We're going to have to wait to see how it unfolds."

A Gut Reaction to Obama’s Afghanistan-Pakistan Speech: The Halfway House of Long War (Part 1)
A Hail Mary Strategy in Pakistan: The Gut Reaction to Obama’s Speech (Part 2)

3. There is not a hint of an approach in Pakistan other than the Pakistani military being told to go and beat up the "Taliban".

4. The Obama Administration has no real idea how to deal with the economic strain of this increased commitment, other than to hope that it goes away sooner rather than later.

5. So how to proceed, given all these obstacles? Repeat: Al Qa'eda, Al Qa'eda, Al Qa'eda.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, HOST: And we begin with the cornerstones of President Obama's national security cabinet, the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton; secretary of defense, Robert Gates. Welcome to you both.

This is the first time you're here together on "This Week". Thanks for doing it.

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: The first time we've been called cornerstones.


STEPHANOPOULOS: Secretary Gates, let me begin with you, because there has been so much focus since the president's speech on this call to begin an exit strategy in July 2011. I want to show you what Senator McCain said earlier this week.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: When conditions on the ground have decisively begun to change for the better, that is when our troops should start to return home with honor, not one minute longer, not one minute sooner, and certainly not on some arbitrary date in July 2011.


STEPHANOPOULOS: Just two months ago, you seemed to agree with that sentiment. You called the notion of timelines and exit strategies a strategic mistake. What changed?

ROBERT GATES, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Well, first of all, I don't consider this an exit strategy. And I try to avoid using that term. I think this is a transition...


GATES: This is a transition that's going to take place. And it's not an arbitrary date. It will be two years since the Marines went into southern Helmand and that two years that our military leaders believe will give us time to know that our strategy is working.

They believe that in that time General McChrystal will have the opportunity to demonstrate decisively in certain areas of Afghanistan that the approach we're taking is working. Obviously the transition will begin in the less contested areas of the country.

But it will be the same kind of gradual conditions-based transition province by province, district by district, that we saw in Iraq.

STEPHANOPOULOS: We've heard that phrase a lot...

GATES: But it begins -- but it begins in July 2011.

STEPHANOPOULOS: No, I understand that. But you about this conditions-based decision-making. And I guess that it's fairly vague term. So if the strategy is working, do the troops stay? If it's not working, do they leave? How -- how is the decision-making process going to go?

GATES: Well, from my standpoint, the decision in terms of when a district or a cluster of districts or a province is ready to be turned over to the Afghan security forces is a judgment that will be made by our commanders on the ground, not here in Washington.

And we will do the same thing we did in Iraq, when we transitioned to Afghan security responsibility. We will withdraw first into tactical overwatch, and then a strategic overwatch, if you will, the cavalry over the hill in case they run into trouble.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And this certainly increases the leverage on President Karzai and his government, Secretary Clinton, which brings up questions similar to questions that were raised by a lot of Democrats during -- after the Iraq surge, including President Obama when he was a senator.

He asked Secretary Rice basically what happens if the Maliki government doesn't live up to its promises.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, THEN SENATOR: Are there any circumstances that you can articulate in which we would say to the Maliki government that enough is enough, and we are no longer committing our troops.


STEPHANOPOULOS: A lot of people asking the same exact question today about President Karzai, at what point do we say enough is enough, we're no longer going to commit troops?

CLINTON: Well, George, I understand the desire to ask these questions which are all thrown into the future, they're obviously matters of concern about how we have a good partner as we move forward in Afghanistan.

But I think you have to look at what President Karzai said in his inaugural speech where he said that Afghan security forces would begin to take responsibility for important parts of the country within three years, and that they would be responsible for everything within five years.

And from our perspective, we think we have a strategy that is a good, integrated approach, it's civilian and military. It has been extremely thoroughly analyzed. But we have to begin to implement it with the kind of commitment that we all feel toward it.

I can't predict everything that is going to happen with President Karzai. I came away from my meeting with him around the inauguration heartened by a lot of what he was saying. But you know, the proof is in the pudding. We're going to have to wait to see how it unfolds.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But if you're really going to have maximum leverage, doesn't he have to know that if he doesn't live up to the commitment, we're going to go?

CLINTON: Well, I think he knows that we have a commitment to trying to protect our national security. That's why we're there. We do want to assist the people of Afghanistan and to try to improve the capacity of the Afghan government.

But I think it's important to stress that this decision was based on what we believe is best for the United States. And we have to have a realistic view of who we're working with in Afghanistan, and it's not only President Karzai, it's ministers of various agencies that -- some of which are doing quite well and producing good results, provincial and local leaders.

So it's a much more complicated set of players than just one person.

STEPHANOPOULOS: There is also the question of Pakistan, the neighbor, and whether they're living up to their commitments. You got in a little hot water in Pakistan when you suggested that they hadn't been doing enough in the past to go after the Taliban.

And, Secretary Gates, let me turn a question about this to you, it's connected to a report that Senator Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee released this week about Osama bin Laden. He suggested that the failure to block his exit from Tora Bora has made the situation there much worse.

In this report, he actually wrote that the decisions that opened the door for his escape to Pakistan allowed bin Laden to emerge as a potent symbolic figure who continues to attract a steady flow of money and inspire fanatics worldwide.

The Pakistani prime minister sort of shrugged off any concerns about that this week, about whether or not he had gone -- done enough to go after Osama bin Laden. He said he doesn't believe Osama is in Pakistan. Is he right? And do you think the Pakistanis have done enough to get him?

GATES: Well, we don't know for a fact where Osama bin Laden is, if we did, we'd go get him. But...

STEPHANOPOULOS: When was the last time we had any good intelligence on where he was?

