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A Plan for Afghanistan

July 28, 2006

The New America Foundation's Anatol Lieven and Rajan Menon explain that it is shameful that we've only built one stretch of highway since the Taliban were driven from power.

On his recent trip to Kabul, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld pledged that America was not disengaging from Afghanistan, where the Taliban have staged a bloody resurgence in several southern provinces. But the more telling comment may have come from the man standing beside him at the time, Afghan President Hamid Karzai. When asked whether he would request more U.S. troops to quell the insurgency, he replied, "Yes, much more, and we'll keep asking for more, and we will never stop asking."

The danger is not that revived Taliban forces will defeat NATO or U.S. forces on the battlefield; there is no chance of that. But if the Taliban's resurgence and Afghans' economic misery are not ended, a government capable of surviving if Western troops withdraw will never emerge in Afghanistan. And that means that the West will have to fight in Afghanistan indefinitely. Is that something the U.S. electorate will tolerate? The Taliban and Al Qaeda are betting not.

More troops and more money will not solve the problem. What's also needed is imaginative thinking. To begin with, it is facile to treat Afghanistan as a geographical and economic island. The only hope of developing the country is to spur growth in its surrounding region. One way to do this is to create new transport links through Afghanistan from Central Asia to Pakistan and India. It is shameful that we have succeeded in rebuilding only one stretch of highway since toppling the Taliban. We ought to have finished a road network and to be well into the creation of a railway linking the South Asian and former Soviet rail systems, not least because by far the greater part of the track would traverse regions secure from Taliban attack.

A regional strategy should also involve a new approach to Iran. Up to now, the Bush administration has put massive pressure on Karzai's government not to develop economic and other ties to Tehran. Yet, like it or not, Iran has influenced (indeed, often ruled) Afghanistan for some 2,500 years. It has the capacity to act as a spoiler, and has good reason to do so as the war of words between Washington and Tehran heats up. There is a basis for cooperation in Afghanistan, however, because key Iranian interests there are congruent with those of the United States -- above all when it comes to fighting the heroin trade and preventing a return of the savagely anti-Shiite Taliban.

Within Afghanistan, we need a development program that brings tangible benefits to ordinary people. True, sustained programs to promote development are well-nigh impossible in areas -- Helmand, Kandahar, Oruzgan, Zabol and Kunar provinces -- where Taliban attacks are frequent. But we can pursue them far more robustly than we have in
provinces, particularly in the north and west, where there is greater tranquility. Success there would create a "demonstration effect," showing Taliban supporters the benefits they would receive by ending the violence, proving to ordinary Afghans that the United States and its allies are serious about lifting them out of poverty. Construction projects would also create jobs for migrant laborers from the Taliban provinces, who would send remittances home.

Construction is the key -- not just for transport but for urban housing, and for basic rural infrastructure including schools, roads, medical clinics and sources of potable water. We will have to plan, and fund, this construction over decades if it is to be more than a Band-Aid solution. The role of international donors in building schools has been touted by the Bush administration and the Karzai government, and it is a worthy achievement. But generating large numbers of educated young males without prospects for decent employment is not only pointless, it is dangerous. As we have seen repeatedly, such graduates are ideal recruits for Islamist extremists.

With its budget deficits, inflated by bills from the war in Iraq, and with a substantial gap between the aid pledged by donors to Afghanistan and the funds actually received, the United States needs to do more with less -- something that the cost overruns of projects in Iraq make all too clear. To economize, we need to employ, as much as possible, companies from the region. Indian and Turkish firms, in particular, have extensive experience with construction projects in the developing world.

So do companies from the Middle East, and involving them in the business of rebuilding Afghanistan can create jobs and tap local expertise, showing in the process that America's avowed policy of reaching out to the Islamic world consists of more than rhetoric.

Like it or not, the overwhelming majority of Afghans are conservative Muslims, and it is shortsighted to view economic development as a purely technical enterprise. For this same reason, part of the funds for building the Afghan economy should be earmarked for reconstructing the mosques and religious centers destroyed during the decades of war, particularly in major cultural and religious centers such as the western city of Herat.

These proposals will take money, time and imagination to work, and there are no guarantees of success. But quite apart from what we owe the Afghan people, we owe it to ourselves not to fail; as September 11 so cruelly demonstrated, we neglect Afghanistan at our peril.

Anatol Lieven is a senior research fellow at the New American Foundation and a member of the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy. Rajan Menon is a fellow at the New America Foundation and Professor of International Relations at Lehigh University.

This article was published by Newsweek International on July 23, 2006, and Newsweek International retains all copyrights. It is republished here by permission of the authors.

Posted by coalition at 02:15 PM | Comments (0)

Jaw-Jaw Is Better Than War-War

July 25, 2006

David Isenberg goes to an unlikely source -- Winston Churchill, practically a patron saint of the neoconservatives -- to find a compelling case for diplomacy.

Is it an insincere negotiating ploy to score easy goodwill, or a genuine diplomatic opportunity? That is what commentators have been debating since Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced May 31 that the United States would join multilateral talks with Iran on its nuclear program once Iran suspends disputed nuclear activities.

The announcement came on the eve of Rice's trip to Europe to nail down the details of a European Union-drafted package of incentives to get Iran to guarantee it will not make nuclear weapons, as well as sanctions if Tehran does not comply.

