Afghanistan Study Group Report Stirs Support and Debate in UK

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afghanistan study group.pngBefore I was able to speak to the themes of the Afghanistan Study Group report of which I was a part at a major foreign policy conference titled the 2010 Global Leadership Forum sponsored by the Royal United Services Institute and the Princeton Project on National Security in London this past week, former UK Ambassador to the United States Sir Christopher Meyer gave a quick outline of the findings and key proposals — and said “this report tells us exactly what we need to do.”
Princeton’s G. John Ikenberry praised the report while the Council on Foreign Relations’ Stephen Biddle made a principled counter-argument about high national security stakes in Afghanistan and the high consequences if the US and allied efforts at counter-insurgency fail.
I noted at the meeting that Biddle’s boss, Richard Haass, had called for an approach to Afghanistan mostly similar to the Afghanistan Study Group — while my colleagues, Steve Coll and Peter Bergen, were still cautiously on the side of supporting the current COIN strategy, which I am not.
This is the kind of debate that was missing in the build up to the Iraq War — and it’s what is necessary if we are going to be able to “unwind” our position in Afghanistan, as former Senator Chuck Hagel put it.
Also on the UK front, many thanks to Member of Parliament John McDonnell who praised the Afghanistan Study Group report in Parliament (pdf):

HOUSE OF COMMONS — OFFICIAL REPORT — PARLIAMENTARY DEBATES (HANSARD)
MP John McDonnell
Thursday 9 September 2010

“I refer Members to an excellent report produced recently by the Afghanistan Study Group in America. It is entitled “A New Way Forward: Rethinking US Strategy in Afghanistan.” The study group includes a range of specialists–ex-military, intelligence experts, regional specialists and people involved in conflict resolution in the past across the world. The report reflects many of the statements that have been made by Members today, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North East (Mr Ainsworth), the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Oldham West and Royton (Mr Meacher).
The report includes sober analysis of the need for us to enter direct dialogue with participants in the conflict. As many Members have done today, it analyses the war in Afghanistan, describing it not as a struggle between the Karzai Government and an insurgent Taliban movement allied with international terrorists seeking to overthrow the Government, but as a civil war about power-sharing. The lines of contention are partly ethnic, chiefly but not exclusively between Pashtuns, who dominate the south, and other ethnic groups such as the Tajiks and Uzbeks who are more prevalent in the north. The conflict is partly rural versus urban, and of course partly sectarian. As many Members have said, it is also influenced by surrounding nations with a desire to promote their own interests–Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia and others. As others have emphasised, the conflict is interpreted by many in Afghanistan as having elements of resistance to what is seen as a military occupation.”

Just keep this in mind: $100 billion in military expenditures alone in a country with a GDP of $14 billion.
— Steve Clemons

Comments

31 comments on “Afghanistan Study Group Report Stirs Support and Debate in UK

  1. John Waring says:

    For another blast of robust common sense, please read, “The Cancer that is Pakistan,” at
    BernardFinel.com
    We do not have a strategy in Afghanistan. We have incoherence.

    Reply

  2. Don Bacon says:

    Iraq checklist.
    __ a million dead – check
    __ 5 million displaced – check
    __ $1 trillion spent – check
    __ new Islamic republic allied with Iran – check
    __ no viable Iraq government – check
    __ unreconciled ethnic divisions – check
    __ 50,000 US troops still required after 7 years – check
    __ many US troops killed, maimed and suicidal – check
    __ more terrorists created – check
    __ no end in sight – check
    Yup — we won.

    Reply

  3. DonS says:

    “a defeat of choice and not of necessity?”
    LOL. Is that like a war of choice gone bad? Or is it a special category reserved for Orwellian interpretation of democrats only?
    Nadine, your reframes and interpretations are so transparently propaganda that it’s ridiculous.
    “If the military had agreed that the war was truly unwinnable, they would have agreed to stage a withdrawal.” But, but, the military is saying it’s unwinnable.
    Interesting new definition of pacifist you have; someone who is not in favor of all war all the time, endless war, the long war, ‘clash of civilizations’ war; bleed the American treasury war; corporate profiteers war; outsourced war. Yeah, I guess that makes me a pacifist because I don’t subscribe to discovering new excuses to have even more war, more military bases in other countries, more irrelevant and redundant weapons systems, more policy dictated by the MI complex.
    Orwell comes to main street. “The Afghan Study Group wish to make themselves useful to the White House by providing policy cover for a policy of deliberately seeking defeat.” “Deliberately seeking defeat”. Couldn’t you be more subtle? Try posting this crap on some winger site.

