National Security Network

On Afghanistan and Pakistan, while Administration Acts, Conservatives Rest on Reckless Criticism

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Report 17 November 2009

Afghanistan Afghanistan Clinton Karzai Obama Pakistan


Even as deliberations over the Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy continue, and President Obama traveled in Asia, notable steps in the Afghanistan – Pakistan region set the stage for productive US efforts, with senior officials encouraging their partner governments to step up.  This weekend, Secretary of State Clinton used strong language to pressure the Karzai government to act against corruption, a tough stance followed by the Karzai administration’s launch yesterday of a new anti-corruption initiative.   National Security Advisor Jones visited Pakistan to convey support for the government’s recent offensive against militants, along with a letter from President Obama urging continued resolve.  Steep challenges of governance, security, and managing delicate national pride remain in both countries.  This week’s events show the Administration squarely focused on a core part of any successful strategy: motivating the Kabul and Islamabad governments to take the lead.

Yet some conservatives continued to accuse the administration of indecisiveness.  Their reckless approach has even crept into mainstream coverage, with one national columnist urging the President to make a decision, “whether or not it is right.”  Their grandstanding stands in stark contrast to the guidance given by former Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Colin Powell, who urged Obama to take the time to get the strategy right.

Under pressure from Obama administration, Karzai government unveils anti-corruption task force.  Today, Transparency International released its annual Corruption Perceptions Index, ranking Afghanistan 179 out of 180, followed only by Somalia.  Responding to international pressure, the Afghan government yesterday unveiled new efforts to battle corruption.  The Washington Post reports: “Under heavy pressure from the U.S. government, Afghan President Hamid Karzai unveiled an anti-corruption unit and major crime fighting force on Monday following his fraud-tainted re-election.” The LA Times expands, saying, “the West has been putting pressure on Karzai to institute swift reforms or face a loss of international support. Recent days have seen criticism from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, both of whom suggested that future aid to Karzai's government could be tied to his efforts against corruption.”

This initial step needs to be followed with efforts that address corruption at the local and community levels.    As the U.S. Institute of Peace’s Alex Thier writes, “A top-down, Kabul-centric strategy to address governance and economic development is mismatched for Afghanistan, one of the most highly decentralized societies in the world. The international community and the Afghan government must engage the capacity of the broader Afghan society, making them the engine of progress rather than unwilling subjects of rapid change. The new formula is one where the central government continues to ensure security and justice on the national level and uses its position to channel international assistance to promote good governance and development at the community level.”  [Transparency International, 11/17/09. Washington Post, 11/17/09. LA Times, 11/17/09. Alex Thier, Foreign Policy, 11/5/09]

Encouraged by the U.S., Pakistan continues to act against militants gathered in northwest frontier, though challenges remain.
One month into its offensive in the militant stronghold of South Waziristan, the Pakistani government took reporters to survey the scene. “Pakistan dispatched 30,000 troops into battle on October 17, vowing to crush the Tehreek-e-Taliban network and blaming the faction for some of the deadliest recent bomb attacks,” reported AFP, adding that “[m]ilitary spokesman Major General Athar Abbas told reporters escorted by the army into South Waziristan on Tuesday that the army had captured most of the population centres and disrupted the militants' food supply line.”  However, the article also warned of the potential drawbacks to Pakistan’s actions, describing how in the Waziristan town of Sararogha, “streets were destroyed, the market reduced to rubble, and no civilians in sight,” also pointing out that “[p]revious offensives often ended with peace deals, which critics argued allowed militants to re-arm, and analysts warn that Pakistan should bankroll a major reconstruction effort to hold onto bomb-damaged war zones.”  

The New York Times describes the backdrop to this development: “[a]s the president traveled to Asia, his national security adviser, Gen. James L. Jones, was quietly sent to Islamabad, [Pakistan’s] capital,” to convey a message from President Obama that “that the new American strategy would work only if Pakistan broadened its fight beyond the militants attacking its cities and security forces and went after the groups that use havens in Pakistan for plotting and carrying out attacks against American troops in Afghanistan, as well as support networks for Al Qaeda.” The Times also reported that “General Jones praised the Pakistani operation in South Waziristan but urged Pakistani officials to combat extremists who fled to North Waziristan.”  According to the Times, in a letter delivered by Jones to Pakistani President Zardari, “Mr. Obama offered a range of new incentives to the Pakistanis for their cooperation, including enhanced intelligence sharing and military cooperation.” However, in an indication of a still-strained relationship, and Pakistan’s fierce independence, the Voice of America reported that “Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi says his country will decide on its own, according to its priorities and resources, on how to fight militants.” [AFP, 11/17/09. NY Times, 11/15/09. VOA, 11/16/09]

