Council on Fgn Relations Chairman Recommends Withdrawal

Click here for, inter alia, Pat’s remarks that (1) when last we considered Afghanistan in April 2009 seventeen months ago, we issued one of our “six-degrees-of-separation CALLS TO ACTION” for everyone to send (and request all of their friends and acquaintances in an unending chain to send) an e-mail to President Obama recommending beefing up and relying on human intelligence to thwart Osama bin Laden’s fatwa to nuke 10 million Americans, and (2) documentation that this position has been recommended during the last month by Dr. Richard Haass.

Dr. Haass has, since July 2003, been President of the Council on Foreign Relations which, inter alia, publishes Foreign Affairs Magazine. Dr. Haass is the author or editor of eleven books on American foreign policy, including War of Necessity, War of Choice: A Memoir of Two Iraq Wars (Simon and Schuster, May 2009). From January 2001 to June 2003, Dr. Richard Haass was director of policy planning for the Department of State, where he was a principal adviser to Secretary of State Colin Powell. Confirmed by the U.S. Senate to hold the rank of ambassador, Dr. Haass also served as U.S. coordinator for policy toward the future of Afghanistan and U.S. envoy to the Northern Ireland peace process. From 1989 to 1993, he was special assistant to President George H. W. Bush and senior director for Near East and South Asian affairs on the staff of the National Security Council. In 1991, Dr. Haass was awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal for his contributions to the development and articulation of U.S. policy during operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Previously, he served in the Departments of State (1981-85) and Defense (1979-80). Dr. Haass also was vice president and director of foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a lecturer in public policy at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. A Rhodes Scholar, Dr. Haass holds an M.A. and Ph.D. from Oxford University.
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Council on Fgn Relations Chairman Recommends Withdrawal

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Reading Liberally Editorial Note:

When last we considered Afghanistan in April 2009 seventeen months ago, we issued one of our “six-degrees-of-separation CALLS TO ACTION” for everyone to send (and request all of their friends and acquaintances in an unending chain to send) the following e-mail to President Obama:

“President Barack Obama

“Dear Mr. President:

“Re: Human Intelligence and Afghanistan

“R. James Woolsey Jr.’s 26 December 1994 letter resigning as CIA Director stated that he believed that the new Executive Order banning the use as agents of anyone who had committed a violent illegal act would make it impossible to gather sufficient intelligence about terrorist organizations since they typically do not trust a new member until s/he has committed at least one violent illegal act at the direction of the terrorist organization.

“The President who signed that Executive Order and provoked that resignation left office in January 2001 and, presumably, that Executive Order and the policy it represented have been reversed.

“Accordingly, we believe that the American people are owed an explanation why our human intelligence capabilities, together with other programs that have been put in place since 9-11-2001, are not sufficient to protect America and its allies from potential attacks from terrorist organizations based in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And whether fighting an air war against the areas of Pakistan that are not controlled by its central government (thereby risking the extension of Fundamentalist-Islamic rule installed earlier this year in the Swat Valley to all of Pakistan) and trying to subjugate Afghanistan as a base to fight that air war when Afghanistan has never been conquered successfully for any length of time throughout recorded history, add to or detract from our overall intelligence capabilities to detect and prevent terrorist attacks on America and its allies.

“Thank you for your consideration.”

There follows an interview on Face-The-Nation this past Sunday morning of Richard Haass, Chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations which, inter alia, publishes Foreign Affairs Magazine.

Richard Haass, essentially, is endorsing our recommendation.

It should also be noted that the second paragraph of remarks by Harry Smith in the Richard Haass interview claims that Haass’ position was described at length in a recent article that he authored in Newsweek.

The Newsweek article is posted below following the Face-The-Nation interview.


© 2010, CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.

August 1, 2010

Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff


President, Council on Foreign Relations

President, Mexican American Legal Defense &
Educational Fund

HOST: Mr. Harry Smith
CBS News

This is a rush transcript provided
for the information and convenience of
the press. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
In case of doubt, please check with
(202) 457-4481


HARRY SMITH: Today on FACE THE NATION, the battle over immigration and the war in Afghanistan.

[Interviews of Sen. Jon Kyl and of Thomas Saenz regarding the Arizona Immigration Law omitted.]

[Interview of Admiral Mike Mullin regarding the Wiki-Leaks and the War in Afghanistan omitted.]

