(photo credit: Kori Schake)
I have had a pretty busy couple of days reading a dozen or so books competing in the Los Angeles Times History Book Prize for which I was drawn in to be a judge by Ron Brownstein. This is one of the best things I have ever done. Not all history books are gems, but one can’t help but learn a ton of new things doing something like this.
The picture above was just sent to me by my friend and national security expert Kori Schake, who was on the foreign policy advisory team to John McCain’s presidential campaign as well as a national security adviser to President Bush. This is a bit of her current paradise in Lake Tahoe.
But speaking of Kori Schake, I want to highlight something she wrote for the Washington Post in January 2009 about Afghanistan — capturing themes and concerns that I think many on the Obama team really need to absorb and think through again.
More American troops isn’t enough to succeed in Afghanistan. What else needs doing depends on why you think the Taliban have gained ground in the past 18 months. Is it because we have too few troops to hold areas that have been cleared of Taliban influence? Is it because Afghans are fundamentally sympathetic to Taliban aims? Or are Afghans so downtrodden from the terror and distrustful of American staying power they won’t stand up and help?
According to the United Nations, this is a country that stands second to last in the entire world in human development rankings. So the potential for rapid turn-around of Afghan society is low. The Taliban are increasingly targeting development workers and nongovernment organizations. They are destroying the schools and hospitals to crush hope for a better Afghanistan. But Afghanistan is also a country that has received a plethora of international assistance in the past eight years and hasn’t made particularly good use of the window of international interest.
The United States is over-invested in the government of President Hamid Karzai, spending too little of its political heft diversifying the potential leadership and setting rules in the political domain that will produce a less corrupt, broader-based government. Democracies grow strong as the result of vibrant civil societies underpinning the political process. Afghanistan has little of that, and Afghans are fast losing confidence in their government.
If the United States is to succeed in Afghanistan, our military might, economic assistance and political attention should be tied to building the Afghan government. If you watch the migration of poppy-growing in Afghanistan, it does not follow areas of increased violence, it tracks to areas of corrupt governance. We need a governance strategy to which our military operations will be subordinate; we won’t succeed otherwise.
I would see that nearly all of her central concerns remain relevant today, despite the greater talk of building up and cleaning out Karzai’s government.
But on to other fronts — HAPPY NEW YEAR!!
For those wondering, I’ll be in Dubai Saturday-Monday. San Francisco next Tuesday through Thursday. Los Angeles, Thursday and Friday. New York, Saturday through Monday.
It’s already an action packed new year.
Best to everyone.
— Steve Clemons