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China Radio: Obama’s Afghan Surge

December 2, 2009

This morning I was on “Today on Beyond Beijing” again, on China Radio International (CRI)’s English language service.  The topic was President Obama’s decision to deploy 30,000 more U.S. troops as part of a “surge” in Afghanistan, which he announced just before we went on the air.  You can listen to the show (or download it) on the CRI website here.  Click the link to the first hour.

Some of the key points I made on today’s show include:

  • Overall troop levels don’t matter as much as how those troops will be used.  The Vietnam War demonstrated that resources — men, materiale, bombs — don’t win wars, strategy wins wars.
  • An additional 30,000 troops can make a difference if they are used to bolster alliances with local partners, but a date certain for drawing down gives the Taliban an incentive to hang on until the surge ends.
  • The U.S. did not invade Afghanistan to bring democracy or end corruption, however desirable those outcomes may be.  It invaded in order to hunt down al-Qaeda, which used its base there to plan and execute the worst attack on the U.S. since Pearl Harbor.  Defeat means allowing the Taliban and al-Qaeda to re-establish an operational safe haven; victory is anything other than that.
  • The current situation may not be ideal, but there is a huge difference between al-Qaeda’s hard-pressed circumstances in Pakistan today and the freedom of action it enjoyed in Afghanistan before 9/11.  In that sense, the U.S. invasion achieved its most important objectives.
  • The Taliban insurgency in Pakistan is as vital to U.S. interests as the war in Afghanistan, and the stakes are much higher (given that Pakistan is a nuclear state); but the U.S. has to tread carefully.
  • In my view, Afghan President Karzai’s fraudulent election victory does not undermine the rationale for the war.  The only way Karzai was able to “fix” the election was by reaching out and cutting deals with key Afghan warlords.  We might find this brokering process — and many of those warlords — unsavory, but it gave him the tribal support needed to actually govern.

I haven’t had the chance yet to share my experiences in Pakistan’s tribal areas with the readers of this blog, but I hope to tell some of those stories soon.  Stay tuned.

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