Iraq has Oil & Afghanistan has America: Obama Must Change Up the Game


US TROOPS afgh.jpgOne of the lines working around the Middle East and South Asia is that “Iraq has oil, and Afghanistan has the U.S.”
The budget showdown looming in Washington now, threatening to shut down the government on Friday seems to hardly recognize the expenditure by the US in FY2011 of $119 Billion in Afghanistan, which has a GDP of just $14 billion.
No matter how the Obama administration wants to frame the challenge, the US is currently tethered to a partner in Afghanistan whose friends and associates ferret money out of the country as fast as the U.S. is pumping it in.
I’m not anti-corruption in all cases. Corruption can work in nations where there are no functioning markets and can move people and interests faster in some cases than markets — but the key to development is that money needs to stick inside a country and not to escape out into offshore accounts and assets. During its high speed development, Japan was probably the most successful structurally corrupt nation in the world — but it very high walls limiting capital flight. We don’t have that in Afghanistan.
And the key to what happens in Afghanistan, according to Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen and Afghanistan Commander General David Petraeus, is Pakistan’s ability to neutralize the insurgent pockets along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
NYU School of Law’s Center on Law & Security has sent out a note this morning highlighting a semiannual White House report issued to Congress on Pakistan’s progress — which the White House reports is bleak:

A semiannual White House report to Congress suggests that Pakistan is making little progress against militants and that the country has “no clear path toward defeating the insurgency,” according to multiple reports. The AP reports that the Pakistani Army’s failure to clear border regions of militants was cited as a key problem, and the AFP quotes the report as stating that “[w]hat remains vexing is the lack of any indication of ‘hold’ and ‘build’ planning or staging efforts to complement ongoing clearing operations.”

The White House must address the fact that it’s approval of the surge of US forces into Afghanistan has yielded few benefits — while generating significant costs.
The costs are financial — adding about $40 billion a year on levels already being spent. The costs are also in the field in the sense that the size of so-called enemy Taliban forces have grown at far higher rates than introduced ISAF forces, meaning that US and allied forces have so antagonized local populations that it has driven up Taliban and insurgency recruitment that previously was not directed at us or Kabul. And the costs are geostrategic with Afghanistan looking more and more like a trap containing US power rather than a case where we are successfully leveraging capabilities to shape the region. This contributes to a global view that the US is overextended. US allies are counting on America less than was the case previously — and North Korea, Iran, and other foes are moving forward their agendas.
Barack Obama must look at this mess — and must begin to put in place a serious strategy that minimizes US exposure to Afghanistan and Pakistan. We are currently fighting in Afghanistan an ally of Pakistan — and this makes no strategic sense. The clock is running out — and with all due respect to friends and policy intellectuals who have been working on this and who are in stronger support than I am of administration policy, your elegant models on how to resolve an India-Pakistan relationship as a way to stabilize Afghanistan are theoretically interesting and important — but are politically insolvent. They always were.
The deal made between the White House and the Pentagon is that authorization for a surge of troops would be made to gut punch the Taliban for a year and then to see where things stood — and if progress was not made to then begin shrinking US exposure. For analysts to presume that the US and American citizens should sign on for another trillion dollar debacle following the Iraq invasion doesn’t account for the trade-offs at home and also the costs embedded in such a geostrategic distraction.
President Obama has to change the game — urgently.
— Steve Clemons


15 comments on “Iraq has Oil & Afghanistan has America: Obama Must Change Up the Game

  1. Don Bacon says:

    The Saudi move into Bahrain frightened the Iraq leaders, especially Mooky, and drives them closer to Iran. So the U.S. intent to extend 20,000 troops in Iraq beyond Dec 31 is in trouble. But the U.S. still has some hands to play. Look for internal violence (black ops) in Iraq.