    Reply

  4. nadine says:

    “On the other hand, it was a mistake for Obama to insist on concentrating the efforts in Afghanistan during the election campaign.” (Paul Norheim)
    Agreed, but that’s become the standard Democratic formula: Insist that you are not a pacifist, you’re really for winning some other war, just not the present war. Unfortunately for Obama, Bush won the present war in Iraq and left him with a worsening situation in that other war in Afghanistan, so Obama’s false claims have come back to haunt him.
    David Axelrod could explain to you why it was necessary for Obama to make those claims: Americans won’t knowingly vote in a pacifist to be Commander in Chief in a time of war.
    Though I don’t think Obama is a pacifist, actually. I think that when an American army is in the field, Obama is rooting for the other side to win. He sees all struggles through an anti-colonialist filter in which we are the bad guys.

    Reply

  5. nadine says:

    “Obama also realizes that this is not a winnable war (thus the difficulties in defining “victory” – Holbrooke’s “I know it when I see it” etc…):”
    Yes, Woodward’s book makes it clear that “victory” was never in Obama’s vocabulary and Obama was contending with the insubordination of a military that did not wish to deliberately plan for defeat:
    “Frustrated with his military commanders for consistently offering only options that required significantly more troops, Obama finally crafted his own strategy, dictating a classified six-page “terms sheet” that sought to limit U.S. involvement, Woodward reports in “Obama’s Wars,” to be released on Monday.
    According to Woodward’s meeting-by-meeting, memo-by-memo account of the 2009 Afghan strategy review, the president avoided talk of victory as he described his objectives.
    “This needs to be a plan about how we’re going to hand it off and get out of Afghanistan,” Obama is quoted as telling White House aides”
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/09/21/AR2010092106706.html
    Well, this makes the purpose of the Afghan Study Group’s work perfectly clear, does it not? The Afghan Study Group wish to make themselves useful to the White House by providing policy cover for a policy of deliberately seeking defeat. Oh, it will be called by other names, naturally, but that’s what it will be.
    And how do I, a civilian, know that it is a defeat of choice and not of necessity? Because of the military’s reaction to Obama. If the military had agreed that the war was truly unwinnable, they would have agreed to stage a withdrawal.

    Reply

  6. Don Bacon says:

    Time out — I’m ordering one of the bracelets advertised above.
    “We thank Freedom Alliance for having been a gracious endorser of this project and we thank you all of you Great Americans who still believe in the Constitution and are ready to stand against the Liberal agenda to change our great society.”

    Reply

  7. Paul Norheim says:

    “Umm–the logic here? A hates B, so A gets C to kill some
    folks from D.” (JohnH)
    I guess the basic point behind “the logic” is that regional issues
    create much of the dynamics and contradictions, and the
    US/NATO involvement creates all sorts of unpredictable
    consequences, not only on the local, but also on the regional
    level.
    Speaking of “cancer”: I’m surprised that none of the usual
    suspects among the trigger happy neocons have not yet
    suggested to attack Pakistan directly – not even commenters
    on this blog like Nadine or WigWag. The belligerent neocons
    prefer to bomb Iran instead of Syria; thus they should prefer
    invading Pakistan instead of Afghanistan. Why so modest when
    discussing Pakistan?

    Reply

  8. JohnH says:

    “Pakistan is rightly concerned about the growing influence of its archenemy India in Afghanistan, on Pakistan’s western flank, so it supports people who are killing Americans.”
    Umm–the logic here? A hates B, so A gets C to kill some folks from D.
    Now there’s a argument for a massive military intervention that only a born and bred warmonger could understand!involvement! I guess trying to help broker detente between India and Pakistan wouldn’t line the pockets of enough war profiteers.

    Reply

  9. Paul Norheim says:

    “Pakistan is rightly concerned about the growing influence of its
    archenemy India in Afghanistan, on Pakistan’s western flank, so it
    supports people who are killing Americans.” (DonBacon)
    Exactly: this is basically a regional problem. To focus on whatever
    approach in Afghanistan, is like a discussion among dentist on
    how to treat a cancer patient.
    As for the potential of an escalation, Kashmir is the
    “Israel/Palestine” conflict of the region. And US ally India do not
    want international interference in this conflict.

    Reply

  10. Don Bacon says:

    errata: the ultimate word in the quote from P. 2-22 should be Iran.

