Obama’s modest aims

April 1, 2009 at 12:25 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

In The New Republic, Andrew Exum analyses Obama’s Afghanistan/Pakistan strategy and worries that it doesn’t go far enough:

When the Obama administration announced the results of its review of Afghanistan and Pakistan policies on Friday, reporters quizzing the review’s authors seemed confused. They wondered whether the recommendations announced by the president amounted to an abandonment or endorsement of the kind of population-centric counter-insurgency strategy employed in Iraq in 2007. Were we embracing a more limited counter-terror mission? Or were we committing ourselves more fully to nation-building?

The aims of the strategy are quite modest: to deny transnational terror groups the ability to use physical space to plan and prepare for attacks on the United States in the way that al-Qaeda used Afghanistan in the years before the 9/11 attacks. And the central problem of the post-Cold War era is that these staging grounds are often in ungoverned spaces like the Pashtun belt straddling the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. The solution to this problem in those countries is improved governance from Kabul and Islamabad, respectively, which leads us to pursuing lines of operation quite unlike those most normally associated with the art of war–such as improving centralized governance, coordinating economic development, and providing essential services to the peoples of southern Afghanistan and western Pakistan. The new Obama strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan is thus better described as a “counter-haven” strategy then a counter-terrorism strategy. (I must credit a conversation I had with counter-insurgency theorist-practitioner David Kilcullen on Friday for that particular turn of phrase.)

So the plan announced by the Obama administration is actually a renunciation of traditional counter-terror strategies–which have employed special operations raids, drone strikes, and bombing campaigns to deter or reduce the capacity of transnational terror groups. In the administration’s strategy is the admission that solely “kinetic” means–blowing things up and killing people–cannot be relied upon to end the threat from terror groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

More here

NB: I’ll just be dumping links for the rest of this week, and will be away from the internet for all of next week. Normal blogging will resume on around 12th or 13th of March

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