  2. rc says:

    How do you sell an invasion of a “tiny Sunni-ruled, Shia-majority kingdom … that lies to Saudi Arabia’s east”?
    Something like: “Saudi Arabia led a joint Gulf force that deployed there last month, enabling Bahraini authorities to quell protests calling for democratic reforms.”
    Eh? … “quell protests” … Do they mean the same type of popular civil western democracy inspired uprising by the repressed majority against a corrupt tyrant that recently occurred in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and now Libya?
    The same rebellion they are calling for in Iran?
    But there is more … a footnote:
    “Gates’ meetings on Thursday were to include a session with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has publicly insisted Iraq can handle its security without US troops beyond 2011.
    The bulk of the remaining 47,000 US troops are to begin going home in late summer or early fall, officials have said.
    Gates has said in congressional testimony that it might be preferable to keep US troops in the role of training Iraqi forces and providing security for an enlarging US Embassy presence, but he also has said the US will pull out completely on schedule at year’s end unless the Iraqis request an extension.”
    So, some offshore accommodation for 47,000 soon to be unemployed US troopers needed.
    Hey, what about a holiday in Kuwait and Bahrain to help save their monarchies from democracy? …. ooops, I meant from Iran!


  3. JohnH says:

    Bahrain, the Kosovo of the Persian Gulf: a thugdom with a gigantic US base, the kind of place Hillary the Horrible would feel comfortable hectoring Iran about its lack of democracy.


  4. rc says:

    And Bahrain has its tin-pot ‘king’ and the 5th Fleet!
    “an island of fear”
    Democracy (not just) Now!
    Will all this state-level criminality and mafia-thuggery still fester away when the world has moved to renewable energy?

    The BBC has obtained images of alleged police brutality against peaceful protesters in the Bahraini capital Manama, where fears of a systematic crackdown on pro-democracy activists are growing.
    Pictures sent by a human rights activist show police from Bahrain’s Interior Ministry, and others in plainclothes, their faces hidden by balaclavas.
    The police are seen beating and kicking men who are handcuffed and hooded.
    The attack occurred on the outskirts of the capital Manama last Wednesday, 30 March, on a busy stretch of road opposite a popular shopping mall.
    Eyewitnesses, some of them crying, described a scene that one said “was like watching a horror film.” . . . .
    Activists who had been released by royal decree in the early days of the protest have either been re-arrested or gone into hiding. Six doctors who treated injured protesters are among the imprisoned.
    And in a bizarre twist, photos of popular athletes – showing them at Pearl Roundabout supporting the call for democracy in February – were carried on state television.
    The athletes were then called live to recant. “They grovel and say they are ready to die for the king,” said one journalist who cannot be named. “It is excruciating to watch.”
    Local journalists who attempt to report the alleged rights abuses say have received anonymous death threats. …


  5. samuelburke says:

    We need change we can count on, not change we can only
    believe in.
    Pres Obama is a case in point, what crass hypocricy, but he’s
    no different than others of his coterie. A nobel peace prize,
    for what? not going nuclear. Give that one back Mr President,
    i’d tend to believe more of the bull you sell if you just gave
    that one back.
    and those who come here to obfuscate and misrepresent the
    truth, what the fu-k can one say. It’s just more of the same
    shit we get from the press most of the time.
    All these societies are just clamouring for peace, just the very
    nature of the arab spring revolutions yells for peace and
    equality and their share of the worlds progress.
    while the people were in the streets clamouring for peace,
    peace reigned, once the gov’t got involved the wars started.
    And the answer is, Ron Paul?


  6. Florestan says:

    Almost 10 times Afghanistan’s GDP! OMG!-What we need is the
    Ryan Plan for Foreign Intervention: Block Grants to Afghan
    Warlords cum Government Entities-cut our bill in half and get
    the hell out.


  7. Kathleen says:

    Has Obama or anyone else in that administration acknowledged and smacked down the Afghanistan kill teams?
    Has anyone ever talked about the 2000 or more surrendered Taliban that suffocated in a truck convoy soon after our invasion of Afghanistan?
    These men had surrendered
    The only media outlet in this country who touched this story was Amy Goodman at Democracy Now
    Afghan Massacre : The Convoy of Death