HARRY SMITH: Richard Haas is the head of the Council of Foreign Relations. He is in our New York studio this morning. Richard, good morning.

RICHARD HAAS (President, Council on Foreign Relations): Good morning, Harry.

HARRY SMITH: You just heard the admiral. He says we have the right strategy, we have the right sources--resources in Afghanistan, right now. Recently, you wrote in Newsweek, that it's time to scale down our ambitions in Afghanistan. Why?

RICHARD HAAS: Well, first of all, I don't think it's really worth it. I don't think Afghanistan warrants the--the scale of investment the United States is making. The CIA director Leon Panetta as you know, Harry, estimates there's only fifty to one hundred al Qaeda people left in the country. So the scale of what we're doing it is way, too much.

So--and, also, I don't really think it's going to work. To try to do a nation-billing or state-building effort in a place like Afghanistan which has no tradition of a strong central government which is-which is divided along all sorts of ethnic and tribal and geographic lines.

Also, you’ve got a sanctuary in neighboring Pakistan. I simply don't think the sort of strategy we're doing can succeed. And instead, I would scale back. To be clear, not leave-


RICHARD HAAS: --not to withdraw but I do think the United States ought to scale back dramatically to do something much more along the lines of counterterrorism, more akin to the sort of limited actions we're doing in places like Somalia and Yemen, where we use drones-


RICHARD HAAS: --we use cruise missiles. We use covert operatives, we use Special Forces, we go after the terrorists but we do not try to remake a society.

HARRY SMITH: Because we look at what's happened to al Qaeda and as the Admiral just said a lot of it has moved to Pakistan. Some of it has moved to Yemen, Somalia, places like that. Does al Qaeda even require a home base?

RICHARD HAAS: It doesn’t--it certainly doesn't require one in Afghanistan. There's nothing special or unique about Afghan real estate. Al Qaeda requires some place as to work out of. But it could also be out of New Jersey or out of Michigan. Al--al Qaeda is not an organization in the sense of a tight-knit IBM of terror. It's--it’s much more cellular. It's diffuse. It needs access to money, access to the internet. It needs to train and equip people. But it's very diffused. So there’s nothing special about any single country. It doesn't really need a single base.

HARRY SMITH: Is the deck stacked against the United States in Afghanistan? You don't have a good partner in Karzai. Pakistan Intelligence Service has been helping al Qaeda, it helps the Taliban. Is--is--is there--there are just too many variables there that don't help pit--pit--paint a better picture for our future in Afghanistan especially, with an American partnership?

RICHARD HAAS: The deck is stacked if we try to accomplish great things. We can't succeed. But sometimes in foreign policy you've got to think not about what it is you want to create. You’ve got to be more modest and think about what it is you want to prevent. And what it is we ought to be trying to prevent is that Afghanistan again become a place where terrorists operate freely. We also don’t want Afghanistan to become a base to destabilize Pakistan.

What I'm arguing is that we can do those things-


RICHARD HAAS: --with a far more modest American force presence.

HARRY SMITH: The--one of the other factors in this because there's this drawdown target date next summer. Some of it is incumbent upon training the police and army in Afghanistan, a process that took years in Iraq. And is arguably much more difficult in Afghanistan. Is it realistic to even think about doing a troop drawdown next summer?

RICHARD HAAS: I think it's realistic. Indeed, I think it's wise to do a troop drawdown. But we shouldn't bank on creating a strong central police or military. I would think much more about lo-arming the locals, various tribesmen and so forth.


RICHARD HAAS: Again, that's the nature of Afghan territory and Afghan society. I’d also think about talking directly to the Taliban. I don't assume and I don't understand why the administration assumes that if elements of the Taliban regain footholds in Afghanistan, as they surely will, why do we assume they are necessarily going to make the same decision they made last time and bring back al Qaeda? It's quite possible that many of the Taliban can be persuaded not to get back into bed with al Qaeda. That ought to be something we explore.

HARRY SMITH: But the part of that partnering up again with the Taliban brings the fear of the kind of ruthless obs--rule that pervaded there for the longest time. Everyone saw the picture of Time magazine this week-


HARRY SMITH: --of a woman who whose--whose ears and nose were cut off. We can't prevent that in the long term in the future, but if we're not there in a significant way, doesn't that leave that vacuum for the Taliban to--to--to move back in again?

