December 13, 2009


McChrystal's Afghan strategy attacks on several key fronts (Trudy Rubin, 12/13/09, Philadelphia Inquirer)

"We need to go more local," McChrystal says. "In Iraq, we went local and built to the center."

How does this strategy play out on the ground? "I don't think you can go after an insurgency [just] by targeting leaders, nor is it necessary to do expansive nation-building," he says. "But you need enough security in enough places to let the seeds of development grow, and let people see that," he stressed. "The people of Afghanistan have to believe they are the critical element."

"The Taliban need access to Kandahar and Helmand [two key southern provinces, where the bulk of the new U.S. troops are headed]. So if we can control things there and show it's better, much of the insurgency dies out." As the Taliban are pushed back from these provinces, aid money and agricultural assistance will flow in.

But how can we transfer security to Afghan control when training the Afghan army is such a long-term project?

"The Afghan army will have a bigger role than some fear or think, but it won't be decisive," McChrystal says. When it comes to standing up Afghan security forces, "we will see multiple factors start to roll."

In some parts of Afghanistan, traditional tribal defense forces called arbaki will stand up, he continued. In others, "the Community Defense Initiative will empower individuals to take responsibility for their village." The CDI program is under joint U.S. military and Afghan Interior Ministry control. (McChrystal acknowledges they must be careful not to empower old, or create new, Afghan warlords.)

McChrystal also seeks the reintegration of mid- and low-level Taliban into society. "Reintegration is hugely important, incredibly important," he says. But his reintegration program requires a parallel effort by the Karzai government, including guarantees that potential Taliban returnees won't be arrested or killed. "They want protection against the government and former compatriots and a chance to make a living," he says.

(The Karzai government endorses reintegration and talks with Taliban leaders who break with al-Qaeda and disarm, but has yet to put forward a serious program.)

Last, but far from least, I asked what the United States needs from Pakistan - where Afghan Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders are hiding.

"We need [Pakistani] tribal areas not to be sanctuaries," McChrystal says bluntly. He was dubious that Pakistan's military would go after the Afghan Taliban at a time when the Pakistanis are battling their own Taliban. that there is no nation.

Lawrence of Arabia offers lessons for Afghanistan: After eight years of war, the US and Europe are scrambling to retool the Afghan mission. Instead of creating new concepts of nation building, leaders should read Lawrence of Arabia, argues a foreign policy expert. (Deutsche-Welle, 12/12/09)

John Hulsman is the author of the recently released "To Begin the World Over Again: Lawrence of Arabia from Damascus to Baghdad." He is president of John Hulsman Enterprises, an international relations consulting firm, and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He is based in Germany.

Probably the most famous advice given by T.E. Lawrence in his "27 articles" postulates "Better the Arabs do it tolerably than that you do it perfectly." Has the international community heeded that advice so far in its mission in Afghanistan?

One of the things people say is "Isn't it terrible that we're working with these warlords." Who do these people think has been running Afghanistan for the last 1,000 years? Not Thomas Jefferson and not James Madison. I wish that were the case, but it's just not. Better that they be given control in terms of money - of course we should account for it because there is a lot of corruption in Afghanistan - better they be given control over the building projects that they're doing rather than we tell them what to build.

And of course they won't do it as well if we would do it by Western standards. But the key isn't how well they do it, but that they will be made stakeholders in the process so that they see that they are rebuilding their nation, they are building their country, not that we are imposing some sort of diktat from outside.

I think that is actually the key piece of advice from the "27 articles," because it encapsulates what's wrong with what we are doing. What we are doing should be mainly psychological and political, and then only secondarily military. In the Arab Revolt in 1917, Lawrence figured out that if the Arabs were on his side he couldn't lose and if they weren't on his side that he couldn't win.

And that's what's missing from Obama's plan. There was precious little mention of local politics and working with localities. The problem with the Afghan constitution that we imposed on the country after installing Karzai is that it's centralized, that we've made Kabul the center of the political decision making when in Afghanistan the tribe and localism has been the center of the Afghan experience of a 1,000 years.

Lawrence would understand this in a heartbeat. And that's why in a sense what's happening in Afghanistan is so tragic and why I was really desperately impelled to write this book. It comes out of a practical experience of working in Washington on Iraq and Afghanistan and then I read this guy and I immediately said that's it, that's what's missing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 13, 2009 7:05 AM
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