GATES: I think it has been years.


GATES: I think so.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So these reports that came out just this week about a detainee saying he might have seen him in Afghanistan earlier this year?

GATES: No, that's...

STEPHANOPOULOS: We can't confirm that.


STEPHANOPOULOS: So do you believe that one of the reasons we haven't had good enough intelligence is because the Pakistani government has not been cooperating enough?

GATES: No. I think it's because if, as we suspect, he is in North Waziristan, it is an area that the Pakistani government has not had a presence in, in quite some time. The truth of the matter is that we have been very impressed by the Pakistani army's willingness to go into places like Swat in South Waziristan, if one had asked any of us a year or more ago if the Pakistani army would be doing that, we would have said no chance.

And so they are bringing pressure to bear on the Taliban in Pakistan, and particularly those that are attacking the Pakistani government. But frankly, any pressure on the Taliban, whether it's in Pakistan or in Afghanistan is helpful to us because al Qaeda is working with both of them.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You mentioned the actions the Pakistani government has taken. Is Balochistan next? Is that where they have to go next to take out the Taliban?

GATE: Well, I think that the Pakistani government, we sometimes tend to forget that Pakistan, like Afghanistan, is a sovereign country. And Pakistani -- the Pakistani army will go where the Pakistani army thinks the threat is. And if they think that threat is Balochistan, that's where they'll go. If they think it's in North Waziristan, they may go up there. Or they may just winter in where they are right now.

But these are calls that the Pakistanis make. We are sharing information with them. We have had a steadily developing, better relationship between our militaries.

And we will help them in any way we possibly can, but that's their call.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Back to Afghanistan, Secretary Clinton, some have suggested that one of your envoys -- the president's envoy, Richard Holbrooke -- should begin negotiations with those elements of the Taliban who are willing to talk to him.

Do you agree with that?

CLINTON: Well, George, we have said -- and the president made it clear in his speech at West Point -- that, you know, there are two different approaches here.

One is what could be called reintegration. And that is really looking at the lower-level members of the Taliban, who are there through intimidation and coercion, or, frankly, because it's a better living than they can make anywhere else.

We think there's a real opportunity for a number of those to be persuaded to leave the battlefield.

Now, the problem, of course, once they leave -- and we have a lot of evidence of this -- they'll get killed if they're not protected. And that's one of the reasons why we're trying to get these secure zones.

STEPHANOPOULOS: In other words, they don't believe we'll stay.

CLINTON: Well, and also, just, we need to secure the population. It's one of General McChrystal's principal objectives.

Then the upper levels of the Taliban -- you know, look. They have to renounce al Qaeda, renounce violence. They have to be willing to abide by the constitution of Afghanistan and live peacefully.

We have no firm information whether any of those leaders would be at all interested in following that kind of a path. In fact, I'm highly skeptical that any of them would.

So, we're going to be consulting with our Afghan partners. It's going to be a multiply-run operation to see who might come off of the battlefield, and who might possibly give up their allegiance to the Taliban and their connection with the...

STEPHANOPOULOS: But high-level negotiations are possible?

CLINTON: We don't know yet. And again, I think that -- we asked Mullah Omar to give up bin Laden before we went into Afghanistan after 9/11, and he wouldn't do it. I don't know why we think he would have changed by now.

GATES: I would just add, I think that the likelihood of the leadership of the Taliban, or seniors leaders, being willing to accept the conditions Secretary Clinton just talked about depends in the first instance on reversing their momentum right now, and putting them in a position where they suddenly begin to realize that they're likely to lose.

STEPHANOPOULOS: How is this offensive in Helmand Province going?

GATES: It's actually going very well. And the Marines have already had -- I think one of the reasons that our military leaders are pretty confident is that they have already begun to see changes where the Marines are present in southern Helmand.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the question of costs, which has been raised by our next guest, Senator Russ Feingold. As you know, he's against the escalation announced by the president.

But he's also gone (ph) and wrote a letter to the president where he raises -- where he says, we request that you not send any additional troops to Afghanistan until Congress has enacted appropriations to pay for the cost of such an increase, and that you propose reductions in spending to pay for the costs of any military operations in Afghanistan -- a concern shared by many of the American people.

Secretary Clinton, shouldn't this war, if we're going to fight it, be paid for?

CLINTON: Well, the president has said that the costs are going to be accounted for, that the Office of Management and Budget, the Defense Department, the State Department, you know, are going to be working to make sure that we give the best projections of costs we can.

I think that we're going to have to address our deficit situation across the board. There's no doubt about that, and I certainly support that.

But I think we have to look at the entire budget, and we have to be very clear about, you know, what the costs are, as Secretary Gates has said a couple of times in our testimony together. We are drawing down from Iraq. There will be savings over the next two to three years coming from there. And the addition of these troops is going to put a burden on us, no doubt about it.

It is manageable, but we have to look at all of our fiscal situation and begin to address this.

STEPHANOPOULOS: There's also the question of the cost-benefit analysis. And a lot of people look at our own U.S. government intelligence estimates, saying there are fewer than 100 active al Qaeda in Afghanistan and say, why is that worth putting $30 billion more this year into Afghanistan?

GATES: It is because in that border area, Afghan-Pakistani border, that is the epicenter of extremist jihad. And al Qaeda has close relationships with the Taliban in Afghanistan, and they have very close relationships with the Taliban in Pakistan.

The Taliban in Pakistan have been attacking Pakistani civilians, Pakistani government officials, military officials, trying to destabilize the government of Pakistan.

Any success by the Taliban in either Afghanistan or Pakistan benefits al Qaeda. And any safe haven on either side of the border creates opportunities for them to recruit, get new funds and do operational planning.

