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Thursday, March 12

AFPAK: "Obama is making the muddle worse."

I seem to recall that Franklin Roosevelt liked a team of rival advisors around him, but clearly President Obama is going overboard with a tactic favored by emperors for keeping advisors off balance. The following, by three AEI guys, is from an almost maniacally funny analysis of how Obama is holding up his end of the Afghanistan muddle:
[T]he president needs to better control his "Team of Rivals." It is a military truism that strategic clarity depends upon a well-defined decision-making process, on a "unity of command." This principle is absent in the present Afghanistan policy.

To a certain extent, this is inherent to coalition warfare: General McKiernan as International Security Assistance Force commander reports to both NATO and to U.S. Central Command. Likewise, his subordinate commanders--be they British, German, Canadian--report to at least two bosses.

But Obama is making the muddle worse. Afghanistan policy is the product of a horse-by-committee termed "the Interagency." The president, members of his cabinet, the national security adviser and his staff, generals and viceroys, and a burgeoning number of bureaucrats all take part and bring divergent personal or institutional biases with them.

Interagency policy reflects the State Department's desires to do traditional diplomacy, the Pentagon's concerns about force structure and "balancing risk," the intelligence and special operations operatives charged with prosecuting the global war on terrorism, the charter of development agencies to alleviate poverty, and so on. No one in Washington is, as yet, responsible for winning the war.

And these structural problems are hugely exacerbated by the herd of elephantine egos and personalities engaged. There are at least three four-star officers with different agendas: McKiernan, CENTCOM chief General David Petraeus, and Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The civilian side is even worse. Aside from the president himself, who has occasionally quipped that he's smarter than any of his advisers, there are the two poles of the new secretary of state and the old the secretary of defense. There's the national security adviser, Jim Jones, a former four-star general himself, who recently sounded like another four-star NSA, Alexander Haig, when he boasted to the Washington Post that he was in charge at the White House (even though Jones was in Munich at the time).

The Obama administration is also keen on ministers plenipotentiary and special envoys, with the new U.S. Special Envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, being the most special of all. He stands outside the traditional bureaucratic structures, and the great danger is that he will have lots of power but not so much responsibility.

Foreign governments -- Germany and Britain among them -- remember the way in which Holbrooke dominated policymaking during the Balkans wars of the 1990s and want their own Holbrooke-equivalents in Afghanistan, if only to keep tabs on what the American is up to.

This multipolar decision-making world is a recipe for competition and confusion. There are at least three Afghanistan reviews underway: at the NSC by Bush-holdover "war czar" General Douglas Lute, at CENTCOM by Petraeus and many of the counterinsurgency experts who designed the Iraq surge, and by Mullen and the Joint Chiefs.

These reviews, in turn, are to be reviewed by Bruce Riedel, a scholar at the Brookings Institution now working -- at least temporarily -- for Jones and the NSC. Whether he will bring clarity instead of further confusion is unclear; Riedel has written that he believes that settling the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is a key to success in Afghanistan and the war on terror.
As to how Mr Riedel arrived at the conclusion that the most direct route between Boston and New York is via Bangkok, he summarized his reasoning this way: "Tweet twitter awk cheep tweet. Chirp!"

The AEI guys (resident fellow Thomas Donnelly, researcher Raphael Cohen and research assistant Tim Sullivan) forgot to include the input from Senators John Kerry and Richard Lugar.

Congress and President Obama are now so spooked at the thought that Pakistan is becoming a failed state that they want the Kerry-Lugar bill (the "Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act") to be passed yesterday.

The bill, which was originally sponsored in 2008 by Joe Biden and Richard Lugar when Biden was a senator and chairman of the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, would give Pakistan $1.5 billion in nonmilitary aid a year for at least the next five years.

That would be on top of the $10 billion in military aid that was launched during the Bush administration and whatever additional military aid the Congress wants to hurl at Pakistan.

Dan Riehl is also spooked; last week he urged his readers to rip their attention from the economic crisis long enough to focus on the situations in Pakistan and Afghanistan, which he fears could easily converge in a nuclear exchange.

I would be less worried at this minute about Pakistan's nuclear program than about what Messrs Kerry and Lugar know regarding Afghanistan and Pakistan. They know as much as Vice President Biden, who while senator encouraged Benazir Bhutto to return to the olde sod, where she went to her death. In other words they know nothing that can be considered useful information about either country.

And they're at a loss to explain what measures the U.S. would take to prevent Pakistani officials from outright stealing the proposed yearly $1.5 billion aid, diverting substantial amounts of it to the Taliban and other terrorist groups, and funneling a portion of it to military projects for making war on India.(1)

Pakistan has already stolen a big chunk of the $8.7 in U.S. military aid that's been disbursed to them.

