Foreign Affairs | By Zbigniew Brzezinski | January/February 2010 Issue
From Hope to Audacity
Appraising Obama’s Foreign Policy
Article Summary: Barack Obama’s foreign policy has generated more expectations than strategic breakthroughs. Three urgent issues — the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and the Afghan-Pakistani challenge — will test his ability to significantly change policy.
[The Article starts with a brief introduction, and goes on to discuss the first two of the three issues listed in the Article Summary, before addressing the third, which is reproduced below.]
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THE AFPAK QUAGMIRE
The third urgent and politically sensitive foreign policy issue is posed by the Afghan-Pakistani predicament. Obama has moved toward abandoning some of the more ambitious, even ideological, objectives that defined the United States’ initial engagement in Afghanistan — the creation of a modern democracy, for example. But the United States must be very careful lest its engagement in Afghanistan and Pakistan, which still has primarily and most visibly a military dimension, comes to be viewed by the Afghans and the Pakistanis as yet another case of Western colonialism and elicits from them an increasingly militant response.
Some top U.S. generals have recently stated that the United States is not winning militarily, an appraisal that ominously suggests the conflict with the Taliban could become similar to the Soviet Union’s earlier confrontation with Afghan resistance. A comprehensive strategic reassessment has thus become urgently needed. The proposal made in September by France, Germany, and the United Kingdom for an international conference on the subject was helpful and timely; the United States was wise to welcome it. But to be effective, any new strategy has to emphasize two key elements. First, the Afghan government and NATO should seek to engage locally in a limited process of accommodation with receptive elements of the Taliban. The Taliban are not a global revolutionary or terrorist movement, and although they are a broad alliance with a rather medieval vision of what Afghanistan ought to be, they do not directly threaten the West. Moreover, they are still very much a minority phenomenon that ultimately can be defeated only by other Afghans (helped economically and militarily by the United States and its NATO allies), a fact that demands a strategy that is more political than military.
Additionally, the United States needs to develop a policy for gaining the support of Pakistan, not just in denying the Taliban a sanctuary in Pakistan but also in pressuring the Taliban in Afghanistan to accommodate. Given that many Pakistanis may prefer a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan to a secular Afghanistan that leans toward Pakistan’s archrival, India, the United States needs to assuage Pakistan’s security concerns in order to gain its full cooperation in the campaign against the irreconcilable elements of the Taliban. In this regard, the support of China could be helpful, particularly considering its geopolitical stake in regional stability and its traditionally close ties with Islamabad.
It is likely that before this appraisal hits the newsstands, Obama will have announced a more comprehensive strategy for attaining a politically acceptable outcome to the ongoing conflict — and one that U.S. allies are also prepared to support. His approach so far has been deliberate. He has been careful to assess both the military and the political dimensions of the challenge and also to take into account the views of U.S. allies. Nothing would be worse for NATO than if one part of the alliance (western Europe) left the other part of the alliance (the United States) alone in Afghanistan. Such a fissure over NATO’s first campaign initially based on Article 5, the collective defense provision, would probably spell the end of the alliance.
How Obama handles these three urgent and interrelated issues — the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the Iranian dilemma, and the Afghan-Pakistani conflict — will determine the United States’ global role for the foreseeable future. The consequences of a failed peace process in the Middle East, a military collision with Iran, and an intensifying military engagement in Afghanistan and Pakistan all happening simultaneously could commit the United States for many years to a lonely and self-destructive conflict in a huge and volatile area. Eventually, that could spell the end of the United States’ current global preeminence.”
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The full text of the article is available at From Hope to Audacity | Foreign Affairs (requires registration), and is reproduced at Sunday Posts. For an excellent critique, especially on Israel and Iran, see Middle East Reality.
On Afghanistan and Pakistan, the assumptions and recommendations of the article apears to have been overtaken by events. Not only do Mr. Brzezinski’s three contingent antecedents — “a failed peace process in the Middle East, a military collision with Iran, and an intensifying military engagement in Afghanistan and Pakistan” — all appear to be on course to happen simultaneously, but there is a growing likelihood that America’s war on Muslims will be expanded to Yemen, Somalia, and possibly, Sudan.
On present trends Mr. Brzezinski’s use of the word “quagmire” may prove prophetic:
- America will deploy more troops to Afghanistan, until the predictable rise in American casualties erodes domestic support for the occupation, in a repeat of Vietnam.
- Given the numbers required, the Americans will fail to build a reliable Afghan army and police force, not least because they will both be infilterated by the Afghan resistance (led by, and not consisting exclusively of, the Afghan-Taleban), to whom they can handover security.
- The Anbar (Iraq) experience will not be repeated in Afghanistan, consistent with the findings of the recent U.S. Marine Corps report, which concludes: “In Iraq to a very large degree, we — the U.S. military and civilians — were the source of the insurgency. Honest men and women can argue the whys, what-ifs, and what-might-have-beens, but ultimately, it was mostly about unfulfilled promises and the heavy-handed military approach taken by some over the summer of 2003 that caused events to spiral out of control.” (The report goes on to question both the role of Gen. Petraeus and his Counterinsurgency Manual.)
- Not only security, but even a “good enough” governance — to use Senator Kerry’s qualified term — is unlikely to emerge in Afghanistan.
- While greater options to avert disaster remain in Pakistan — an entirely different proposition from Afghanistan, a fact obscured by American thinking in terms of the “Af/Pak” military theatre, rather than the sovereign nation — the Americans will have to make their control more and more transparent, leading to progressive deterioration of governance and governability.
- When American withdraws, Russia and India, will succeed in reviving the status quo ante; Iran and Pakistan are less likely to be successful.
- America’s indifference to, if not active covert promotion of, the Balkanization of Pakistan may well prove successful.
- Critical Notes on Obama’s Cairo Speech: Imperialism with a Human Face
- A Short History of the “Af/Pak” War: A Folly Built on Lies More Outrageous than Iraq
- An “Af/Pak” View of Obama’s Afghanistan-Pakistan Speech
- Full Transcript of Obama’s 60 Minutes Interview on Afghanistan and Pakistan
- In 2010 the “Yem/Som” War: America Prepares to Encircle Saudi Arabia, While Securing the Arabian Sea and the Red Sea
- Al-Qaeda, Sanctuaries, and the Coming American Invasion of Yemen
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