Live Blogging the CNAS Annual Conference: Quick Thoughts on the AfPak Panel


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I am sitting in an overflow room at the Center for a New American Security‘s third annual conference, “Striking A Balance: A New American Security.”
Two quick thoughts on the Afghanistan/Pakistan panel:
1. While most of the discussion concerned tactical and operational issues, Boston University Professor of International Relations and History Andrew Bacevich focused on the strategic level and delivered what were by far the most provocative comments.
Bacevich identifies two key assumptions underlying our continued occupation of Afghanistan – and contends that both are false. The first is that the United States has vital national interests in Afghanistan, and the second is that a semi-permanent occupation and pacification of the country can further those interests.
More broadly, Bacevich criticizes the idea that the United States can use military power to determine the fate of the broader Middle East – a notion that he says has dominated American foreign policy discourse since at least 1980 and that was placed at the forefront of our policy in the aftermath of 9/11.
He calls for a “radically different approach” to U.S. national security that emphasizes homeland defense over long-term, expensive foreign occupations.
I wonder what he would say about James Pinkerton‘s post advocating a robust national missile defense system.
2. I am surprised that the panel has not addressed the roles of China, Iran, and Russia – and how the United States can elicit the support of these regional stakeholders. It is difficult to imagine how we can construct an exit strategy that creates a stable situation in the region without all of the major players on board.
Steve Clemons has written about the need for a new Bonn Conference – like the one organized by former US Ambassador to the United Nations Zalmay Khalilzad and former Presidential Envoy James Dobbins in 2001.
For those interested, my colleague Katherine Tiedemann is twittering the conference.
— Ben Katcher


4 comments on “Live Blogging the CNAS Annual Conference: Quick Thoughts on the AfPak Panel

  1. John Waring says:

    Please provide a link to the .pdf of the CNAS Conference when one becomes available.
    Thank you


  2. DonS says:

    In view of today’s NYT article about Gen McChrystal getting free hand and carte blanche in choosing subordinates for the Afghan theatre, with a minimum rotation of three years, it certainly doesn’t look like a smaller US footprint in the area is part of the plan.
    Indeed, it seems as if the Obama administration is fully cognizant of the path they are treading on the heels of the Bush administration, buying and selling the snake oil that projecting military force is the sine qua non of American foreign policy, no matter how dolled up the rhetoric becomes. Mr. Obama, reaping a massive amount of good will around the world, seems intent on squandering it much as Bush, dare I say, squandered good will after 911.
    No doubt Obama is convinced, and/or wants us to be convinced, that he’s better than that, ergo, the outcome must be better. But as the canard about J. Edgar Hoover goes, “ ‘J’ doesn’t stand for Jesus”, and miracles aren’t to be expected, even if Obama is the best intentioned, least corrupted individual in the whole world.


  3. Don Bacon says:

    The idea that US foreign military adventurism is an “approach” to US national security is bogus. No other nation has this policy. Why? Because no other nation is motivated to expand its exceptionalist views and its economic influence into every corner of the world with brutal military force. This behavior actually decreases national security, due to widespread hatred of the US and its repressive foreign policy (including arbitrary imprisonment and torture).
    The other false idea is that the US might work with China, Iran and Russia to increase stability. Obviously (again) it is US policy to increase instability, not stability. Look at the evidence.


  4. JohnH says:

    Ben, it would be interesting to hear you report back on how other panelists respond to Bacevich. If he has challenged the underlying rationale for the occupation of Afghanistan, the notion that the United States has “vital national interests” there, presumably other panelists will rise to the challenge and clearly identify those interests.
    I expect to be disappointed. Unfortunately, the Washington SOP is treat anyone as an idiot and dismiss his ideas, if he doesn’t automatically subscribe to their imaginary vital strategic interests.
    Bacevich is on the right track. He needs to keep hammering his points until officialdumb either publicly proves its case for vital strategic interests or admits that there are none, in which case the whole Afghanistan adventure is a tragically stupid idea.


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