RICHARD HAAS: Well, some of that, unfortunately, is going to happen in those areas that the pa--that the Taliban once again prevail in. I don't like it. On the other hand, I don't think, Harry, we can ask a hundred thousand American men and women in uniform to essentially put their lives on the line to try to remake the politics and society of Afghanistan. I don't sit here and say that happily but I think we have got to be realistic about what it is we use our military for and what it is we ask people to put their lives on the line for.

HARRY SMITH: Richard Haas from the Council on Foreign Relations, we thank you so much for coming on this Sunday morning. Do appreciate it.

RICHARD HAAS: Thank you, Harry.

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The Newsweek Article By Richard Haass - 18 July 2010

Post by Pat »

Newsweek – July 18, 2010

We’re Not Winning. It’s Not Worth It - Here’s how to draw down in Afghanistan
By Richard Haass, Chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations, is also the author of War of Necessity, War of Choice: A Memoir of Two Iraq Wars.

GOP chairman Michael Steele was blasted by fellow Republicans recently for describing Afghanistan as “a war of Obama’s choosing,” and suggesting that the United States would fail there as had many other outside powers. Some critics berated Steele for his pessimism, others for getting his facts wrong, given that President George W. Bush ordered the invasion of Afghanistan soon after 9/11. But Steele’s critics are the ones who are wrong: the RNC chair was more correct than not on the substance of his statement, if not the politics.

The war being waged by the United States in Afghanistan today is fundamentally different and more ambitious than anything carried out by the Bush administration. Afghanistan is very much Barack Obama’s war of choice, a point that the president underscored recently by picking Gen. David Petraeus to lead an intensified counterinsurgency effort there. After nearly nine years of war, however, continued or increased U.S. involvement in Afghanistan isn’t likely to yield lasting improvements that would be commensurate in any way with the investment of American blood and treasure. It is time to scale down our ambitions there and both reduce and redirect what we do.

The first thing we need to recognize is that fighting this kind of war is in fact a choice, not a necessity. The United States went to war in October 2001 to oust the Taliban government, which had allowed Al Qaeda to operate freely out of Afghanistan and mount the 9/11 attacks. The Taliban were routed; members of Al Qaeda were captured or killed, or escaped to Pakistan. But that was a very different war, a necessary one carried out in self-defense. It was essential that Afghanistan not continue to be a sanctuary for terrorists who could again attack the American homeland or U.S. interests around the world.

The Bush administration was less clear on what to do next. Working in the State Department at the time, I was appointed by President Bush as the U.S. government’s coordinator for the future of Afghanistan. At a National Security Council meeting chaired by the president in October 2001, I was the one arguing that once the Taliban were removed from power there might be a short-lived opportunity to help establish a weak but functional Afghan state. There and at subsequent meetings I pressed for a U.S. military presence of some 25,000–30,000 troops (matched by an equal number from NATO countries) to be part of an international force that would help maintain order after the invasion and train Afghans until they could protect themselves.

My colleagues in the Bush administration had no interest in my proposal. The consensus was that little could be accomplished in Afghanistan given its history, culture, and composition, and that there would be little payoff beyond Afghanistan even if things there went better than expected. They had no appetite for on-the-ground nation building. The contrast with subsequent policy toward Iraq, where officials were prepared to do a great deal because they hoped to create a potential model for change throughout the Middle East, could hardly be more stark.

As a result, the United States decided not to follow up its ouster of the Taliban with anything ambitious. U.S. troop levels did top out at about 30,000, but most of those just hunted the handful of Al Qaeda who remained. The United States never joined the international force sent to stabilize Afghanistan and in fact limited its size and role.

By the time Obama became president in 2009, the situation inside Afghanistan was fast deteriorating. The Taliban were regaining a foothold. There was concern in Washington that if left unchecked they could soon threaten the existence of the elected government in Kabul headed by Hamid Karzai. Trends were judged to be so bad that the president ordered 17,000 more American combat troops to Afghanistan even before the first review he’d ordered up was finished.