  8. DakotabornKansan says:



  9. Kathleen says:

    “For analysts to presume that the US and American citizens should sign on for another trillion dollar debacle following the Iraq invasion doesn’t account for the trade-offs at home and also the costs embedded in such a geostrategic distraction.
    President Obama has to change the game — urgently.”
    Change the game by actually trying to get close to the truth. Push for accountability. Do they actually think that all Americans are asleep or so easily manipulated? Millions of Americans across the nation marched, protested, petitioned, against the invasion of Iraq. Not that the MSM showed the rest of the Americans sitting at home wondering whether they were alone questioning the validity of the Bush administrations intelligence who was in the streets of Wash D.C., New York, marching protesting. Most of us had heard former IAEA weapons inspector Scott Ritter confirming that the intelligence was highly questionable. Or had read Seymour Hersh’s pieces verifying the intelligence was highly questionable. Or former CIA analyst Ray McGovern, Kathleen and Bill Christison, El Baradei coming out in early March of 2003 telling the world the Niger Documents were forgeries and bad ones etc etc.
    Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi people are dead, injured and millions are displaced based on the Bush administrations “pack of lies’ American soldiers are dead and 50,ooo have been injured some of them for life
    Not one person has been held accountable for the Niger Documents. Not one person has been held accountable for those lies. Pelosi took “impeachment off the table”
    Both Democrats including Obama and Republicans tell the American people to “move on, turn the page, next chapter, don’t be about retribution, witch hunts, vengeance”
    At what point did holding people accountable for very serious crimes start being defined as “vengeance”?
    Our country is crumbling based on not only potential economic bankruptcy but crumbling due to moral and spiritual bankruptcy.
    The closer Obama can cut to the truth the better off the US and all the world will be


  10. Don Bacon says:

    SC: “. . .your elegant models on how to resolve an India-Pakistan relationship as a way to stabilize Afghanistan are theoretically interesting and important — but are politically insolvent. They always were.”
    I’d like to hear more about this, because this teaser doesn’t explain what the models are and why they are wrong. This is important because the India-Pakistan relationship is at the heart of the problem.
    The “New Way Forward” didn’t even mention India, that I recall.


  11. Don Bacon says:

    There is serious social and political discontent in Afghanistan, and on top of that there is great power politics that make AfPak even more complex than Vietnam, or Iraq for that matter.
    There is a serious standoff in South Asia between India and Pakistan with both countries having an interest in, and a presence in, Afghanistan. Recently, the US has tilted strongly toward India, a country the US sees as its primary ally in the region, an ally which can anchor the US political and economic thrust into Central Asia. The -stans are deeply involved in the US “Silk Road” strategy for economic gains in these old Soviet Republics.
    Pakistan, a US “partner” (Obama) in AfPak, and a major recipient of US aid, is supporting the Taliban which is killing Americans. Pakistan is doing that because it naturally fears encirclement by India. Who can blame them? Plus the US has shown that it favors India, seven times larger than Pakistan.


  12. JohnH says:

    It’s much bigger than Afghanistan. Total security spending, depending on who’s counting, amounts to $1.0-1.3 Trillion. Since 2000, security spending, including spending on 3 wars, has skyrocketed alongside massive tax cuts, mostly to the wealthy. This year the deficit will be $1.5 Trillion, not counting any supplemental spending for Libya.
    So is it any coincidence that security spending is roughly equivalent to budget deficits? Of course not.
    But the military and its supporters are in such firm control of Congress and the Executive, that the obvious gets buried–if you’re going to fight wars on multiple fronts, you have to find a way to pay for it.
    Instead, it’s the fault of Social Security, which has never run a deficit.


  13. DakotabornKansan says:



  14. John Waring says:

    To the so called best and brightest in the American foreign policy and defense communities, gin up the courage to pull the plug on the fools


  15. PissedOffAmerican says:

    It won’t be long before we consider opinions and news about our military clusterfucks as mere trivia.
    We are in the midst of a global catastrophe and emergency. We better stop fuckin’ around and letting TEPCO and the Japanese jack themselves off over this disaster. Its time the global community of nuclear scientists, technicians, and engineers got their heads together, imagined the worst case scenario, and work together to put an end to this crisis. Events unfolding in Japan affect the ENTIRE planet, Muslim, Jew, and Christian alike.
    Its getting worse, folks, not better.


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