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The 'Safe Haven' Myth

October 31, 2009

by John Mueller

Richard Holbrooke, America's special envoy to South Asia, maintains that if the Taliban succeed in Afghanistan, "without any shadow of a doubt, Al Qaeda would move back into Afghanistan, set up a larger presence, recruit more people and pursue its objectives against the United States even more aggressively." That, he insisted, is "the only justification for what we're doing." This is an especially ardent presentation of the "base camp," or "safe haven," myth. Stressed by virtually all promoters of the war, this key justification--indeed, the only one, according to Holbrooke--has gone almost entirely unexamined.

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This article was published in the November 9, 2009, issue of The Nation.

John Mueller is a professor of political science at Ohio State University. His book Atomic Obsession: Nuclear Alarmism From Hiroshima to Al Qaeda has just been published by Oxford University Press.

Professor Mueller was one of the signatories to the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy's open letter to President Obama concerning the war in Afghanistan.

Posted by coalition at 09:39 AM | Comments (0)

False Dichotomy

October 29, 2009

We have more options in Afghanistan than Biddle lets on.

by Michael A. Cohen

This summer, Stephen Biddle wrote one of the more influential and oft-cited articles in support of the current U.S. mission in Afghanistan. In "Is It Worth It?" in The American Interest, Biddle argued that by the narrowest of margins, the United States had strategic interests that necessitated the maintenance of a robust military presence in Afghanistan.

In "Is There a Middle Way?" in the most recent issue of TNR, Biddle has focused instead on the operational elements of U.S. engagement in Afghanistan. He argues that a mission oriented around half-measures—such as paying off Afghan warlords or building up the Afghan security services—as opposed to a fully-integrated counter-insurgency (COIN) strategy that incorporates all of these measures is destined to fail. But then as now, Biddle's argument is predicated on a dubious straw man, which reduces the Afghanistan debate to a simplistic, binary argument between two unfeasible options.

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This article appeared at on October 29, 2009.

Michael A. Cohen is a senior research fellow with the American Strategy Program and co-director with the Privitization of Foriegn Policy Initiative at the New America Foundation.

Posted by coalition at 11:10 PM | Comments (0)

Root Causes

We've got to figure out what our aims are in Afghanistan before we talk strategy.

by Andrew J. Bacevich

The "strategic" debate over Afghanistan is a diversion that serves chiefly to distract attention from the condition of strategic bankruptcy that President Obama inherited. The issues in Afghanistan do not qualify as strategic. They barely rise to the level of operational. To the extent that the war in Afghanistan can claim to have any purpose, that purpose derives from its relationship to the larger struggle variously called the global war on terror or World War IV or the Long War. To the extent that it ever made sense for U.S. forces to be fighting in Afghanistan, the rationale derived from the belief that Central Asia figured, however vaguely, as a campaign in that larger war.

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This article was published at on October 29, 2009, and is available in its entirety online.

Andrew J. Bacevich, a professor at Boston University, is the author of The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism.

Posted by coalition at 11:05 PM | Comments (0)

New Afghan War Assumptions Must Be Weighed before a Surge

October 26, 2009

by Sean Kay

This week's announcement that there will be a runoff election in Afghanistan is the first bit of good news to come from the country for some time. Nonetheless, it is but one more illustration of how the sands of Afghanistan have shifted under America's feet and are forcing a major strategic reassessment.

The now-public report by Gen. Stanley McChrystal provides a stark assessment of the declining situation in Afghanistan. If major strategic changes are not taken within the next year, mission failure is a real possibility. Gen. McChrystal and his staff have dutifully laid out for the Obama administration what is needed to succeed in the current mission -- a fully resourced counterinsurgency effort. To this end, debate has focused on the need for more U.S. troops -- perhaps up to 40,000 -- raising the American force presence in Afghanistan to over 100,000.

Gen. McCrystal's report reflects the reality of the situation in Afghanistan after many years of catastrophic neglect by the Bush administration. Candidate Barack Obama was right to call for more troops to Afghanistan, as several years ago was the time to halt the resurgence of the Taliban. Now America finds itself with the right assessment and leadership in the field, but tragically three years too late.

Several core assumptions in the McChrystal report require serious reflection before any more forces are deployed into Afghanistan. Failure in any one of these areas would undermine the premise of surging more combat forces into Afghanistan.

This article appeared in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, October 25, 2009, and can be read in its entirety here.

Sean Kay is a professor of politics and government at Ohio Wesleyan University and a nonresident fellow at the Eisenhower Institute in Washington, D.C. He is the author of Global Security in the Twenty-first Century: The Quest for Power and the Search for Peace.

Professor Kay was one of the signatories to the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy's open letter to President Obama concerning the war in Afghanistan.

Posted by coalition at 11:05 AM | Comments (0)

The Price of Security 11.06.09

October 22, 2009

The Price of Security:
The Politics of the U.S. Defense Budget and Its impact on National Security

Prof. Daniel Wirls
Professor of Politics, UC Santa Cruz


Dr. Christopher Preble
The Cato Institute

Friday, November 6, 2009, 10:00 - 11:30 a.m.

University of California Washington Center
1608 Rhode Island Ave. NW
Washington, D.C.

Over the last eight years, the core U.S. defense budget has risen 70 percent, even without factoring in $500 billion-plus separately appropriated for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Iraq and Afghanistan appropriations were reintegrated with the DoD budget for FY-2010, but this has not altered the broad trend. Since September 11, 2001, under the cover of the "global war on terror," U.S. military spending has undergone one of the largest increases in the country’s history. This buildup is one of the most important legacies of the Bush presidency and one of the least understood and controversial. It is not clear that the Obama Administration is prepared to pay the political price to significantly change the trend. Prof. Daniel Wirls of UC Santa Cruz is author of the forthcoming Irrational Security: The Politics of Defense from Reagan to Obama (Johns Hopkins, 2010) and Buildup: The Politics of Defense in the Reagan Era (Cornell, 1992). Christopher Preble is Director of Foreign Policy Studies at the Cato Institute and author of The Power Problem: How American Military Dominance Makes Us Less Safe, Less Prosperous, and Less Free (Cornell, 2009). They discussed the background and politics of this build-up and its implication for future U.S. budgets and security policy.

Posted by coalition at 03:24 PM | Comments (0)

Afghanistan: The Proxy War

October 11, 2009

No serious person thinks that Afghanistan - remote, impoverished, barely qualifying as a nation-state - seriously matters to the United States. Yet with the war in its ninth year, the passions raised by the debate over how to proceed there are serious indeed. Afghanistan elicits such passions because people understand that in rendering his decision on Afghanistan, President Obama will declare himself on several much larger issues. In this sense, Afghanistan is a classic proxy war, with the main protagonists here in the United States.

The question of the moment, framed by the prowar camp, goes like this: Will the president approve the Afghanistan strategy proposed by his handpicked commander General Stanley McChrystal? Or will he reject that plan and accept defeat, thereby inviting the recurrence of 9/11 on an even larger scale? Yet within this camp the appeal of the McChrystal plan lies less in its intrinsic merits, which are exceedingly dubious, than in its implications.

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This article was published in the Boston Globe, October 11, 2009, and can be read in its entirety here.

Andrew J. Bacevich is professor of history and international relations at Boston University and a member of the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy. His new book Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War is forthcoming.

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