Since then Obama has had several opportunities to reassess U.S. goals and interests in Afghanistan, and in each instance he has chosen to escalate. Upon completion of that first review in March 2009, he declared that the U.S. mission would henceforth be “to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat Al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future.” But in reality the U.S. objective went beyond taking on Al Qaeda; the president announced in those same remarks that the additional U.S. troops being sent to Afghanistan would “take the fight to the Taliban in the south and the east, and give us a greater capacity to partner with Afghan security forces and to go after insurgents along the border.” In short, the return of the Taliban was equated with the return of Al Qaeda, and the United States became a full protagonist in Afghanistan’s civil war, supporting a weak and corrupt central government against the Taliban. Another 4,000 U.S. troops were sent, to train Afghan soldiers.

Just five months later, a second, more extensive policy review was initiated. This time the president again described U.S. goals in terms of denying Al Qaeda a safe haven in Afghanistan, but again he committed the United States to something much more: “We must reverse the Taliban’s momentum and deny it the ability to overthrow the government. And we must strengthen the capacity of Afghanistan’s security forces and government so that they can take lead responsibility for Afghanistan’s future.”

The decisions that flowed from this were equally contradictory. On the one hand, another 30,000 U.S. troops were pledged, both to warn the Taliban and to reassure the shaky government in Kabul. Yet the president also promised that “our troops will begin to come home” by the summer of 2011—to light a fire under that same government, as well as to placate antiwar sentiment at home.

Today the counterinsurgency strategy that demanded all those troops is clearly not working. The August 2009 election that gave Karzai a second term as president was marred by pervasive fraud and left him with less legitimacy than ever. While the surge of U.S. forces has pushed back the Taliban in certain districts, the Karzai government has been unable to fill the vacuum with effective governance and security forces that could prevent the Taliban’s return. So far the Obama administration is sticking with its strategy; indeed, the president went to great lengths to underscore this when he turned to Petraeus to replace Gen. Stanley McChrystal in Kabul. No course change is likely until at least December, when the president will find himself enmeshed in yet another review of his Afghan policy.

This will be Obama’s third chance to decide what kind of war he wants to fight in Afghanistan, and he will have several options to choose from, even if none is terribly promising. The first is to stay the course: to spend the next year attacking the Taliban and training the Afghan Army and police, and to begin reducing the number of U.S. troops in July 2011 only to the extent that conditions on the ground allow. Presumably, if conditions are not conducive, Petraeus will try to limit any reduction in the number of U.S. troops and their role to a minimum.

This approach is hugely expensive, however, and is highly unlikely to succeed. The Afghan government shows little sign of being prepared to deliver either clean administration or effective security at the local level. While a small number of Taliban might choose to “reintegrate”—i.e., opt out of the fight—the vast majority will not. And why should they? The Taliban are resilient and enjoy sanctuary in neighboring Pakistan, whose government tends to view the militants as an instrument for influencing Afghanistan’s future (something Pakistan cares a great deal about, given its fear of Indian designs there).

The economic costs to the United States of sticking to the current policy are on the order of $100 billion a year, a hefty price to pay when the pressure to cut federal spending is becoming acute. The military price is also great, not just in lives and matériel but also in distraction at a time when the United States could well face crises with Iran and North Korea. And the domestic political costs would be considerable if the president were seen as going back on the spirit if not the letter of his commitment to begin to bring troops home next year.

At the other end of the policy spectrum would be a decision to walk away from Afghanistan—to complete as quickly as possible a full U.S. military withdrawal. Doing so would almost certainly result in the collapse of the Karzai government and a Taliban takeover of much of the country. Afghanistan could become another Lebanon, where the civil war blends into a regional war involving multiple neighboring states. Such an outcome triggered by U.S. military withdrawal would be seen as a major strategic setback to the United States in its global struggle with terrorists. It would also be a disaster for NATO in what in many ways is its first attempt at being a global security organization.

There are, however, other options. One is reconciliation, a fancy word for negotiating a ceasefire with those Taliban leaders willing to stop fighting in exchange for the chance to join Afghanistan’s government. It is impossible, though, to be confident that many Taliban leaders would be prepared to reconcile; they might decide that time is on their side if they only wait and fight. Nor is it likely that the terms they would accept would in turn be acceptable to many Afghans, who remember all too well what it was like to live under the Taliban. A national-unity government is farfetched.