And what's more, the Taliban revival in the safe havens in western Pakistan is a lesson to al Qaeda that they can come back, if they are provided the kind of safe haven that the Taliban were.

This is the place where the jihadists defeated the Soviet Union, one superpower. And they believe -- their narrative is that it helped create the collapse of the Soviet Union. If they -- they believe that if they can defeat us in Afghanistan, that they then have the opportunity to defeat a second superpower.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But you look at that...

GATES: And it creates huge opportunities for them in that area, as well as around the world.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You were the deputy director of the CIA back in 1985, when Gorbachev made the decision to expand. Eighteen months later, he was pulling out.

What's to prevent that from happening again?

GATES: Well, what he did was agree with his generals to make one last push.

But the parallel just doesn't work. The reality is, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. They killed a million Afghans. They made five million refugees out of Afghanis.

They were isolated in the world in terms of what they were doing there.

We are part of an alliance of 42 countries with us, in addition to us, that are contributing troops. We have a U.N. mandate. We have a mandate from NATO.

So, you have broad international support for what's going on in Afghanistan. And the situation is just completely different than was the case with the Soviet Union.

STEPHANOPOULOS: We're just about out of time.

Secretary Clinton, I want to ask you about the case of Amanda Knox, the American college student, who was convicted of murder in Italy, just on Friday.

Senator Cantwell of Washington has expressed a lot of concerns about this conviction. She said she wants to talk to you about it. Here's what she said.

I have serious questions about the Italian justice system and whether anti-Americanism tainted this trial. The prosecution did not present enough evidence for an impartial jury to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that Ms. Knox was guilty. Italian jurors were not sequestered, and were allowed to view highly negative news coverage about Ms. Knox.

She goes on to lay out several of the concerns she had with the trial. She did say, as I said, she's going to be in contact with you, so you can express the concerns to the Italian government.

Do you share her concerns about this trial?

CLINTON: George, I honestly haven't had time to even examine that. I've been immersed in what we're doing in Afghanistan.

Of course, I'll meet with Senator Cantwell, or anyone who has a concern, but I can't offer any opinion about that at this time.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So you have not expressed any concerns to the Italian government?

CLINTON: I have not, no.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Secretary Clinton, Secretary Gates, thank you both very much.

GATES: Thank you.


A Gut Reaction to Obama's Afghanistan-Pakistan Speech: The Halfway House of The Long War (Part 1)

OBAMA KARZAIThe second part of "A Gut Reaction", covering the Obama policy in Pakistan, will appear on Saturday.

This was a terrible speech. More importantly, it may come to mark a terrible moment in the Obama Presidency. Most importantly, it may come to mark --- in months and years to follow --- a terrible moment in American foreign policy.

The speech is not terrible in its rhetoric or delivery. It is not terrible in its declaration of lofty values. It is not even terrible --- though I think it is evasive and misleading --- in its opening five paragraphs on a past tragedy to rationalise a blank check for current decisions. It is terrible because it is void of political strategy. This speech is either a stunning exercise in being oblivious to failure or hoping against hope that failure will never be exposed.

Afghanistan Special: Josh Shahryar on the Obama Not-So-Grand Plan

I'm plumping for the latter, not just because the President does not seem the oblivious type but because the hodge-podge of measures looks to be an attempt to buy some time for either political fortune or divine intervention to save the day.

So, as we thought yesterday, the number of 30,000 troops is put forward primarily as a domestic political compromise, rather than as the culmination of a military strategy for the campaign against the Afghan insurgency. The US commanders get most of their request, which gives Obama some insulation (but only some, as there are a lot of critics inside and outside the military who want even more of a troops-first approach) against domestic sniping.

So Obama put in, albeit almost as an afterthought to the troop announcement, put in a brief section on non-military measures. For there are those in the US, let alone abroad, who might think that more than a stick is required for stability. And this President is at pains to make clear that Afghanistan 2009 is not another Iraq 2003-2007. (We'll save Obama's Afghanistan 2009 is not Vietnam 1967 for the moment

But, for his domestic audience, Afghanistan 2009 can be Iraq 2007-2009. So, after patting himself on the back for the "responsible" policy in the latter which lays the foundation for a US withdrawal, Obama promised that his soon-to-be-apparent Afghan success would mean the first American troops could leave in July 2011.

It's a neat trick. You like the "surge" myth? Well, you've got a sequel. Not sure about the "surge" myth? Well, just go with me and we'll begin drawing this adventure to a close in 18 months.

Not that it's an easy trick, even for the sake of presentation. It's notable that, contrary to earlier leaks of 6000 additional forces from NATO countries to bolster his plan, Obama didn't cite a number last night. So far, he has only got a fig leaf of 500 more soldiers from Britain. With other allies like Canada now out of this battle, the President --- who emphasised Afghanistan-not-Vietnam because 42 countries were alongside the US --- is going to struggle to make this more than the US way, way out in front.

But let's leave such minor quibbles aside. The audacity of Obama's speech, and thus its terrible roar, was in the willful ignorance of matters closer to Kabul and indeed Islamabad.

Consider first of all the deception that underlay the speech. Five long paragraphs invoking 9-11 does not bring Osama bin Laden and his boys into Afghanistan. If Obama wants to follow the logic of his rhetoric, then the 30,000 US soldiers should be marching into Pakistan.

But that's not possible for political reasons (just as it hasn't been possible since bin Laden and Co. crossed the border in December 2001). So instead there has to be the convoluted horror story of the Taliban getting back into power in part of Afghanistan, inviting Al Qa'eda to a restored sanctuary, and posing no objections as more 9-11s are planned.

