THE PLANK AUGUST 1, 2008
Today the New York Times leads with a story about the culprits in a July 7 car bombing of the Indian embassy in Pakistan. According to intercepted communications, the attack was reportedly sanctioned and supported by factions of Pakistan’s military intelligence agency. Further, the Times notes, this provides “the clearest evidence to date that Pakistani intelligence officers are actively undermining American efforts to combat militants in the region,” and that “members of the Pakistani intelligence service were increasingly providing militants with details about the American campaign against them, in some cases allowing militants to avoid American missile strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas.”
In the later edition of the Post, Pakistan is denying that this support ever existed, but there’s no indication whether this suggests widespread conspiracy, or just rot in the system of oversight. It’s possible that the weak government of Pakistan had no role in the attacks. Either way, the implications of such a partnership are enormous for our rapport with Pakistan and our continued campaign in Afghanistan.
Appropriately, Senator John Kerry had his say yesterday at the Center for American Progress, on how he might go about running “the second post-9/11 administration.” Having recently returned from a tour of the Middle East, he didn’t duck the importance of resolving our work in Iraq, but was clearly more interested in integrating our strategies for the hot-button countries in the region into a coherent vision for American foreign policy. As he said, after hitting John McCain for failing to grasp the historical facts of the surge, “President Bush and John McCain are wrong about Afghanistan because they were wrong about Iraq." As in: If you don't know how the counterinsurgency happened there, you can't apply its lessons elsewhere.
Frankly, he pinned our current dilemma on a narrowness of thinking from the US—and the loose connectivities between Muslim nations that were hardening into a clear and present danger. “The extremists are winning the news cycles,” he said. “They have one narrative: Islam under attack." Which is why our surge’s success in Iraq has been only halfway. Apparently, a broadening antipathy has allowed nearby states and ostensible US allies like Pakistan to find utility in such solidarity with Taliban and Al Qaeda offshoots.
I’ve blogged about the militarization of US foreign policy, as power was systematically sapped from Bush’s State to feed Defense. In focus as well as in execution, Kerry said a Democratic administration will invigorate a more proportional approach. In fact, in early May, Kerry, along with Sen. Norm Coleman, also of the East Asian subcommittee on foreign relations, released another round of prescient findings from the Afghanistan Study Group (yeah, there’s more than one), confirming that a post-surge plan to redirect forces to Afghanistan was imperative. Then, they acknowledged that any strategy to truly win in Afghanistan and at large must be
coupled with efforts to better integrate Pakistan’s tribal areas into the political and economic life of Pakistan. The Atlantic Council’s report does well to recommend that NATO countries that aren’t able to contribute more troops should be encouraged to pull their weight by redoubling civilian reconstruction aid. And although we may not all agree with Dr. Ullman’s conclusions, his report makes an important contribution by showing how drug eradication efforts in Afghanistan have often worked at cross-purposes with our larger goals.
I’d be interested in reading more about that latter point, but obviously the template is there: Kerry spoke realistically and at length of a “global counterinsurgency campaign” and how important it is that we measure progress “not in just bodies killed but kilowatt hours delivered,” roads built, and the like.
Is this new focus soft-boiled? Perhaps—but it's in echoes of none other than Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, who in a 2003 memo asked, “Are we capturing, killing or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas and the radical clerics are recruiting, training and deploying against us?” With ironic continuity, his successor Robert Gates said as much this year: “We cannot capture or kill our way to victory.” Kerry added, "in counterinsurgency, the people are the center of gravity." I agree that it’s important not just to support a rising, less clannish political generation in AfPAk, but to move this geopolitical agenda to the growing number of weakened or failed states blooming around the world.
UPDATE: Via Ben Smith, former veeper Jim Webb sounds off on escalation in Afghanistan, in line with half of my position, though similar to that of commenter nbarry:
"We tend to be country-specific when we talk about how to defeat
international terrorism rather than looking at the whole dynamic. The
dynamic is that terrorism works the seams of international law. We
can't create stable societies in places like Afghanistan ... that can't
be our objective."
A CH-47 Chinook
helicopter takes part in a mission rehearsal exercise by Royal Marines on Salisbury Plains, Wiltshire, southern
England, ahead of their August deployment to Afghanistan, on July 30,
2008. Courtesy Getty Images.)