Wanted: a new grand strategy

Barack Obama’s campaign for president began with his opposition to the war in Iraq. But before last week’s terror attacks in India, the subject of foreign policy had disappeared, almost completely overshadowed by the economic crisis. This doesn’t mean that international issues will be ignored. No doubt the national-security team Obama is announcing this week will be quick to tackle the many issues in their inbox, and will likely do so with intelligence and competence. There are enough problems to occupy them fully—Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Al Qaeda, Iran, Russia—and they will face unexpected crises like the Mumbai assaults. But we must hope that as president, Obama does more than select a good team, delegate well and react intelligently to the problems that he will confront. He must have his administration build a broader framework through which to view the world and America’s relations with it— a grand strategy. At this moment, the United States has a unique opportunity to push forward a vision that aligns its interests and ideals with those of most of the world’s major powers. But it is a fleeting opportunity.

Grand strategy sounds like an abstract concept—something academics discuss—and one that bears little relationship to urgent, jarring events on the ground. But in the absence of strategy, any administration will be driven by the news, reacting rather than leading. For a superpower that has global interests and is forced to respond to virtually every problem, it’s all too easy for the urgent to drive out the important. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — Since Obama got elected, a torrent of unsolicited advice has been poured in his direction — much from “true believers” and much from those same faithful exhibiting a curious lack of confidence in Obama’s capacity to forge his own approach. There’s been a somewhat paternal fear that might get pushed around; that having shifted from the make-believe world of the campaign he might now flounder a bit as he sets his bearings in the real world. In spite of this, all the evidence so far, suggests that he truly does know his own mind and knows — at least in broad brush strokes — the course on which he is now about to embark.

In presenting his national security team yesterday, Obama reiterated what should now be seen not just as some cute piece of campaign rhetoric, but the cornerstone of his approach to governance:

    The common thread linking these challenges is the fundamental reality that in the 21st century, our destiny is shared with the world’s from our markets to our security. From our public health to our climate, we must act with that understanding that now more than ever, we have a stake in what happens across the globe.

This is a global perspective that was not merely lacking in the Bush administration but that has in fact yet to evolve in the American psyche.

Obama has set himself the goal of nothing less than changing the way Americans perceive the world.

Keep that in mind each time you come across commentary that refers to his centrist approach, his willingness to compromise, and his pragmatism — all of which are evident but none of which should overshadow this radical objective.

Mumbai Massacre may sink Bush-Obama strategy

Pakistan… is teetering, and it’s not hard to imagine a descent into chaos that prompts yet another military takeover. In fact, the only chance Washington has of achieving its goal of uniting India and Pakistan in a common struggle against Islamist militancy is if it is able to convince the skeptical Pakistani military establishment to pursue that course. Current indications don’t exactly inspire confidence that either the Bush Administration or the Obama Administration will be any more likely to resolve the India-Pakistan conflict than they are to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And that, in turn, suggests that if it does send more troops to Afghanistan next year, the Obama Administration will be sending them into another quagmire. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — The more troops that are sent into Afghanistan, the more the risk of not merely being bogged down but quite literally trapped. US supply lines through north west Pakistan are already subject to attacks, disruption and occassional suspension. The more troops there are, the more heavily the US becomes dependent on an umbilical cord that the ISI can allow to be severed whenever it wants.

Redefine victory in Afghanistan

In Afghanistan today, the United States and its allies are using the wrong means to pursue the wrong mission. Sending more troops to the region, as incoming president Barack Obama and others have suggested we should, will only turn Operation Enduring Freedom into Operation Enduring Obligation. Afghanistan will be a sinkhole, consuming resources neither the U.S. military nor the U.S. government can afford to waste.

The war in Afghanistan is now in its eighth year. An operation launched with expectations of a quick, decisive victory has failed signally to accomplish that objective. Granted, the diversion of resources to Iraq forced commanders in Afghanistan to make do with less. Yet that doesn’t explain the lack of progress. The real problem is that Washington has misunderstood the nature of the challengeAfghanistan poses and misread America’s interests there.

One of history’s enduring lessons is that Afghans don’t appreciate it when outsiders tell them how to govern their affairs—just ask the British or the Soviets. U.S. success in overthrowing the Taliban seemed to suggest this lesson no longer applied, at least to us.