I'll leave the dissection of that nightmarish rationale to others who can explain clearly the defects of the thesis of the Taliban-Al Qa'eda "alliance".

Let's assume, however, that the fight in Helmand and Kandahar and Kunduz against Afghan insurgents is essential because of non-Afghan fighters across the border. For granting that assumption exposes the halfway house of Obama's solution: there is no political strategy to match his military escalation.

If the President picked up on anything between his initial escalation in March and last night, it should have been that he has no stable base
in Kabul. Eight months ago, he told the American public and the world that, in addition to the more than 30,000 forces being put into the country, the US would ensure that its Afghan partner focused on development, that it would not be mired in corruption, that it would make progress on security. Have a look between the lines of Obama's address yesterday --- General McChrystal saying that the security situation had worsened, the passing Presidential reference to "corruption" and the Afghan election --- and ask, "What did the March escalation achieve?"

The primary objective of the Karzai Government is to remain in power. If reducing corruption and fighting a battle to the death with the Taliban offered the maintenance of that power, then perhaps the Obama strategy would have a partner. If the US had some meaningful lever of pressure --- the threat of a political alternative? even a coup? --- against Karzai, then perhaps the Obama strategy would have a partner.

But we've been there and done that. Karzai and his circle have maintained power by cutting deals, whether you want to call that "corruption", and accepting that it cannot take on the insurgency throughout Afghanistan in a direct conflict. The Obama Administration considered taking Karzai out in its first three months and found that it had no good options to do so, either through the ballot box or beyond it.

Perhaps, and it is a big perhaps, the Obama Administration can get a convergence of interests with the Afghanistan Government through a political deal beyond Kabul. That's the meaning of Obama's briefly outstretched hand to "Taliban" members who will leave the movement. But the deal in question would have to be much more than that; in short, it would have to accept the Taliban and other insurgent groups as political actors in exchange for a renunciation of violence. And even if it is true that the CIA is broaching such a possibility, and that it is backed by the White House, this is a political negotiation that is far beyond Obama's extra 30,000 troops, far beyond his 9-11 rhetoric, and even beyond his conception of American power.

Afghanistan-Pakistan: Video & Transcript of Obama Speech (1 December)

THE PRESIDENT: Good evening. To the United States Corps of Cadets, to the men and women of our Armed Services, and to my fellow Americans: I want to speak to you tonight about our effort in Afghanistan -- the nature of our commitment there, the scope of our interests, and the strategy that my administration will pursue to bring this war to a successful conclusion. It's an extraordinary honor for me to do so here at West Point -- where so many men and women have prepared to stand up for our security, and to represent what is finest about our country.

To address these important issues, it's important to recall why America and our allies were compelled to fight a war in Afghanistan in the first place. We did not ask for this fight. On September 11, 2001, 19 men hijacked four airplanes and used them to murder nearly 3,000 people. They struck at our military and economic nerve centers. They took the lives of innocent men, women, and children without regard to their faith or race or station. Were it not for the heroic actions of passengers onboard one of those flights, they could have also struck at one of the great symbols of our democracy in Washington, and killed many more.

As we know, these men belonged to al Qaeda -- a group of extremists who have distorted and defiled Islam, one of the world’s great religions, to justify the slaughter of innocents. Al Qaeda’s base of operations was in Afghanistan, where they were harbored by the Taliban -- a ruthless, repressive and radical movement that seized control of that country after it was ravaged by years of Soviet occupation and civil war, and after the attention of America and our friends had turned elsewhere.

Just days after 9/11, Congress authorized the use of force against al Qaeda and those who harbored them -- an authorization that continues to this day. The vote in the Senate was 98 to nothing. The vote in the House was 420 to 1. For the first time in its history, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization invoked Article 5 -- the commitment that says an attack on one member nation is an attack on all. And the United Nations Security Council endorsed the use of all necessary steps to respond to the 9/11 attacks. America, our allies and the world were acting as one to destroy al Qaeda’s terrorist network and to protect our common security.

Under the banner of this domestic unity and international legitimacy -- and only after the Taliban refused to turn over Osama bin Laden -- we sent our troops into Afghanistan. Within a matter of months, al Qaeda was scattered and many of its operatives were killed. The Taliban was driven from power and pushed back on its heels. A place that had known decades of fear now had reason to hope. At a conference convened by the U.N., a provisional government was established under President Hamid Karzai. And an International Security Assistance Force was established to help bring a lasting peace to a war-torn country.

Then, in early 2003, the decision was made to wage a second war, in Iraq. The wrenching debate over the Iraq war is well-known and need not be repeated here. It's enough to say that for the next six years, the Iraq war drew the dominant share of our troops, our resources, our diplomacy, and our national attention -- and that the decision to go into Iraq caused substantial rifts between America and much of the world.

Today, after extraordinary costs, we are bringing the Iraq war to a responsible end. We will remove our combat brigades from Iraq by the end of next summer, and all of our troops by the end of 2011. That we are doing so is a testament to the character of the men and women in uniform. (Applause.) Thanks to their courage, grit and perseverance, we have given Iraqis a chance to shape their future, and we are successfully leaving Iraq to its people.

But while we've achieved hard-earned milestones in Iraq, the situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated. After escaping across the border into Pakistan in 2001 and 2002, al Qaeda’s leadership established a safe haven there. Although a legitimate government was elected by the Afghan people, it's been hampered by corruption, the drug trade, an under-developed economy, and insufficient security forces.

Over the last several years, the Taliban has maintained common cause with al Qaeda, as they both seek an overthrow of the Afghan government. Gradually, the Taliban has begun to control additional swaths of territory in Afghanistan, while engaging in increasingly brazen and devastating attacks of terrorism against the Pakistani people.

