Sunday, March 29, 2009

Obama’s Afghan Policy

Notwithstanding protest and dismissal by many on Left and anti-war critic like Andrew Sullivan, President Obama is generally right and on correct path for his Afghan war. Democrats, starting from past presidential candidate Sen. Kerry always wanted to ‘own’ Afghan war and now they do that.

Left and war critic like Andrew Sullivan are wrong when they say that America has no business in nation building of Afghanistan. Even if we keep aside the historical need for America to help Afghanistan because Afghans worked with Americans in past to remove Soviets, fact is just flying couple of sorties and ‘bomb-bomb’ few so-called terrorist camps is hardly a workable solution. Such an ad-hoc bombing will not be acceptable to world community as well. Further, it will be useless too. Unless American boots are on the ground, Americans are unlikely to know where to ‘bomb’. So for all practical purposes, not involving in Afghan nation building is not an option at all. The question is the extent of involvement. With VP Biden on board sounding the necessary caution in ‘over reaching’ American involvement; it is reasonable to expect that Obama Administration will not over extend itself in this war. Though precise ‘exit strategy’ may not be outlined by Obama Administration at present, which could be hazardous strategically and politically, to say that Administration misses on that is wrong. Not only that Candidate Obama and President Obama have consistently maintained the demeanor about this war which is far from jingoistic like Bush, but at the same time not ‘shortchanging’ military needs. With American Military Leadership – Sec. Gates, Gen. Petraeus and COS Adm. Mullen - firmly grounded in realism, there is every reason to believe that America will be cautious in reaching the tipping point of ‘over extension’.

American Military strategy is also smart enough to learn right lessons from Iraq war and to adopt it appropriately for the Afghan Theater. Stabilizing Baghdad was the lynch pin in Iraq. For Afghan war, Americans want to restore the safety of Kabul-Kandahar Highway, want to engage regional governors and want to go after opium production. Afghan National Army is the bulwark expected here whereas the core back bone is provided by American Military. Robert Kaplan has an excellent article about the American Military Strategy in Afghan war, context for President’s policy and prospectus of success. That article and other mature commentary (like by Joe Klein from Time, WaPo Editorial) are substantial refutations of war critics on Left.

If any thing is missing in this policy, then one suspects proposed American support for Civilian Government and involvement in public works may still fall short of what is needed in the end.

Further, it is true that Obama Administration recognizes the cardinality of stabilizing Pakistan for the greater of peace in the entire Afpak region. The strategy of separating ‘good / workable Talibans from bad Talibans in Afpak region’ is a correct strategy despite all the ridicule heaped by Indians. Prominent critics are Times of India Washington bureau reporter Chidanand Rajghatta and India blogs like Acorn. Separating good guys from bad ones is a strategy which plays with ‘fire’ is true. But Americans worked with ‘no so bad guys’ to repeal Soviets in past. In contemporary times, Gen. Petraeus adopted this sophistication while buying peace with Sunnis in Anbar and by that laying foundation to stabilize Iraq. Who are these critics - nationalistic Indians - to criticize one of the most accomplished practitioners of this tactic? India or for that matter any other country, hardly prosecutes any military action and hence is simply not qualified and credible in criticizing some of these strategies adopted by America in Afghanistan. Indian Nationalists and rest of the world better shut up in this regard.

The shortcoming, if at all, in this is President Obama may not be fully leveraging American’s options in literally removing ‘bad elements’ from Pakistan Army directly. It is well known that Pakistani Army is completely infested by radical elements. Ideally that job of cleansing Pakistani Army is of their rulers. But that is never going to happen in a fragile political system which is literally on verge of collapse. This means, Obama Administration has to use the leverage of manipulating badly needed financial aid to Pakistan not only for public / social infrastructure; but getting rid of Islamic radicals residing within Pakistani establishment itself. Granted that these things may not be speakable publicly. But with people like VP Biden and Sec. of State of Hillary fully wanting to use this aid leverage, we hope that Obama Administration does not leave any stone unturned. Still nagging doubts are there on this front and one suspects that Obama Policy may come short in this regard and still pour American aid without extracting changes in behavior maximum possible.

Hopefully, Obama Administration learns as things evolve and adopt more to the situation. That is what their track record is, whatever small, and one hopes that such ability comes handy to President Obama in improvising his Afghan Policy further as needed.

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