Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Criticisms of the Obama Administration's "Halfway" Strategy on Afghanistan, From the Inside

Vali Nasr, a former State Department official under the Obama Administration, is writing a book (titled "The Dispensable Nation") that is a pretty wide-ranged critique of the Obama administration's handling of foreign policy as a whole. I'll focus on the Afghanistan portion that I know so far as I think it resonates well. An excerpt from the NYT review of the book:

[But when Mr. Obama gave a speech during the American election campaign in June 2011 and announced that he was beginning to remove the reinforcements, Mr. Nasr asserts, the president undercut the leverage the United States would have needed to effectively pursue negotiations with the Taliban.

“As we went from ‘fight and talk’ to ‘talk while leaving,’ the prospect of a good outcome began to grow dimmer,” he writes.

Instead of taking risks in war or to pursue a peace settlement, he writes, the White House “was happy with the narrative of modest success in Afghanistan and gradual withdrawal.”]

Though not personally vested in a victory in Afghanistan, the approach the Obama administration has taken to Afghanistan drives neither effective negotiations with the Taliban (and thus the end of the war) or real protection for US troops--and certainly not cost-savings for the US government.

The surge could only be used for some sort of negotiating leverage, as it was clear to most diplomatic & military leaders that military defeat of the Taliban (due to its haven in Pakistan) was not possible. The fact that the surge was quickly reversed and a gradual withdrawal was publicly announced, the Taliban now actually have an incentive to wait rather than negotiate, as they know they will have a future advantage after US withdrawal. The very purpose of the surge was quite undermined.

To be fair, the announcement of the withdrawal has some advantages, including putting some urgency into the wider Kabul administration to get its act together, and acts as a reassurance to foreigner-weary Afghanis that NATO will be gone soon and Karzai won't become a complete puppet.