While most of the world waits to hear President Obama’s decision on Afghanistan, Japanese remain increasingly focused on the non-resolution of the Futenma Marine Air Station relocation dispute between Tokyo and Washington. As expected, the issue was politely sidelined during President Obama’s trip to Japan last month, but since then, the U.S. has slowly been ratcheting up the pressure on Japan to swiftly conclude a “review” of the 2006 agreement and move forward on implementing it.
The main mechanism for addressing the problem is a high-level working group headed by Assistant Secretary of Defense Chip Gregson on the U.S. side, meeting with Director General of the Defense Policy Bureau Nobushige Takamizawa and Ministry of Foreign Affairs Director General of North American Affairs Kazuyoshi Umemoto. Gregson and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Michael Schiffer landed in Tokyo the week after Obama’s visit to inaugurate the meetings, and Takamizawa and Umemoto made a one-day trip to Washington last week to follow up.
This week, however, U.S. Ambassador John Roos visited ground zero of the dispute, meeting with the governor of Okinawa and repeating the message that the move of the Marines’ station to a new facility at Camp Schwab is the “best and only viable option.” This very public visit was paired with one by the new commander of Pacific Command, Admiral Robert Willard, who met with Japanese Foreign Minister Okada on Monday to reiterate that solving the Futenma crisis is the key to U.S. force realignment in Japan.
Much is made of the complexities of the war in Afghanistan, though at times the fog of war seems to increase with either distance from Kabul or proximity to Washington; it can be hard to tell which is the cause.
Thus Greg Scoblete at Real Clear World critiques my post here, in which I argued that President Obama needed to communicate determination tonight when he explains his decision on the road forward in Afghanistan. “The question of resolve is a red herring,” believes Scoblete. Indeed, “it is impossible to signal ‘resolve’ when it comes to a mission that is as ambiguous as Afghanistan has become.”
It may prove difficult for this president, but that is in part because his very public agonizing over this decision has, as I argued, inevitably raised the question. But Americans tend to want to see their leaders as determined decision-makers (and, to be pedantic, “determination,” used with some precision, per Clausewitz, was the term I used). So if the president signals anything that can be interpreted as determination, I suspect it will be warmly welcomed as such, not least by the Loyal Opposition. It will be easily recognized and equally welcomed by most Afghans, too.
The idea that our president doesn’t speak for us in wartime — that the clamor of democratic debate makes it too hard for the world to hear America clearly — is the reddest herring of all. Scoblete is correct that the Taliban and other enemies will amplify dissent. But no president is just “one man,” one among many. That’s especially true in times of war and — or so his supporters will tell you — particularly true of Barack Obama.
In fact, one of the Changes We’ve Been Waiting For is a Democratic president who believes that there are wars of necessity. President Obama’s voice, particularly as part of a chorus that would include Defense Secretary Gates, Secretary of State Clinton and generals Petraeus and McChrystal, would be persuasive and powerful indeed. Nor must he call for conscription or putting the economy on a war footing — it has become an antiwar trope to blow the cost of a renewed commitment in Afghanistan out of all proportion; even allowing the highest cost estimate, it’s less than 15 percent of either the cost of the financial bail-out or the “stimulus” bill — just explain what’s at stake and that he thinks we can win.
It’s hard, but simple. I think there’s a Clausewitz quote for that, too.
9,000 Marines will be headed to southern Helmand province, only days after President Obama’s Afghan address. The Washington Post’s Greg Jaffe reports that the additional Marines will double the size of the U.S. force in Helmand. Their mission? Seize Helmand’s insurgent safe-haven in Marjeh, just 25 kilometers west of the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah.