Now, throughout this period, our troop levels in Afghanistan remained a fraction of what they were in Iraq. When I took office, we had just over 32,000 Americans serving in Afghanistan, compared to 160,000 in Iraq at the peak of the war. Commanders in Afghanistan repeatedly asked for support to deal with the reemergence of the Taliban, but these reinforcements did not arrive. And that's why, shortly after taking office, I approved a longstanding request for more troops. After consultations with our allies, I then announced a strategy recognizing the fundamental connection between our war effort in Afghanistan and the extremist safe havens in Pakistan. I set a goal that was narrowly defined as disrupting, dismantling, and defeating al Qaeda and its extremist allies, and pledged to better coordinate our military and civilian efforts.

Since then, we've made progress on some important objectives. High-ranking al Qaeda and Taliban leaders have been killed, and we've stepped up the pressure on al Qaeda worldwide. In Pakistan, that nation's army has gone on its largest offensive in years. In Afghanistan, we and our allies prevented the Taliban from stopping a presidential election, and -- although it was marred by fraud -- that election produced a government that is consistent with Afghanistan's laws and constitution.

Yet huge challenges remain. Afghanistan is not lost, but for several years it has moved backwards. There's no imminent threat of the government being overthrown, but the Taliban has gained momentum. Al Qaeda has not reemerged in Afghanistan in the same numbers as before 9/11, but they retain their safe havens along the border. And our forces lack the full support they need to effectively train and partner with Afghan security forces and better secure the population. Our new commander in Afghanistan -- General McChrystal -- has reported that the security situation is more serious than he anticipated. In short: The status quo is not sustainable.

As cadets, you volunteered for service during this time of danger. Some of you fought in Afghanistan. Some of you will deploy there. As your Commander-in-Chief, I owe you a mission that is clearly defined, and worthy of your service. And that's why, after the Afghan voting was completed, I insisted on a thorough review of our strategy. Now, let me be clear: There has never been an option before me that called for troop deployments before 2010, so there has been no delay or denial of resources necessary for the conduct of the war during this review period. Instead, the review has allowed me to ask the hard questions, and to explore all the different options, along with my national security team, our military and civilian leadership in Afghanistan, and our key partners. And given the stakes involved, I owed the American people -- and our troops -- no less.

This review is now complete. And as Commander-in-Chief, I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan. After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home. These are the resources that we need to seize the initiative, while building the Afghan capacity that can allow for a responsible transition of our forces out of Afghanistan.

I do not make this decision lightly. I opposed the war in Iraq precisely because I believe that we must exercise restraint in the use of military force, and always consider the long-term consequences of our actions. We have been at war now for eight years, at enormous cost in lives and resources. Years of debate over Iraq and terrorism have left our unity on national security issues in tatters, and created a highly polarized and partisan backdrop for this effort. And having just experienced the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, the American people are understandably focused on rebuilding our economy and putting people to work here at home.

Most of all, I know that this decision asks even more of you -- a military that, along with your families, has already borne the heaviest of all burdens. As President, I have signed a letter of condolence to the family of each American who gives their life in these wars. I have read the letters from the parents and spouses of those who deployed. I visited our courageous wounded warriors at Walter Reed. I've traveled to Dover to meet the flag-draped caskets of 18 Americans returning home to their final resting place. I see firsthand the terrible wages of war. If I did not think that the security of the United States and the safety of the American people were at stake in Afghanistan, I would gladly order every single one of our troops home tomorrow.

So, no, I do not make this decision lightly. I make this decision because I am convinced that our security is at stake in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is the epicenter of violent extremism practiced by al Qaeda. It is from here that we were attacked on 9/11, and it is from here that new attacks are being plotted as I speak. This is no idle danger; no hypothetical threat. In the last few months alone, we have apprehended extremists within our borders who were sent here from the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan to commit new acts of terror. And this danger will only grow if the region slides backwards, and al Qaeda can operate with impunity. We must keep the pressure on al Qaeda, and to do that, we must increase the stability and capacity of our partners in the region.

Of course, this burden is not ours alone to bear. This is not just America's war. Since 9/11, al Qaeda’s safe havens have been the source of attacks against London and Amman and Bali. The people and governments of both Afghanistan and Pakistan are endangered. And the stakes are even higher within a nuclear-armed Pakistan, because we know that al Qaeda and other extremists seek nuclear weapons, and we have every reason to believe that they would use them.

These facts compel us to act along with our friends and allies. Our overarching goal remains the same: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and to prevent its capacity to threaten America and our allies in the future.

To meet that goal, we will pursue the following objectives within Afghanistan. We must deny al Qaeda a safe haven. We must reverse the Taliban's momentum and deny it the ability to overthrow the government. And we must strengthen the capacity of Afghanistan's security forces and government so that they can take lead responsibility for Afghanistan's future.

We will meet these objectives in three ways. First, we will pursue a military strategy that will break the Taliban's momentum and increase Afghanistan's capacity over the next 18 months.

The 30,000 additional troops that I'm announcing tonight will deploy in the first part of 2010 -- the fastest possible pace -- so that they can target the insurgency and secure key population centers. They'll increase our ability to train competent Afghan security forces, and to partner with them so that more Afghans can get into the fight. And they will help create the conditions for the United States to transfer responsibility to the Afghans.

Because this is an international effort, I've asked that our commitment be joined by contributions from our allies. Some have already provided additional troops, and we're confident that there will be further contributions in the days and weeks ahead. Our friends have fought and bled and died alongside us in Afghanistan. And now, we must come together to end this war successfully. For what's at stake is not simply a test of NATO's credibility -- what's at stake is the security of our allies, and the common security of the world.