At its core, the plan calls for the United States to join the E-3 --Britain, France and Germany -- in talks with Iran if Tehran verifiably suspends uranium enrichment.

At this point, the best answer to the question above is both. The U.S. offer can be seen as a lemon. Issuing preconditions will likely cause Iran to issue its own, as well as deride the U.S. offer as mere "propaganda." But that doesn't mean one can't make it into lemonade.

After all, it is unambiguously a good thing that the Bush administration recognizes that only the United States has the weight to make diplomacy succeed. And there are those in Iran who are receptive to direct negotiations. Kazem Jalali, spokesman for the Iranian parliament's Foreign Policy and National Security Committee, said the U.S. move might be viewed positively in Tehran if preconditions were dropped.

And the move by the United States implicitly recognizes, contrary to right-wing scare tactics, that Iran's nuclear program is not an imminent threat. This was confirmed by Mohamed El Baradei, director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), who said in a little noted speech the day before Rice's announcement that Iran does not pose an immediate nuclear threat and the world must act cautiously to avoid repeating mistakes made with Iraq and North Korea.

Furthermore, this represents an opportunity for direct dialogue between Iran and the United States, which is nothing to be dismissed. After all, nearly 30 years after the 1979 revolution, we need to consider what the policy of no official U.S. dialogue with Iran has achieved in terms of influencing Iranian behavior. In a word: nothing.

Iran is still on the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism, and continues to play an unconstructive role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If the U.S. government were a private company marketing communication techniques, such results would have long ago resulted in somebody on the top floor being replaced.

Remember the May 8 letter sent by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to U.S. President George W. Bush? The fact that Bush declined to answer the document resulted in a public relations victory for the Iranians. What people remember is that the Iranian president sent the American president a letter and the American president did not reply.

Plus, the United States has nothing to lose by seriously trying direct diplomacy. The costs of failed diplomacy are infinitely lower than those of a military attack. And truthfully, nobody has a better alternative.

The central question is this: If the United States has direct discussions with Iran, will Iran suspend its nuclear enrichment program?

There is reason to think so. In January, Iran made an offer to the Europeans to suspend its enrichment program. But that proposal was dismissed by the E-3 because back then, they had already made an agreement for the United States to refer the issue to the Security Council. From their perspective, it was too little too late, but it did show that the Iranians are willing to suspend enrichment if they can get something in return.

Movement on Negotiations

The important thing to bear in mind is that in real negotiations, both sides have to offer something. The United States officially wants Iran to totally abandon enriching uranium. This is at odds with Iran's insistence that the United States acknowledge its right to enrich uranium, per the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which allows the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

If the United States were to stick to its current position, nothing would happen. But as the days since Rice made her announcement show, direct negotiations offer the promise of a solution. Already, according to news reports, the United States has put forward a revised proposal to Iran that reaffirms its inalienable right to nuclear energy for peaceful purposes in line with the NPT.

The proposal also allows for the construction of new light-water reactors within the framework of the IAEA while Iran suspends all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities during negotiations, and the proposal would resume implementation of the IAEA Additional Protocol.

In short, direct negotiations with Iran are a win-win situation for the United States. The Bush administration can justifiably say to other countries, "we are not closed-minded, saber-rattling unilateralists bent on going to war." More importantly, it creates maneuvering room that wasn't there previously.

The important thing now is to ensure that negotiations continue and that hardliners in both countries are relegated to the sidelines. For, as Winston Churchill famously said, "To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war."

David Isenberg is a senior research analyst at the British American Security Information Council, a member of the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy, and an adviser to the Straus Military Reform Project of the Center for Defense Information, Washington. These views are his own.

This article was originally published in Defense News, July 17, 2006, and is posted here by permission of the author.

Posted by coalition at 02:49 PM | Comments (0)

What's an Iraqi Life Worth?

July 14, 2006

Boston University's Andrew Bacevich explores the accidental killing of Iraqi civilians in the Washington Post Outlook section.

The article appeared in the Washington Post Outlook section, Sunday, July 9, 2006, and is available online:


Andrew J. Bacevich is a professor of history and international relations at Boston University and a member of the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy. He is the author of The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War (Oxford, 2005).

Posted by coalition at 04:35 PM | Comments (0)

Leon Hadar Discusses Sandstorm 07.27.06

Leon Hadar, research fellow in foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute, and a member of the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy, discussed his book, Sandstorm: Policy Failure in the Middle East at the Cato Institute, on Thursday, July 27th.

The event featured the author, and also Jim Pinkerton, Columnist, Newsday, and analyst for FOX News; and Geoffrey Kemp, Director of Regional Strategic Programs, the Nixon Center.

To learn more about the event, visit the Cato website:


Posted by coalition at 02:09 PM | Comments (0)

Paying Tomorrow's Military

MIT's Cindy Williams, a member of the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy, says that non-cash benefits may not be the best way to attract and retain service members.

The article was published in the Summer 2006 issue of Regulation, and is available in its entirety here:


Cindy Williams is a principal research scientist in the Security Studies Program of the Center for International Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She is the co-editor, with Curtis Gilroy of Service to Country: Personnel Policy and the Transformation of Western Militaries (MIT Press, 2006).

Posted by coalition at 12:55 PM | Comments (0)