Thursday, November 12, 2009

Not so fast, Mr. President?

Just when it seemed Obama was ready to send 34,000 more troops to Afghanistan, our ambassador in Kabul, Karl Eikenberry, has pushed back in a big way:
The U.S. ambassador in Kabul sent two classified cables to Washington in the past week expressing deep concerns about sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan until President Hamid Karzai's government demonstrates that it is willing to tackle the corruption and mismanagement that has fueled the Taliban's rise, senior U.S. officials said. * * *

In addition to placing the Karzai problem prominently on the table, the cables from Eikenberry, a retired three-star general who in 2006-2007 commanded U.S. troops in Afghanistan, have rankled his former colleagues in the Pentagon -- as well as Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, defense officials said. McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, has stated that without the deployment of an additional tens of thousands of troops within the next year, the mission there "will likely result in failure."

Eikenberry retired from the military in April as a senior general in NATO and was sworn in as ambassador the next day. His position as a former commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan is likely to give added weight to his concerns about sending more troops and fan growing doubts about U.S. prospects in Afghanistan among an increasingly pessimistic public and polarized Congress.

Although Eikenberry's extensive military experience and previous command in Afghanistan were the key reasons Obama chose him for the top diplomatic job there, the former general had been reluctant as ambassador to weigh in on military issues. Some officials who favor an increase in troops said they were surprised by the last-minute nature of his strongly worded cables.

In these and other communications with Washington, Eikenberry has expressed deep reservations about Karzai's erratic behavior and corruption within his government, said U.S. officials familiar with the cables. Since Karzai was officially declared reelected last week, U.S. diplomats have seen little sign that the Afghan president plans to address the problems they have raised repeatedly with him. * * *

Eikenberry also has expressed frustration with the relative paucity of funds set aside for spending on development and reconstruction this year in Afghanistan, a country wrecked by three decades of war. Earlier this summer, he asked for $2.5 billion in nonmilitary spending for 2010, a 60 percent increase over what Obama had requested from Congress, but the request has languished even as the administration has debated spending billions of dollars on new troops.

The ambassador also has worried that sending tens of thousands of additional American troops would increase the Afghan government's dependence on U.S. support at a time when its own security forces should be taking on more responsibility for fighting. Before serving as the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Eikenberry was in charge of the Afghan army training program.
This is consonant with David Sanger's brief mention of Eikenberry in The Inheritance, his roundup of the foreign-policy dilemmas facing us in 2009:
Eikenberry was among the few with the experience and the rank to argue the case that Washington was missing an opportunity to build a bulwark against the Taliban and to keep the country from backsliding into anarchy. Whenever visiting dignitaries arrived, he took them on a tour of Afghanistan's missing infrastructure -- the blown-up bridges, the nonexistent roads -- and explained how it was keeping the economy from coming back to life.

"I remember Karl saying to me, 'If you give me the choice between another division and another big road, I'll take the road,'" Rice recalled later.

"The key question is, 'Is the government of Afghanistan winning?'" Eikenberry asked during a congressional hearing in 2007. "In several critical areas -- corruption, justice and law enforcement, and counter-narcotics -- it is not."
I suppose there's a tension between road-building and keeping the road-builders alive, but at the very least we should combine "more troops" with "more infrastructure" and with some definable goals for Karzai's government, without which we will leave Karzai to his own devices.

It's the classic problem:
When one state is completely dependent on another, it is the weaker which can call the tune: it can threaten to collapse unless supported, and its protector has no answering threat in return.
-- A.J.P. Taylor, The Struggle for Mastery in Europe: 1848-1918.

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