But taken together, these additional American and international troops will allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces, and allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011. Just as we have done in Iraq, we will execute this transition responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground. We'll continue to advise and assist Afghanistan's security forces to ensure that they can succeed over the long haul. But it will be clear to the Afghan government -- and, more importantly, to the Afghan people -- that they will ultimately be responsible for their own country.

Second, we will work with our partners, the United Nations, and the Afghan people to pursue a more effective civilian strategy, so that the government can take advantage of improved security.

This effort must be based on performance. The days of providing a blank check are over. President Karzai's inauguration speech sent the right message about moving in a new direction. And going forward, we will be clear about what we expect from those who receive our assistance. We'll support Afghan ministries, governors, and local leaders that combat corruption and deliver for the people. We expect those who are ineffective or corrupt to be held accountable. And we will also focus our assistance in areas -- such as agriculture -- that can make an immediate impact in the lives of the Afghan people.

The people of Afghanistan have endured violence for decades. They've been confronted with occupation -- by the Soviet Union, and then by foreign al Qaeda fighters who used Afghan land for their own purposes. So tonight, I want the Afghan people to understand -- America seeks an end to this era of war and suffering. We have no interest in occupying your country. We will support efforts by the Afghan government to open the door to those Taliban who abandon violence and respect the human rights of their fellow citizens. And we will seek a partnership with Afghanistan grounded in mutual respect -- to isolate those who destroy; to strengthen those who build; to hasten the day when our troops will leave; and to forge a lasting friendship in which America is your partner, and never your patron.

Third, we will act with the full recognition that our success in Afghanistan is inextricably linked to our partnership with Pakistan.

We're in Afghanistan to prevent a cancer from once again spreading through that country. But this same cancer has also taken root in the border region of Pakistan. That's why we need a strategy that works on both sides of the border.

In the past, there have been those in Pakistan who've argued that the struggle against extremism is not their fight, and that Pakistan is better off doing little or seeking accommodation with those who use violence. But in recent years, as innocents have been killed from Karachi to Islamabad, it has become clear that it is the Pakistani people who are the most endangered by extremism. Public opinion has turned. The Pakistani army has waged an offensive in Swat and South Waziristan. And there is no doubt that the United States and Pakistan share a common enemy.

In the past, we too often defined our relationship with Pakistan narrowly. Those days are over. Moving forward, we are committed to a partnership with Pakistan that is built on a foundation of mutual interest, mutual respect, and mutual trust. We will strengthen Pakistan’s capacity to target those groups that threaten our countries, and have made it clear that we cannot tolerate a safe haven for terrorists whose location is known and whose intentions are clear. America is also providing substantial resources to support Pakistan’s democracy and development. We are the largest international supporter for those Pakistanis displaced by the fighting. And going forward, the Pakistan people must know America will remain a strong supporter of Pakistan’s security and prosperity long after the guns have fallen silent, so that the great potential of its people can be unleashed.

These are the three core elements of our strategy: a military effort to create the conditions for a transition; a civilian surge that reinforces positive action; and an effective partnership with Pakistan.

I recognize there are a range of concerns about our approach. So let me briefly address a few of the more prominent arguments that I've heard, and which I take very seriously.

First, there are those who suggest that Afghanistan is another Vietnam. They argue that it cannot be stabilized, and we're better off cutting our losses and rapidly withdrawing. I believe this argument depends on a false reading of history. Unlike Vietnam, we are joined by a broad coalition of 43 nations that recognizes the legitimacy of our action. Unlike Vietnam, we are not facing a broad-based popular insurgency. And most importantly, unlike Vietnam, the American people were viciously attacked from Afghanistan, and remain a target for those same extremists who are plotting along its border. To abandon this area now -- and to rely only on efforts against al Qaeda from a distance -- would significantly hamper our ability to keep the pressure on al Qaeda, and create an unacceptable risk of additional attacks on our homeland and our allies.

Second, there are those who acknowledge that we can't leave Afghanistan in its current state, but suggest that we go forward with the troops that we already have. But this would simply maintain a status quo in which we muddle through, and permit a slow deterioration of conditions there. It would ultimately prove more costly and prolong our stay in Afghanistan, because we would never be able to generate the conditions needed to train Afghan security forces and give them the space to take over.

Finally, there are those who oppose identifying a time frame for our transition to Afghan responsibility. Indeed, some call for a more dramatic and open-ended escalation of our war effort -- one that would commit us to a nation-building project of up to a decade. I reject this course because it sets goals that are beyond what can be achieved at a reasonable cost, and what we need to achieve to secure our interests. Furthermore, the absence of a time frame for transition would deny us any sense of urgency in working with the Afghan government. It must be clear that Afghans will have to take responsibility for their security, and that America has no interest in fighting an endless war in Afghanistan.

As President, I refuse to set goals that go beyond our responsibility, our means, or our interests. And I must weigh all of the challenges that our nation faces. I don't have the luxury of committing to just one. Indeed, I'm mindful of the words of President Eisenhower, who -- in discussing our national security -- said, "Each proposal must be weighed in the light of a broader consideration: the need to maintain balance in and among national programs."

Over the past several years, we have lost that balance. We've failed to appreciate the connection between our national security and our economy. In the wake of an economic crisis, too many of our neighbors and friends are out of work and struggle to pay the bills. Too many Americans are worried about the future facing our children. Meanwhile, competition within the global economy has grown more fierce. So we can't simply afford to ignore the price of these wars.