    Reply

  11. Don Bacon says:

    references for the Pakistan – India situation:
    General McChrystal’s Report, Aug 30, 2009 (extracts)
    Pakistan. Afghanistan’s insurgency is clearly supported from Pakistan. Senior leaders of the major Afghan insurgent groups are based in Pakistan, are linked with al Qaeda and other violent extremist groups, and are reportedly aided by some elements of Pakistan’s ISI. . .
    India. Indian political and economic influence is increasing in Afghanistan, including significant development efforts and financial investment. In addition, the current Afghan government is perceived by Islamabad to be pro-Indian. While Indian activities largely benefit the Afghan people, increasing Indian influence in Afghanistan is likely to exacerbate regional tensions and encourage Pakistani countermeasures in Afghanistan or India. — p.2-11
    “A number of risks outside of ISAF’s control could undermine the mission, to include . . .and actions of external actors such as Pakistan and India.” –p.2-22
    ————-
    President Obama’s speech, Dec 1, 2009 (extract)
    “Third, we will act with the full recognition that our success in Afghanistan is inextricably linked to our partnership with Pakistan.”

    Reply

  12. Don Bacon says:

    Non-recognition that “the cancer is in Pakistan” is a shortcoming of the ASG Report and beyond that a major, even criminal, facet of current US policy.
    General McChrystal assessed a year ago that Pakistan is probably supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan and this was more recently confirmed by wikileaks. Pakistan is rightly concerned about the growing influence of its archenemy India in Afghanistan, on Pakistan’s western flank, so it supports people who are killing Americans.
    Despite knowing about Pakistan’s probable role President Obama announced on December 1, 2009 at the US Military Academy, to people who might soon be going to Afghanistan, that the US would “partner” with Pakistan. And now we read: “We need to make clear to people that the cancer is in Pakistan,” Obama is quoted as saying at an Oval Office meeting on Nov. 25, 2009. This was less than a week before he told future Army officers that he would partner with Pakistan (and then send Hillary over with half a million dollars).
    What’s that definition of insanity again?

    Reply

  13. Paul Norheim says:

    Not sure if this overlaps with some links from Don Bacon, but
    here are some illuminating references and quotes from a
    Washington Post article on Woodward’s book:
    “According to Woodward’s meeting-by-meeting, memo-by-
    memo account of the 2009 Afghan strategy review, the
    president avoided talk of victory as he described his objectives.
    “This needs to be a plan about how we’re going to hand it off
    and get out of Afghanistan,” Obama is quoted as telling White
    House aides as he laid out his reasons for adding 30,000
    troops in a short-term escalation. “Everything we’re doing has
    to be focused on how we’re going to get to the point where we
    can reduce our footprint. It’s in our national security interest.
    There cannot be any wiggle room.”
    Obama rejected the military’s request for 40,000 troops as part
    of an expansive mission that had no foreseeable end. “I’m not
    doing 10 years,” he told Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates
    and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at a meeting on
    Oct. 26, 2009. “I’m not doing long-term nation-building. I am
    not spending a trillion dollars.””
    ——————————————-
    “”We need to make clear to people that the cancer is in
    Pakistan,” Obama is quoted as saying at an Oval Office meeting
    on Nov. 25, 2009. Creating a more secure Afghanistan is
    imperative, the president said, “so the cancer doesn’t spread”
    there.”
    ———————————
    “Woodward quotes Petraeus as saying, “You have to recognize
    also that I don’t think you win this war. I think you keep
    fighting. It’s a little bit like Iraq, actually. . . . Yes, there has
    been enormous progress in Iraq. But there are still horrific
    attacks in Iraq, and you have to stay vigilant. You have to stay
    after it. This is the kind of fight we’re in for the rest of our lives
    and probably our kids’ lives.””
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-
    dyn/content/article/2010/09/21/AR2010092106706.html
    ***********************************************************
    In my view, especially the “the cancer is in Pakistan” statement
    from Obama is significant – Afghanistan not being the center
    anymore.
    Obama also realizes that this is not a winnable war (thus the
    difficulties in defining “victory” – Holbrooke’s “I know it when I
    see it” etc…):
    “Obama told Woodward in the July interview that he didn’t think
    about the Afghan war in the “classic” terms of the United States
    winning or losing. “I think about it more in terms of: Do you
    successfully prosecute a strategy that results in the country
    being stronger rather than weaker at the end?” he said.”
    As I see it, the problem right now has less to to with a lack of
    insight or realism in the oval office: it boils down to a fight
    between Obama, Biden and others on one side, and the
    Pentagon, Petreaus and other generals, perhaps also Hillary
    Clinton and others in the administration on the other.
    Obama and Biden realizes that spending decades and trillions
    of dollars in Afghanistan (not to speak of the human sacrifices)
    is an absurd priority, and are willing to accept less than
    “victory”.
    On the other hand, it was a mistake for Obama to insist on
    concentrating the efforts in Afghanistan during the election
    campaign.