Marjeh has been an insurgent stronghold for last several years. The town of Marjeh is part of Nad Ali district, inhabited by approximately 50,000 residents in the heart of Helmand’s poppy country. The town provides insurgents with a sanctuary to store weapons, refine and transit opium, build IEDs and plan attacks to the north and south. It is strategically located just west of the provincial capital and south of the centrally located city of Gereshk on Afghanistan’s only highway and is a key route for coalition logistics. The insurgents based in and around Marjeh have targeted the highway and coalition troops in and around Lashkar Gah. In the past two years, insurgents from Marjeh launched two large-scale assaults that threatened to overrun the provincial capital.
During opium harvests in years past, the insurgents in-and-around Marjeh were welcomed by the local population to protect their crops from Afghan government-led eradication efforts. In exchange for their services, the local population was willing to accept Taliban shadow governance structures, taxation, and an insurgent-dominated bazaar (Loy Charahi) exploited for a host of enemy operations.
Niether of the coalition’s summer operations in Helmand targeted Marjeh. In fact, the British-led Operation Panther’s Claw focused on non-critical terrain kilometers to the north while the influx of Marines targeted the Taliban’s lines of supply and communications running the length of the southern stretch of the Helmand River. They simply didn’t have enough resources to add Marjeh to their target list. As a result, the majority of Helmand’s Taliban fled both offensives and reconsolidated their positions in Marjeh. From there, insurgents have continually harassed British and U.S. Marines to the north and south. The top Marine in Afghanistan, Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson has been licking his chops for some time, waiting to tackle what he termed a “cancer in Helmand.”
The long process during which President Obama has reconsidered America’s commitment to what he described as a necessary war in Afghanistan has transformed the purpose of his West Point speech tomorrow night. The first-order question is not the number of troops or the proper strategy; it’s more elemental: does this man believe in victory?
The world wants to know. The U.S. military wants a clear mission from its commander-in-chief and to feel that he has the will to win. The American public wants to understand why it should sacrifice blood and treasure. The Afghans want to know whether we will stand by them. Our allies and our enemies will watch as well, and judge our nation according to their assessment of our president.
The message he must communicate is beyond pure reason. The troop numbers, the strategic rationale and the policy direction matter more as indicators of temperament than as elements of an argument. The question of commitment was less pressing six months ago when Gen. Stanley McChrystal, trumpets across Washington blaring, was sent to take command in Afghanistan. But now it can no longer be avoided. The current moment is a test of the president’s “courage d’esprit,” of his determination. As ever, Clausewitz put it aright:
Determination, which dispels doubt, is a quality that can be aroused only by the intellect, and by a specific cast of mind at that. More is required to create determination than a mere conjunction of superior insight with the appropriate emotions. Same may bring the keenest brains to the most formidable problems, and may possess the courage to accept serious responsibilities; but when faced with a difficult situation they still find themselves unable to reach a decision….In short, we believe that determination proceeds from a special type of mind, from a strong rather than a brilliant one.
Tom Donnelly is director of the Center for Defense Studies.
It’s hard not to be impressed by the long list of initiatives and partnerships announced in the joint statement issued by President Obama and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh following the prime minister’s visit to the U.S. last week.
After the usual boilerplate about democracy and shared values, the statement introduces a Counterterrorism Cooperation Initiative to improve intelligence sharing and counterterrorism efforts between the two countries; a Clean Energy and Climate Change Initiative to further alternative energy technology access; a Framework for Cooperation on Trade and Investment; an Obama-Singh 21st Century Knowledge Initiative to increase educational exchanges; and six other partnerships on issues ranging from food security to public health. Both countries are serious about institutionalizing their growing linkages.
These diverse efforts show that America and India’s mutual affinity – cultivated by the Clinton administration and solidified by President Bush’s landmark nuclear cooperation agreement – will surely continue under President Obama, despite legitimate fears on both sides that the Obama team’s deference to China and Pakistan could compromise India’s desire for a stronger partnership. Beyond power politics, however, it makes sense for the U.S. to pursue closer economic and cultural ties with India. The country boasts a rapidly growing economy, a burgeoning middle class, and a strong network of wealthy Indian expatriates at home.
So why should we still be nervous about the U.S.-India relationship?
The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that, as expected, the White House has balked at the recommendation of Gen. McChrystal and others to double the projected end strength of the Afghan National Security Forces. Never mind that Afghanistan’s defense minister and others within the Afghan government have insisted that a combined force of 400,000–the number recommended by McChrystal and reportedly floated within the White House prior to the March strategy announcement–will be necessary to sufficiently police and defend the country. And never mind that Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin indicated this weekend that he hopes an “Afghan surge” will feature prominently in president’s new strategy. Despite all the recent talk of exit strategies and off-ramps, the administration appears determined to shortchange what is perhaps its surest route to a responsible and swift withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan: increasing Afghans’ ability to provide for their own security.
And whereas earlier skepticism within the administration about growing the ANA had stemmed from the anticipated costs of the endeavor, concerns now seem to focus on the feasibility of accelerated training, as well as the Afghan government’s ability to sustain a dramatically expanded force. Explains the WSJ:
“‘The president has a realistic view of how successful the training regimen can be, and that has helped inform his decision,’ a senior administration official said Sunday. …
The proposal [for doubling the ANSF] initially found support within the administration, where senior officials have talked openly about wanting to quickly transfer security responsibility to Afghan forces.
But as the months-long administration strategy review has worn on, Vice President Joe Biden and other senior administration officials have become skeptical that the Afghan central government could retain, train and support so large a force, even with considerable Western support.”
To be sure, the process of growing the ANSF will not be easy. The ANA continues to have difficulties with recruiting and retention. But there is certainly a value in setting ambitious targets. What’s more, American commanders on the ground have consistently called for increased assistance from Afghan forces, and the demand will no doubt grow as the pace of operations accelerates in the coming year. Finally, it’s important to note that a strong, sufficiently-sized ANSF will not only be an integral element of the U.S. strategy for Afghanistan in the near term, but it also has the potential to serve as the backbone for a healthy Afghan state in the years to come. In short, as Gen. McChrystal and our Afghan allies have made clear, it’s well worth our investment.
Tim Sullivan is a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
Maj. Gen. Michael Flynn, the U.S. intelligence chief in Afghanistan, said the American intelligence effort in Afghanistan is under-resourced and requires more UAVs, intelligence analysts, and surveillance satellites to defeat the Taliban insurgency. According to a recent article in The Los Angeles Times, Flynn, who was sent to Afghanistan to improve the quality of U.S. intelligence gathering there, is said to be frustrated that other senior officers at home do not view the issue with the same degree of urgency. Originally ordered by Gen. McChrystal to lead an overhaul of how U.S. intelligence is gathered, analyzed, distributed, and employed by American troops in the field, Flynn joined McChrystal’s inner circle from the Joint Staff at the Pentagon where he was the J-2 responsible for military intelligence. Flynn firmly believes in the military’s need for a radically different approach to collecting intelligence on insurgent networks, their resources, movements, and whereabouts. To build a complete picture of the enemy, Flynn believes, the U.S. needs to do a better job at collecting and exploiting information on insurgents when they move, regroup, and communicate after an American or allied attack. In the past, the military primarily employed intelligence to plan and prepare for military operations, and to adjust its course of action during a campaign. Today, according to Flynn, “we do the opposite. We do the [operations] to get the [intelligence].”
“After eight years…it is my intention to finish the job.”
At last Barack Obama is giving us a glimpse of how he’s approaching the decision he will be announcing next week. But what can he mean by “finishing the job?” In particular, what does he think “the job” is, and in what sense could it be “finished” anytime soon?
It seems likely that the president is trying to define the mission as narrowly as possible. “The job” sounds like a counterterrorism mission, although the administration may be willing to employ some elements of counterinsurgency or stability operations in Afghanistan to enable the counterterrorism campaign inside Pakistan to go forward. And it even seems like a narrow counterterrorism mission that focuses principally on al Qaeda rather than the broader syndicate of associated Islamist groups in the region.