All told, by the time I took office the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan approached a trillion dollars. Going forward, I am committed to addressing these costs openly and honestly. Our new approach in Afghanistan is likely to cost us roughly $30 billion for the military this year, and I'll work closely with Congress to address these costs as we work to bring down our deficit.

But as we end the war in Iraq and transition to Afghan responsibility, we must rebuild our strength here at home. Our prosperity provides a foundation for our power. It pays for our military. It underwrites our diplomacy. It taps the potential of our people, and allows investment in new industry. And it will allow us to compete in this century as successfully as we did in the last. That's why our troop commitment in Afghanistan cannot be open-ended -- because the nation that I'm most interested in building is our own.

Now, let me be clear: None of this will be easy. The struggle against violent extremism will not be finished quickly, and it extends well beyond Afghanistan and Pakistan. It will be an enduring test of our free society, and our leadership in the world. And unlike the great power conflicts and clear lines of division that defined the 20th century, our effort will involve disorderly regions, failed states, diffuse enemies.

So as a result, America will have to show our strength in the way that we end wars and prevent conflict -- not just how we wage wars. We'll have to be nimble and precise in our use of military power. Where al Qaeda and its allies attempt to establish a foothold -- whether in Somalia or Yemen or elsewhere -- they must be confronted by growing pressure and strong partnerships.

And we can't count on military might alone. We have to invest in our homeland security, because we can't capture or kill every violent extremist abroad. We have to improve and better coordinate our intelligence, so that we stay one step ahead of shadowy networks.

We will have to take away the tools of mass destruction. And that's why I've made it a central pillar of my foreign policy to secure loose nuclear materials from terrorists, to stop the spread of nuclear weapons, and to pursue the goal of a world without them -- because every nation must understand that true security will never come from an endless race for ever more destructive weapons; true security will come for those who reject them.

We'll have to use diplomacy, because no one nation can meet the challenges of an interconnected world acting alone. I've spent this year renewing our alliances and forging new partnerships. And we have forged a new beginning between America and the Muslim world -- one that recognizes our mutual interest in breaking a cycle of conflict, and that promises a future in which those who kill innocents are isolated by those who stand up for peace and prosperity and human dignity.

And finally, we must draw on the strength of our values -- for the challenges that we face may have changed, but the things that we believe in must not. That's why we must promote our values by living them at home -- which is why I have prohibited torture and will close the prison at Guantanamo Bay. And we must make it clear to every man, woman and child around the world who lives under the dark cloud of tyranny that America will speak out on behalf of their human rights, and tend to the light of freedom and justice and opportunity and respect for the dignity of all peoples. That is who we are. That is the source, the moral source, of America’s authority.

Since the days of Franklin Roosevelt, and the service and sacrifice of our grandparents and great-grandparents, our country has borne a special burden in global affairs. We have spilled American blood in many countries on multiple continents. We have spent our revenue to help others rebuild from rubble and develop their own economies. We have joined with others to develop an architecture of institutions -- from the United Nations to NATO to the World Bank -- that provide for the common security and prosperity of human beings.

We have not always been thanked for these efforts, and we have at times made mistakes. But more than any other nation, the United States of America has underwritten global security for over six decades -- a time that, for all its problems, has seen walls come down, and markets open, and billions lifted from poverty, unparalleled scientific progress and advancing frontiers of human liberty.

For unlike the great powers of old, we have not sought world domination. Our union was founded in resistance to oppression. We do not seek to occupy other nations. We will not claim another nation’s resources or target other peoples because their faith or ethnicity is different from ours. What we have fought for -- what we continue to fight for -- is a better future for our children and grandchildren. And we believe that their lives will be better if other peoples’ children and grandchildren can live in freedom and access opportunity. (Applause.)

As a country, we're not as young -- and perhaps not as innocent -- as we were when Roosevelt was President. Yet we are still heirs to a noble struggle for freedom. And now we must summon all of our might and moral suasion to meet the challenges of a new age.

In the end, our security and leadership does not come solely from the strength of our arms. It derives from our people -- from the workers and businesses who will rebuild our economy; from the entrepreneurs and researchers who will pioneer new industries; from the teachers that will educate our children, and the service of those who work in our communities at home; from the diplomats and Peace Corps volunteers who spread hope abroad; and from the men and women in uniform who are part of an unbroken line of sacrifice that has made government of the people, by the people, and for the people a reality on this Earth. (Applause.)
This vast and diverse citizenry will not always agree on every issue -- nor should we. But I also know that we, as a country, cannot sustain our leadership, nor navigate the momentous challenges of our time, if we allow ourselves to be split asunder by the same rancor and cynicism and partisanship that has in recent times poisoned our national discourse.

It's easy to forget that when this war began, we were united -- bound together by the fresh memory of a horrific attack, and by the determination to defend our homeland and the values we hold dear. I refuse to accept the notion that we cannot summon that unity again. (Applause.) I believe with every fiber of my being that we -- as Americans -- can still come together behind a common purpose. For our values are not simply words written into parchment -- they are a creed that calls us together, and that has carried us through the darkest of storms as one nation, as one people.

America -- we are passing through a time of great trial. And the message that we send in the midst of these storms must be clear: that our cause is just, our resolve unwavering. We will go forward with the confidence that right makes might, and with the commitment to forge an America that is safer, a world that is more secure, and a future that represents not the deepest of fears but the highest of hopes. (Applause.)

Thank you. God bless you. May God bless the United States of America. (Applause.) Thank you very much. Thank you. (Applause.)