Actions on these fronts, and statements by prominent GOP national security figure, do nothing to dent conservative accusations of dithering. Conservatives continued to push for a quick decision on Afghanistan, accusing the President of jeopardizing U.S. operations by engaging in a deliberate strategy review.  Sen. Mitch McConnell (R – KY) said on Fox News this weekend that conservatives were “a little bit perplexed about the length of time it's taking to make this decision.  According to a New York Times story last week “Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, said last week that he was disappointed and angry the president has delayed his Afghanistan decision, but the White House has spent very little time reacting to the criticism.” And, in a troubling indicator that such recklessness has spread to the mainstream press, Washington Post columnist David Broder wrote this weekend that “the urgent necessity is to make a decision -- whether or not it is right.”

But the reality is one of military and diplomatic action that will set the stage for the future US role:    Last week, National Security Advisor Gen. Jim Jones (Ret.) gave strong encouragement to the Pakistani government to continue its fight against militants within its borders. Over the weekend, Secretary of State Clinton insisted that the Karzai government take action to address corruption, using future financial support as leverage, and saying: There does have to be actions by the government of Afghanistan against those who have taken advantage of the money that has poured into Afghanistan in the last eight years so that we can better track it and we can have actions”  Senior national security professionals have urged the Obama administration to take the time to get its plan right.  Former Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Colin Powell stressed this point in a recent interview, saying: “Mr. President, don't get pushed by the left to do nothing; don't get pushed by the right to do everything. You take your time and you figure it out. You're the commander-in-chief and this is what you were elected for.’” [Sen. Mitch McConnell (R – KY, Fox News, 11/15/09. NYTimes, 11/12/09. David Broder, 11/15/09. NY Times, 11/15/09. Secretary Clinton, via AFP, 11/16/09. Colin Powell, via ABC News, 11/11/09]

What We’re Reading

A growing number of insurgent attacks in the Al Anbar province in Iraq signal the growing determination of militants to reclaim their sanctuary now that Iraqi Security Forces have firm control over the province. A Kuwaiti company defrauded the United States government of millions of dollars by exaggerating the cost of providing food to troops stationed in Iraq.

UN nuclear experts and western intelligence agencies believe Iran is continuing to hide various nuclear sites from international nuclear inspectors.

CIA operations overseas will face a new layer of review from the office of the Director of National Intelligence under a plan approved by the White House and outlined in a memo to the espionage workforce.

At a UN summit on hunger in Rome, representatives from developed and developing nations had highly divergent goals for battling world hunger in the years ahead.

The United States will participate in a conference with members of the International Criminal Court, the first time the nation will do so.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon is instituting a new police training program to prevent future police officer corruption, on a national scale never seen before.

During his visit to China, President Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao agreed on sustaining US-Chinese cooperation on climate change, nuclear proliferation and global economic recovery. Following Obama’s visit to Japan, American and Japanese defense officials clarify the intent of negotiations to relocate a Marine air base on the Japanese island of Okinawa.

The Czech Republic celebrates the 20th anniversary of the overthrow of communist rule.

A grassroots environmental campaign of farmers and fishermen on the coast of Ireland has kept off a Shell gas terminal for now.

In El Salvador, during a ceremony honoring six Jesuit priests murdered during  the civil war, the country’s defense minister said that the army is prepared to ask for forgiveness and that he is willing to open military archives to investigators.

Commentary of the Day

Roger Cohen suggests that President Obama’s efforts for peace between Israelis and Palestinians was based on the flawed premise that negotiations could continue from Clinton-era assumptions of “land for peace” swaps, which ignores the various political and security developments of the past 8 years.  

The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times both welcome President Obama’s engagement with China, but they both hope for additional political reform within China, and not just economic cooperation.

Derrick Z. Jackson wants President Obama to more strongly engage Congress on climate change legislation in order to prevent the continued legislative paralysis caused by massive lobbying efforts.