But it’s the desire to “finish” the job that is most revealing. Thus the administration’s oft-repeated talking points on an “exit strategy.” Thus White House spokesman Robert Gibbs’ description of the final Afghanistan strategy session: “I think I characterized a decent part of it as not just how we get people there but what’s the strategy for getting them out.” Not a strategy for winning, but for ending the war.
No matter how narrowly defined the job becomes, it’s hard to see how it can be finished, even within the scope of two Obama presidential terms. If Osama bin Laden were to be killed tomorrow, both al Qaeda proper and the violent Islamist movements in South Asia and globally would reconstitute, recover and persist.
But there is a larger underlying problem: how we choose to define the job and what the job really is are not necessarily the same. The true task, which is large, complex but undeniably necessary, is to build a political order in South Asia that does not pose a mortal threat to the rest of the world. This, in turn, is a critical element in integrating the greater Middle East into the international system. In this regard, our job in Afghanistan is the first but hardly the last step.
Finally, the term “exit strategy” should be banished. There is no relief — least of all for an American president — from the practice of statecraft and shaping global politics. The United States has yet to “get out” of anything: the Western Hemisphere, Europe, East Asia, the Persian Gulf, or any of the world’s oceans. The job is “finished,” as it mostly is in Europe, when it’s safe for free people — when they can “stay in,” not get out.
Tom Donnelly is director of the Center for Defense Studies.
Reports today indicate that President Obama will announce his new, revised strategy for Afghanistan in an address next Tuesday. Later in the week, General Stanley McChrystal and Ambassador Karl Eikenberry are expected to testify before Congress, along with Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. It’s also been reported that the president will grant McChrystal an additional 30,000-35,000 troops, roughly two brigades short of what the general is believed to have requested for his proposed “medium-risk” course of action.
It will no doubt come as a relief to many in Washington, Afghanistan, and NATO alliance capitals simply that President Obama has concluded his protracted deliberation process. But now the hard part begins. In the coming weeks and months, the president will be challenged to rally flagging support for the war among Democrats in Congress, while at the same time communicating to an increasingly skeptical American public the purpose of our mission in Afghanistan. If, as some have suggested, these past fourteen weeks have represented in part the president’s efforts to come to terms with his “ownership” of the war in Afghanistan, the test will come in his rhetorical approach to the war in next week’s address and beyond. Will he steel the American people for a long haul toward victory? Or will he reaffirm a commitment to bringing the conflict to a speedy conclusion?
What’s more, despite the steady trickle of leaks from the White House, it remains unclear just to what extent the new approach will diverge from either the administration’s original March strategy or the course of action laid out in Gen. McChrystal’s strategic assessment. The president has already thrown out the Biden-inspired “counterterrorism-only” straw-man; the White House is also reportedly attempting to “reset” its acrimonious relationship with Hamid Karzai (and Karzai, for his part, appears to have taken some initial, modest steps to address corruption within his government). Thus, reports suggesting that the new strategy will concentrate efforts on securing population centers (a key element of McChrystal’s proposed approach) while conducting a counterterrorism campaign against high-value targets further afield — and at the same time seeking more productive means of holding Afghanistan’s senior leaders accountable for corruption — should come as no surprise.
The centerpiece of the president’s remarks, then, may well be his proposed “exit strategy” for the war, a topic which appears to have become central to the debate on Afghanistan within the White House in recent weeks. As press secretary Robert Gibbs noted on Monday, the president is very concerned “not just how we get people there, but what’s the strategy for getting them out.” If this is indeed the case, it will mark a dramatic departure from the president’s March announcement, in which he articulated the contours of a strategy for winning the war — not simply ending it. But, as has become clear in the past months, the president had failed to internalize the extent of the commitment — military or otherwise — necessary to implement his original strategy as stated. He’s unlikely to make the same mistake again.
Tim Sullivan is a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.