Tuesday, August 04, 2009

If we're going to 'win' in AfPak, we're going to have to redefine our terms by Thomas Barnett

ARTICLE: The Irresistible Illusion, By Rory Stewart, London Review of Books, 9 July 2009.

Good article if you want to rethink your notion that Afghanistan was the "right war" and Iraq was the wrong one.

The capture of our interconnected logic here is good:

"Policymakers perceive Afghanistan through the categories of counter-terrorism, counter-insurgency, state-building and economic development. These categories are so closely linked that you can put them in almost any sequence or combination. You need to defeat the Taliban to build a state and you need to build a state to defeat the Taliban. There cannot be security without development, or development without security. If you have the Taliban you have terrorists, if you don't have development you have terrorists, and as Obama informed the New Yorker, 'If you have ungoverned spaces, they become havens for terrorists.'

These connections are global: in Obama's words, 'our security and prosperity depend on the security and prosperity of others.' Or, as a British foreign minister recently rephrased it, 'our security depends on their development.' Indeed, at times it seems that all these activities - building a state, defeating the Taliban, defeating al-Qaida and eliminating poverty - are the same activity. The new US army and marine corps counter-insurgency doctrine sounds like a World Bank policy document, replete with commitments to the rule of law, economic development, governance, state-building and human rights. In Obama's words, 'security and humanitarian concerns are all part of one project.'

I fundamentally agree with all that, but as I often like to point out, the question of sequencing is everything.

I preferred going after Saddam before getting too deep on the Af-Pak border. That's why I supported the war there and have supported that sequencing decision ever since.

I saw in Saddam enough of the problems to force the evolution I felt was necessary for our forces, and it has come. I also saw enough strategic interests to force us toward that change (we couldn't afford to lose).

I did not see those things in Af-Pak and I will say I fear that a quagmire there, given our unwillingness and inability to accept that a stabilized Af-Pak won't end up looking like we want and will be subject far more to the integration pressures of its regional neighbors (Iran, China, India, Russia) than anything we can mount from afar, can still prove our complete undoing.

So I welcome the smallest definitions of success I can find, because the economic-development route, I fear, would require us to rethink our fundamental alliances in the region (to include our preferred enemies--such as Iran) in such a way that simply isn't possible right now. We are still too much in the mindset of, "it's us and NATO against the world." Obama's defense picks--even with Gates still there--are too much trapped in this perspective, I fear.

And so I think we're beginning to see in our Obama Pentagon a rising tide of thinking that wishes to reframe any debates we have with rising powers in the East more in the direction of "great games" and Mahanian struggles over the Indian Ocean, and I think such an approach is deeply misguided and certain to garner us a level of friction that will make any efforts in Af-Pak a complete waste of blood and treasure.

We have simply not yet grown up enough in our strategic understanding of the world and where it stands in its current evolution to make the changes necessary in our strategic relations to make this effort a success.

And thus I think it is likely doomed to failure because it asks too much from ourselves and our poorly committed NATO allies and imagines too little from rising powers in the region that we, in our strategic habits, prefer to cast as competitors and long-term enemies.

No comments: