Two important additions to State are worth mentioning. One is Vali Nasr, who Laura Rozen reported will be a senior adviser to Holbrooke, who is off to London today (according to State), then the Munich Security conference. Former Assistant Secretary of State Karl Inderfurth, whom I interviewed on my radio show regarding Pakistan, may also get a spot in South Asia, Rozen reporting it might be U.S. ambassador to India. But what swirls in this mix is the winds of war in Afghanistan.
Yesterday, reality broke through:
The Pentagon’s top military officers are recommending to President Barack Obama that he shift U.S. strategy in Afghanistan — to focus on ensuring regional stability and eliminating Taliban and Al Qaida safe havens in Pakistan, rather than on achieving lasting democracy and a thriving Afghan economy, officials said.
Now, I’m for limited troop increase in Afghanistan, but only on a preventing failed state mission. How anyone can use Afghanistan and “lasting democracy” in the same sentence is a mystery to me. That’s been the problem with all the “Obama’s Vietnam” headlines, including Newsweek’s, which you can see in the video above. Obama campaigned on a counterinsurgency priority that stops the slide of teetering states like Afghanistan. Nothing is more in our strategic interest than keeping the Af-Pak region from dropping off a cliff. They go together.
Secretary Clinton had a dinner last night that focused on Afghanistan, with experts invited. CNAS described our challenges post Bush-Cheney, as well as our mission in Afghanistan:
No Terrorist Sanctuary and No Regional Meltdown
American neglect of Afghanistan in the wake of the Soviet defeat contributed to Al Qaeda entrenching there. The United States and Europe cannot again allow Al Qaeda or its associated movements to have the open support and protection of a state. The efforts of the past seven years have largely eliminated unfettered Al Qaeda sanctuary in Afghanistan, and the country must not be allowed to return to the condition it was in on September 10, 2001. The problem, however, has become even more complex: collusion among Al Qaeda, the Taliban, narco-traffickers, and criminal gangs presents a real and growing threat to the region.
[...] The desired ends in Afghanistan—no terrorist sanctuary and no regional meltdown—and the way to cement those ends for the long term—helping the Afghans build a system of governance that can provide them security—require a comprehensive, integrated, and sequenced set of means. In a word, they need a strategy. A comprehensive strategy will be intrinsically regional, recognizing that even a perfect campaign in Afghanistan will fail if an unstable Pakistan continues to provide sanctuary to militants.
Wood at the briefing today at State:
QUESTION: And following on that, is the State Department doing its own policy review separate from the Petraeus review in CENTCOM, separate from the Lute review that came out of NSC, its own Afghan policy review?
MR. WOOD: Well, we obviously will take a look from the State Department standpoint at our overall contributions to overall U.S. policy in Afghanistan. But – and that will feed into a much larger review of our overall policy toward Afghanistan.
Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute is in charge of Afghanistan as “war czar.”
As the debate continues, someone needs to explain to me how we maintain an integrated Af-Pak strategy, first stabilizing Afghanistan, without a limited expansion of troops in that country. I’ve read a lot on the matter from those against any troop increase, but until someone can do it, preferably without raising the Vietnam flag, I won’t be convinced. The back and forth I had with Juan Cole is exhibit a. But I’m listening.