Afghanistan-Pakistan: 5 Things Obama Will Say Tonight (and The One He Won't)

OBAMA4I'm not sure we had to wait 92 days --- from the delivery of the recommendations of General Stanley McChrystal, the US commander in Afghanistan, to President Obama's speech tonight at the US Military Academy --- to get this outcome. It's pretty much, in substance and in rhetoric, what we've predicted throughout the autumn. But politics is politics, especially when the "easy" solution of an Afghan election to hold up as a beacon of progress didn't materialise.

So here's what America and the world gets this evening:

46 Years Before Obama’s Afghanistan (Video): Kennedy and Vietnam
Afghanistan: The Danger of Washington’s “Experts” on Intervention

1. SEND IN THE TROOPS: McChrystal asked for 40,000 more troops (though he wanted even more). He gets 30,000.

Obama will frame this as a carefully-considered compromise. He shows Presidential strength 1) in not simply giving the military its full demands and 2) delivering most of that demand as a sign of US resolve and commitment. The President carried out the same manoeuvre --- really, the very same manoeuvre --- in March.

In fact, this is effectively an adoption of McChrystal's proposal, albeit through a bit of staging. Obama will also declare that NATO is going to put in 6000 more forces. Though this is more for show than substance --- think of Britain's total of 500 additional troops --- it gets the number close to 40,000, and I suspect there will be some US "support forces" that will make their way into the package.

2. SOFT POWER, SOFT POWER, SOFT POWER: Obama will then need to skip quickly past the troop numbers, because there are a lot of folks (and not just on the "left" of the Democratic Party) who are not happy about escalation. So he will dedicate a long section of his speech to the US civilians who will be working in important sectors from agriculture to education to health care to assist Afghanistan's development.

Obama will be careful not to give numbers because someone might check the back story. Yes, this was also in the March speech, and since then, the US has only been able to get several hundred people into the field.

3. MR KARZAI, DO YOUR JOB: Obama will emphasise that the US additional effort must be matched by a sustained effort by the Afghanistan Government to cleanse itself of corruption as it takes over responsibility for security and other operations. He will say that the the US is a dedicated partner but that Kabul must be just as dedicated.

The sleight-of-hand here will be that this is a new theme in American policy. It's not: Obama made the same demands on Kabul in March, and they were repeated by his officials, notably Secretary of State Clinton, throughout the spring. But, of course, the summer was filled with stories of money going astray, political intrigue, and the failure at the show of democracy.

So this will be a "Political Ground Zero" moment: all starts anew.

4. YOU TOO, PAKISTANI GOVERNMENT (AND YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE). The political shift behind this speech, although it will not get a direct reference, is that Washington thinks it's on firmer ground with the Government in Islamabad. This is because President Zardari, after months of US effort, has effectively been pushed aside. The US wants to deal with Prime Minister Gillani and the Pakistani military, and it seems that the alliance is developing.

With this apparent political evolution, Obama will lay down the challenge for Pakistan to keep moving against the "Taliban", as it has appeared to down with summer offensives. He may even make direct reference to the Bin Laden spectre, suggesting that Pakistani forces can complete a job that was botched in 2001.

No reference, by the way, to the US drone and missile attacks: those might be effective in Washington's eyes, but it gives the appearance that Washington's military is running Pakistan's war.

5. EXTREMIST, EXTREMIST (WHO'S AN EXTREMIST?). Lots of that word in Obama's speech tonight. It's how you sell an escalation when the political and military situation is far from clear and far from winnable. So Al Qa'eda will pop up all over the rhetorical map this evening, even though it's not much of a presence in Afghanistan.

Obama's trick will be to move from Pakistan, where there are the Al Q bad guys, to the sanctuary/haven/breeding ground for extremism in Afghanistan. And there I think even his skills will be challenged: who exactly is the US fighting in the country? The word "Taliban" is the catch-all for a variety of insurgent groups: does Obama dare say that the US strategy is to split off some of those groups by negotiating with "extremists"?


"We're screwed."

Sorry. No deep analysis here. Just being blunt. Even before Enduring Americawe were writing on "Watching America" on the Libertas website that the problem for Washington was the lack of a political centre to its efforts. The "hole in the doughnut" was the weakness of President Zardari and the shakiness of an Afghan Government whose authority didn't extend much beyond Kabul.

While the hole may have been filled in Pakistan, Obama is still trying to cover it with distractions in Afghanistan. If he was being real, he would declare to the US public that President Karzai might be on difficult ground in his own country but he has out-manoeuvred Washington in the last few months to assure power in Kabul, if not beyond. Those deals have kept Karzai in power, but they of course are not the battle against the "extremists".

The great and glorious myth of the American "surge" in Iraq is that throwing in more boots on the ground suddenly rescued a country from civil war. What that myth never acknowledges is that the most important political development was of a stronger central government emerging in Baghdad in 2007/8. So the US Government could bolster, with money as well as discussions, "local" Sunni militias and groups against "Al Qa'eda". All of this might be building later conflict --- what happens when those local groups and the national government compete for authority and profits? --- but by then US forces hopefully would have been able to draw down and call it victory.

No such scenario exists in Afghanistan. There is no "Al Qa'eda" spectre that can be used for the US strategy with local groups --- the contest is between an assortment of indigenous factions. There is no strong national authority.

So Washington either puts forth or supports a wondrous solution in which those factions reach an accommodation over power, one which hopefully means they won't kill each other and anyone who gets in the way (that is the option put forward by Karzai and by the Pakistani Government, though it is not clear how they would achieve this), or the US Government treads military and political water and hopes they don't get sucked down if the undertow of violence gets stronger.

I don't think the Obama Administration has a way forward on the first option, which is why the President after 92 days has finally decided to put on the public face of more troops and a largely-mythical non-military effort. Welcome then ---- over months and over years --- to the second option.

Just don't say: we're screwed.