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It’s A Plan B For Afghanistan, But…

Posted by on August 19th, 2010

From our partners at

By Steve Hynd

Dan Froomkin has the news in an exclusive for HuffPo: "An ad hoc group of disillusioned foreign policy experts is offering President Obama a serious, well thought-out alternative to his current failing strategy there." The group was led by Steve Clemons and included 40 other "scholars, former officials and activists" including Stephen Walt and Paul Pillar.

So what's their Plan B look like? It looks very much like counter-terrorism as has been advanced by lots of folks from Joe Biden to Rory Stewart over the past couple of years.

"Instead of trying to build a unified central state in Afghanistan — a task for which the United States and its allies are unqualified — the United States and its partners should reduce their military footprint, focus on devolving power to local leaders and institutions, and concentrate on economic development. Our combat and intelligence effort should focus on the small number of Al Qaeda members remaining in Afghanistan or northwest Pakistan."

Plan B has five major points:

1. Emphasize power-sharing and political inclusion. The U.S. should fast-track a peace process designed to decentralize power within Afghanistan and encourage a power-sharing balance among the principal parties.

2. Downsize and eventually end military operations in southern Afghanistan, and reduce the U.S. military footprint. The U.S. should draw down its military presence, which radicalizes many Pashtuns and is an important aid to Taliban recruitment.

3. Focus security efforts on Al Qaeda and Domestic Security. Special forces, intelligence assets, and other U.S. capabilities should continue to seek out and target known Al Qaeda cells in the region and be ready to go after them should they attempt to relocate elsewhere or build new training facilities. In addition, part of the savings from our drawdown should be reallocated to bolster U.S. domestic security efforts and to track nuclear weapons globally.

4. Encourage economic development. Because destitute states can become incubators for terrorism, drug and human trafficking, and other illicit activities, efforts at reconciliation should be paired with an internationally-led effort to develop Afghanistan's economy.

5. Engage regional and global stakeholders in a diplomatic effort designed to guarantee Afghan neutrality and foster regional stability. Despite their considerable differences, neighboring states such as India, Pakistan, China, Iran and Saudi Arabia share a common interest in preventing Afghanistan from being dominated by any single power or being a permanently failed state that exports instability to others.

Nothing surprising there, nor in the arguments to justify this position.

• Al Qaeda sympathizers are now present in many locations globally, and defeating the Taliban will have little effect on Al Qaeda's global reach. The ongoing threat from Al Qaeda is better met via specific counter-terrorism measures, a reduced U.S. military "footprint" in the Islamic world, and diplomatic efforts to improve America's overall image and undermine international support for militant extremism.

• Given our present economic circumstances, reducing the staggering costs of the Afghan war is an urgent priority. Maintaining the long-term health of the U.S. economy is just as important to American strength and security as protecting U.S. soil from enemy (including terrorist) attacks.

• The continuation of an ambitious U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan will likely work against U.S. interests. A large U.S. presence fosters local (especially Pashtun) resentment and aids Taliban recruiting. It also fosters dependence on the part of our Afghan partners and encourages loser cooperation among a disparate array of extremist groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan alike.

So yes, this Plan B gets us a vastly reduced footprint in Afghanistan in short order, a drawdown. But what I don't see so far is any indication of how this answers the infamous "tell me how this ends" any more than the current strategy does.

COIN and nation building are a bust because of the second and third bullet points above. But a counter-terrorism (CT) strategy in Afghanistan isn't ever going to end any more than a COIN one is because of the first bullet point – where the safe havens that count from an Afghan CT or COIN point of view are in Pakistan.

Maybe the report itself, which is forthcoming, says more. But going by Froomkin's description what we have here is not an Exit Plan but simply a Plan B for a smaller but still continued occupation ad infinatum. Apparently, in D.C. even the "disillusioned" cannot think sufficiently outside the military/occupation box defined by Powell's version of the Pottery Barn Rule. "We broke it, we own it" still holds sway.

Yet if "defeating the Taliban will have little effect on Al Qaeda's global reach" and defeating AQ in Afghanistan will not significantly impact it's global reach then why be there at all? The real Pottery barn rule should apply – one that emphasizes self-determination for Afghanistan. The real rule is, and has always been: "You broke it, you pay for it and get the f**k out of our store." At that point, it's up to the store owners whether they rebuild, re-open as a different kind of shop or burn the whole edifice down around their own ears.

When does this end? When we hand the Afghans back the right to decide what to do with their own store for better or worse, along with a fat cheque for war reparations. The sooner the better.

How does this end? That should be up to the Afghans themselves, not us.

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