Before 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
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