One new idea put forward by Robert Blackwill, a former U.S. ambassador to India, is for a de facto partition of Afghanistan. Under this approach, the United States would accept Taliban control of the Pashtun-dominated south so long as the Taliban did not welcome back Al Qaeda and did not seek to undermine stability in non-Pashtun areas of the country. If the Taliban violated these rules, the United States would attack them with bombers, drones, and Special Forces. U.S. economic and military support would continue to flow to non-Pashtun Afghans in the north and west of the country.

This idea has its drawbacks as well as appeal. A self-governing “Pashtunistan” inside Afghanistan could become a threat to the integrity of Pakistan, whose own 25 million Pashtuns might seek to break free to form a larger Pashtunistan. Any partition would also be resisted by many Afghans, including those Tajik, Baluchi, and Hazara minorities living in demographic “islands” within the mostly Pashtun south, as well as the Tajiks, Uzbeks, and others elsewhere in the country who want to keep Afghanistan free of Taliban influence. And even many Pashtuns would resist for fear of the harsh, intolerant rule the Taliban would impose if given the chance.

Another approach, best termed “decentralization,” bears resemblance to partition but also is different in important ways. Under this approach, the United States would provide arms and training to those local Afghan leaders throughout the country who reject Al Qaeda and who do not seek to undermine Pakistan. Economic aid could be provided to increase respect for human rights and to decrease poppy cultivation. There would be less emphasis on building up a national Army and police force.

The advantage of this option is that it works with and not against the Afghan tradition of a weak ruling center and a strong periphery. It would require revision of the Afghan Constitution, which as it stands places too much power in the hands of the president. The United States could leave it to local forces to prevent Taliban inroads, allowing most U.S. troops to return home. Leaders of non-Pashtun minorities (as well as anti-Taliban Pashtuns) would receive military aid and training. The result would be less a partition than a patchwork quilt. Petraeus took a step in this direction last week by gaining Karzai’s approval for the creation of new uniformed local security forces who will be paid to fight the insurgents in their communities.

Under this scenario, the Taliban would likely return to positions of power in a good many parts of the south. The Taliban would know, however, that they would be challenged by U.S. air power and Special Forces (and by U.S.-supported Afghans) if they attacked non-Pashtun areas, if they allowed the areas under their control to be used to supply antigovernment forces in Pakistan, or if they worked in any way with Al Qaeda. There is reason to believe that the Taliban might not repeat their historic error of inviting Al Qaeda back into areas under their control. Indeed, the United States should stop assuming that the two groups are one and the same and instead start talking to the Taliban to underscore how their interests differ from Al Qaeda’s.

Again, there are drawbacks. This approach would be resisted by some Afghans who fear giving away too much to the Taliban, and by some Taliban who don’t think it gives enough. The Karzai government would oppose any shift in U.S. support away from the central government and toward village and local leaders. Fighting would likely continue inside Afghanistan for years. And again, areas reclaimed by the Taliban would almost certainly reintroduce laws that would be antithetical to global norms for human rights.

So what should the president decide? The best way to answer this question is to return to what the United States seeks to accomplish in Afghanistan and why. The two main American goals are to prevent Al Qaeda from reestablishing a safe haven and to make sure that Afghanistan does not undermine the stability of Pakistan.

We are closer to accomplishing both goals than most people realize. CIA Director Leon Panetta recently estimated the number of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan to be “60 to 100, maybe less.” It makes no sense to maintain 100,000 troops to go after so small an adversary, especially when Al Qaeda operates on this scale in a number of countries. Such situations call for more modest and focused policies of counterterrorism along the lines of those being applied in Yemen and Somalia, rather than a full-fledged counterinsurgency effort.

Pakistan is much more important than Afghanistan given its nuclear arsenal, its much larger population, the many terrorists on its soil, and its history of wars with India. But Pakistan’s future will be determined far more by events within its borders than those to its west. The good news is that the Army shows some signs of understanding that Pakistan’s own Taliban are a danger to the country’s future, and has begun to take them on.

All this argues for reorienting U.S. Afghan policy toward decentralization—providing greater support for local leaders and establishing a new approach to the Taliban. The war the United States is now fighting in Afghanistan is not succeeding and is not worth waging in this way. The time has come to scale back U.S. objectives and sharply reduce U.S. involvement on the ground. Afghanistan is claiming too many American lives, requiring too much attention, and absorbing too many resources. The sooner we accept that Afghanistan is less a problem to be fixed than a situation to be managed, the better.

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