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Afghanistan: Four Compelling Questions

10/07/2009

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As President Obama inches toward a fresh policy concerning America’s engagement in Afghanistan, four critical questions stand out to Shared Emergency.

1. Given the volatile nature of the Pakistani state, can we afford to remove our military presence and capabilities from the region to the north of that fractured (and nuclear) nation? If fragile Pakistan falls apart, which seems not too unrealistic given recent examples of political instability, America needs the capability to respond to nuclear and conventional threats from what is clearly the most dangerous place on Earth. Rather than being limited to naval capabilities, coalition bases in Afghanistan make sense, to be ready to strike from the north, when needed, in Pakistani areas which threaten American security interests. There are real and present threats (like Al Qaeda) in border areas, the Swat Valley, and Baluchistan (to name a few). Surgical strikes (using drones and missiles) from American bases into regions not controlled by Islamabad have been effective against enemy targets and should not be eliminated as a military tool.

2. Can coalition powers afford to give up military bases to the east of Iran? Like it or not, the fight against the Taliban and Al Qaeda may not be the only compelling reasons to sustain a strong military presence in the sketchy Afgan nation. With bases in Iraq and in Afghanistan, American and NATO interests may be better served by a long-term battle-ready footprint to counter, and react to, any Iranian adventurism.

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3. Are tribal leaders too powerful for any meaningful development of a strong and secure Afghanistan? The discredited Karzai government is not really in charge, and the power of local warlords seems to be increasing month-by-month. What tactics can be employed to undermine the fiefdoms of these regional power brokers to make way for real long-lasting reform to make Afghanistan more secure and less of a terrorist threat? If the culture of Afghanistan is such that tribal chiefs will forever undermine efforts to centralize and stabilize the government, are we not fighting against an inevitable cultural tide of jihadism and indifference? Is the best answer to settle for a Guantanimo Bay type stronghold in a country which will, in the end, never truly welcome sincere “nation building?”

4. Is the White House ready for a major public education initiative on the future course soon to be announced? After 8 years of conflict and no end in sight, will the President and his national security team be able to make a compelling case that will be embraced by a skeptical and weary American public, so as to sustain whatever strategy is charted as our future course? Is the United States ready for a new military commitment in the mold of Europe and South Korea with decades of bases? Are Afghanistan Town Halls across our nation the next debate venues once health care is legislatively resolved?

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As the debate in Washington continues, tell us what you think with your comments.

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