    Reply

  14. Don Bacon says:

    from The Guardian–
    Steve Clemons, director of the American Strategy Programme at the New American Foundation, which this month published a detailed report on Afghanistan, said the administration was due to review its policy in December and the revelations ensure “this will become a political issue and re-open the convulsive process (last year’s debate on strategy). The political problem for the administration is they have to look as if not a pawn of the Pentagon.”
    Blake Hounshell, managing editor of the Washington-based Foreign Affairs website, said the book would create enormous headaches for the White House. “If you thought the Rolling Stone article that got General Stanley McChrystal fired was damning, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet,” he said.

    Reply

  15. Don Bacon says:

    You’re welcome. You’re welcome. You’re welcome.
    And how would I know that you’d get it the first time? :=)

    Reply

  16. Dan Kervick says:

    I find this Post article somewhat reassuring in that it indicates that Obama is strongly opposed to the longterm COIN approach, is very eager to hand off Afghanistan to the Afghans and is zeroed in on the more pressing security challenge of using intelligence and covert ops to thwart terrorism and deal with Pakistan. And nuclear security is at the top of his list.
    Now if only he can get the Pentagon, his generals, his Defense Secretary and his his Secretary of State on the same page. As the administration moves forward and rebuilds itself, it sounds like Donillon and Biden are trusted figures.
    Steve seems to have called all this right.

    Reply

  17. JohnH says:

    Thanks, Don. Got it the first time. But the fact that the rats appear to be jumping ship is newsworthy.

    Reply

  18. Don Bacon says:

    and from the news ticker:
    President Barack Obama’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan believes the current strategy cannot work, according to a new book. Holbrooke: “It can’t work”
    The claim, published in the New York Times, is from a book by veteran reporter Bob Woodward. Reports say the book paints a picture of in-fighting in the administration.
    http://tinyurl.com/244wev7

    Reply

  19. Don Bacon says:

    from the TWN culture desk:
    “There

    Reply

  20. Don Bacon says:

    Logistics is the Achilles heel? Maybe.
    MANPADS could be too — Man Portable Air Defense Systems.
    Like the Stingers that were a big hit in “Charlie Wilson’s War”. Did you see it?
    Pakistan builds ’em and the Taliban uses ’em.
    Connect the dots.
    The nomenclature is ‘Anza”, and the Paks have three models. The top two aren’t fooled by the flares that helicopters toss out to mislead the infrared heatseekers on the killer missiles.
    The US has lost several helicopters, including the Blackhawk helicopter brought down Tuesday. Reportedly nine Americans were killed and the Taliban claims credit.
    The pilot was Jonah McClellan, 26, of Clark County Washington. He leaves behind his wife, Nina, and their three small children.
    One of the major revelations to come out of the 92,000 previously classified documents recently released by wikileaks is that apparently the Taliban have on several occasions fired at U.S aircraft using surface to air missiles better known as MANPADS.
    General McChrystal assessed a year ago that Pakistan is probably supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan.
    The US highly depends upon aircraft for logistics, movement and command & control in Afghanistan. The roads are poor and dangerous.
    It’s time to leave.

    Reply

  21. Paul Norheim says:

    erichwwk:
    two links is the limit.

    Reply

  22. erichwwk says:

    Should I have tried for three?
    Taliban Could Defeat NATO in 30 Days
    Logistics is the Achilles heel of Western forces
    Sunday 12 September 2010, by Matthew Nasuti
    http://kabulpress.org/my/spip.php?rubrique60

    Reply

  23. erichwwk says:

    Since Maria got two hot links through despite their irrelevance, I’ll give it a go.
    Folks might be interested in discussions of the ASG prior to the post here:
    http://seminal.firedoglake.com/diary/71489
    and
    http://www.registan.net/index.php/2010/09/11/the-afghanistan-study-group-report-an-exercise-in-determined-ignorance/#comment-388114

    Reply

  24. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Maria.
    Trust me, these people don’t need your help making this site slow to load and damned near impossible to post on. They’re experts at it.

    Reply

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    Reply

  26. JohnH says:

    Ah yes, those “considerable US geopolitical interests.” Pray tell, what could they be?
    And why are US politicians too dishonest to ever discuss them overtly? Or could it be because they haven’t a clue as to what “strategic interests” are really at stake?
    At some point, when a player won’t reveal his hand, you have to assume that he’s bluffing. And when a politician can’t articulate the stakes, you have to assume that he’s about as clueless as a rock in the garden.

    Reply

  27. Don Bacon says:

    Again, it’s (of course) more than “a civil war about power-sharing.” There’s a dangerous Pakistan-India component, for one thing, to say nothing of the considerable US geopolitical interests.
    MP McDonnell did mention the resistance to US imperialism: “. . .the conflict is interpreted by many in Afghanistan as having elements of resistance to what is seen as a military occupation.” Cute. It’s seen as a military occupation. Who knew.
    Oh, and I forgot about the “safe haven” argument (just kidding).

    Reply

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