After more than two decades, the U.S. General Accounting Office is probably still trying to figure how much Pakistan stole of the U.S. financial aid to Afghan's insurgency against the Soviets.

And after more than 30 years of pouring uncounted billions into the black hole of Pakistan's education system, which has a trap door opening into Pakistan's military establishment, scores of external aid agencies and international banks are afraid to tot up the amount. They're afraid because they suspect the total will roughly equal what it cost Pakistan to build a nuclear weapon program.

I'm glad to read that the AEI guys share my concern about AFPAK. From their analysis:
[T]he administration needs to better define or, better yet, drop entirely the idea of "AfPak." This is the neologism for an emerging strain of conventional wisdom suggesting that for the United States to succeed in Afghanistan, it must first address the problems in the Pakistani border regions.
While there is no denying that the flow of weapons, resources, and fighters across the border into Afghanistan has complicated the U.S. mission there, Pakistan itself presents a range of strategic challenges of which the violence and extremism in its volatile tribal regions are only a symptom.

As a nuclear-armed state with a weak civilian government, a politically powerful but malfunctioning military, and a population prone to extremism, Pakistan is strategically far more important to the United States than Afghanistan. The administration cannot afford to shape its policy toward Pakistan based simply upon the effects it hopes to achieve in Afghanistan; it must instead tackle Pakistan qua Pakistan, even as it pursues a comprehensive strategy for its neighbor. "AfPak" thinking will be wrongheaded about both countries.
I agree it's wrongheaded but I would recommend that to the greatest extent possible the U.S. focus on Afghanistan. That is actually the best way to deal with Pakistan.

1) In response to a comment from Shaunak (see comment section) I've changed "Pakistan" to "Pakistani officials." I'd intended to put in a quote from TIME magazine that clarifies what I meant by "Pakistan," but it slipped my mind. I'll save the quote for another post.

Shaunak's comments bring up another valid point that I'd not mentioned, and which is well known to Pakistan watchers:
A large chunk of [Pakistan's] economy is controlled by the Pakistan Army through front companies and stooges and the profits find their way back into the Army's coffers.

Even if the $7.5 billion were entirely used for non-military purposes in the first set of transactions (consumption of food, services and everything non-military), it would probably land up funding the Pakistan Army by the time the second, third and fourth set of transactions are through.
The rest of his comments are also worth the read.
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This entry is crossposted at RBO.
Comments:
"And they're at a loss to explain what measures the U.S. would take to prevent Pakistan from outright stealing the proposed yearly $1.5 billion aid, diverting substantial amounts of it to the Taliban and other terrorist groups, and funneling a portion of it to military projects for making war on India."

Pundita, Pakistan doesn't need to steal the money. Presumably the non-military aid will find its way into the Pakistani economy.

A large chunk of that economy is controlled by the Pakistan Army through front companies and stooges and the profits find their way back into the Army's coffers.

Even if the $7.5 billion were entirely used for non-military purposes in the first set of transactions (consumption of food, services and everything non-military), it would probably land up funding the Pakistan Army by the time the second, third and fourth set of transactions are through.

And it will be used to create further trouble in India or prepare for Indian counteraction following it.

That the US government can't figure this out is one of the biggest causes of Indian distrust of the US.
 
Shaunak -- Thanks for your observations, which I considered important enough to add as a footnote to the post, and which prompted me to edit the sentence in question.

Re your second comment, which was sent moments after the first, and which pretty much repeated your first entry, I guessed that you were assuming that because the first entry didn't show up immediately in the comments section that it hadn't gone through. If so, that wasn't the case -- I received both comments.

However, I just opened the comments section a few weeks ago and for now I'm doing "moderated" comments; i.e., I don't publish them until I review them.

The problem with is that if I log off for several hours after posting, it can be several hours before I review the comments and post them to the comments section.

So what I've done is delete your second comment after posting the first. But here I'll add the sentence from your second comment that you didn't include in the first --

Oh phooey, I just discovered that if you delete a comment from the moderation section that this also deletes the email alert about the comment.

So I can't quote you exactly. But the gist of your remark was that as an Indian you're furious that the US government can't or won't notice that their helping to fund Pakistan's military wreaks murder and mayhem on India.

I share your outrage. The Kerry-Lugar bill, and Obama's suppport for it, was the final straw for me. My last two posts on AFPAK are just a warm-up -- a means of laying out the background for readers.
 
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