But we’re now discovering that the challenges of pacifying Afghanistan dwarf those posed by Iraq. Afghanistan is a much bigger country—nearly the size of Texas—and has a larger population that’s just as fractious. Moreover, unlike Iraq, Afghanistan possesses almost none of the prerequisites of modernity; its literacy rate, for example, is 28 percent, barely a third of Iraq’s. In terms of effectiveness and legitimacy, the government in Kabul lags well behind Baghdad—not exactly a lofty standard. Apart from opium (last year’s crop totaled about 8,000 metric tons), Afghans produce almost nothing the world wants. [continued…]

Obama chooses an unlikely team of hawks

It’s precisely because Obama intends to pursue a genuinely progressive foreign policy that he’s surrounding himself with people who can guard his right flank at home. When George W. Bush wanted to sell the Iraq war, he trotted out Colin Powell–because Powell was nobody’s idea of a hawk. Now Obama may be preparing to do the reverse. To give himself cover for a withdrawal from Iraq and a diplomatic push with Iran, he’s surrounding himself with people like Gates, Clinton and Jones, who can’t be lampooned as doves. [continued…]

Hawks for Hillary

I spoke with a number of conservative foreign-policy eminences to find out. Many of them were surprisingly optimistic about Obama’s new top diplomat. “On the whole I’m quite pleased,” explains Richard Perle, former chairman of the Defense Policy Board and an architect of the Iraq war. “She seems to me quite tough-minded. That’s not a worldview, but it is a predisposition. That’s a good thing. It’s not an easy world out there.”

Perle says he would rather have a hawkish Democrat than a Chuck Hagel-style Republican as a token bi-partisan appointment. “I heard about others on the list [for secretary of state] that I wouldn’t be happy about,” he says. “Those were mostly Republicans.” [continued…]

Gates’s top deputies may leave

Although President-elect Barack Obama’s decision to keep Robert M. Gates at the helm of the Pentagon will provide a measure of continuity for a military fighting two wars, many of Gates’s top deputies are expected to depart their jobs, according to senior defense and transition officials.

Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England, Gates’s right-hand man in running the Pentagon day to day, is widely expected to leave his post, said the officials, one of whom noted that England’s speechwriter is reportedly taking another job.

Leading candidates to replace England include Obama campaign adviser Richard J. Danzig, who could eventually replace Gates; Pentagon transition review team co-leader Michèle A. Flournoy; and possibly former Pentagon comptroller William J. Lynn, said Obama transition officials and sources close to the transition.

The anticipated turnover of many key positions suggests that although Gates will help provide some continuity, the status quo will not necessarily endure at the Pentagon. [continued…]

India demands Pakistan hand over fugitives

India increased pressure on Pakistan on Tuesday, demanding that Pakistan arrest and hand over about 20 people wanted under Indian law as criminal fugitives, saying that the gunmen responsible for the three-day rampage in Mumbai last week arrived by ship from Karachi, the Pakistani port.

With tensions high between Islamabad and New Delhi after the bloody terrorist attacks in Mumbai, the Indian foreign minister, Pranab Mukherjee, appeared to rule out an immediate military response against Pakistan, saying that “no one is talking about military action.” However, he still insisted that “every sovereign country has its right to protect its territorial integrity” and was quoted as saying it was difficult for Pakistan to continue the current peace process with Pakistan after the assaults, which killed 173.

The Associated Press reported that the Bush administration had warned India before the attacks that terrorists appeared to be plotting a mostly waterborne assault on Mumbai, quoting a senior administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of intelligence information. [continued…]

Group accused in India carnage thriving despite ban

In January 2002, the government of Pakistan reluctantly announced that it would ban Lashkar-i-Taiba, a Kashmiri guerrilla group suspected of crossing the border into India and storming the Parliament in New Delhi, an incident that nearly triggered a war between the two nuclear-armed countries.

Almost seven years later, Lashkar-i-Taiba, or Army of the Pious, once again stands accused of helping to carry out a stunning terrorist attack in India, this time in Mumbai. The group, although technically still outlawed in Pakistan, has managed to expand its membership, its operational reach and its influence among the constellation of radical Islamist networks seeking to spark a revolution in South Asia.

Inside Pakistan, Lashkar still operates training camps for militants, runs a large charitable and social-services organization that has been embraced by Pakistani officials, and even has designated spokesmen to handle inquiries from the news media. [continued…]

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