Opinion

The Great Debate

Obama’s good war goes bad

Bernd DebusmannIn the protracted Washington debate over the war in Afghanistan, the most concise analysis so far has come from America’s top soldier: “If we don’t get a level of legitimacy and governance (there), then all the troops in the world aren’t going to make any difference.”

Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was speaking two days after Hamid Karzai was declared the winner, by default, in August elections so massively rigged that a U.N.-backed electoral complaints committee threw out about a million Karzai votes. That forced a run-off from which his challenger, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah withdrew, saying the second round would be just as fraudulent as the first.

So much for an exercise in democracy President Barack Obama had used as his rationale for escalating the war a few months after he took office. “I did order 21,000 additional troops there to make sure that we could secure the election, because I thought that was important.”

It was. It showed that the United States and its NATO allies are fighting on the side of a corrupt and discredited government in a war, now in its ninth year, for which, according to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, there can be no purely military solution.

An angry assessment of the Afghan leader last year by Thomas Schweich, a former top anti-narcotics official in Afghanistan, has proved prophetic. Karzai, he said, had been playing the Americans like a fiddle ever since he came to power. “The U.S. would spend billions of dollars on infrastructure improvement; the U.S. and its allies would fight the Taliban; Karzai’s friends would get rich off the drug trade; he could blame the West for his problems; and in 2009 he would be elected to a new term.”

Obama in the footsteps of George W. Bush

Bernd Debusmann– Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own. —

Words of wisdom from an American leader: “The United States must be humble and must be proud and confident of our values but humble in how we treat nations that are figuring out how to chart their own course.

“If we are an arrogant nation, they’ll view us that way but if we are a humble nation, they’ll respect us.”

Catch-22 and the long war in Afghanistan

Bernd Debusmann– Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own. –

Listening to the protracted Washington debate over the war in Afghanistan, the phrase Catch-22 comes to mind. It was the title of a best-selling 1961 satirical novel on World War II by Joseph Heller and entered the popular lexicon to denote a conundrum without a winning solution.

Example: You can’t get work without experience and you can’t get experience without work.

from Commentaries:

Shelved missile shield tests NATO unity

foghAfter just six weeks as NATO secretary-general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen has his first crisis. The alliance may be slowly bleeding in an intractable war in Afghanistan, but the immediate cause is the U.S. administration's decision to shelve a planned missile shield due to have been built in Poland and the Czech Republic.

The shield, energetically promoted by former President George W. Bush, was designed to intercept a small number of missiles fired by Iran or some other "rogue state". But Russia saw it as a threat to its own nuclear deterrent and NATO's new east European members saw it as a useful deterrent against Russian bullying, by putting U.S. strategic assets on their soil.

President Barack Obama's decision to drop plans to install it on Polish and Czech territory leaves those former Soviet satellites feeling betrayed -- because they expended political capital to win parliamentary support -- and more exposed to a resurgent Russia, especially after its use of force against Georgia last year.

from The Great Debate UK:

Brown must create Afghanistan war cabinet

richard-kemp2- Col. Richard Kemp is a former commander of British Forces in Afghanistan and the author of Attack State Red, an account of British military operations in Afghanistan published by Penguin. The opinions expressed are his own. -

Disillusionment with the inability of the Kabul administration to govern fairly or to significantly reduce violence played a role in the reportedly low turnout at the polls in Helmand.

It is critical that this changes if we are to avoid another Vietnam. The South Vietnamese Army, well trained and equipped, lost heart once the U.S. withdrew, collapsing at the first push, partly because their corrupt and ineffective administration was not worth fighting for.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

The virtues of doing nothing: Why focusing on Afghanistan’s opium makes the opium problem worse

Joshua Foust is an American military analyst. He blogs about Central Asia and Afghanistan at Registan.net . Reuters is not responsible for the content - the views are the author’s alone.

It would be an understatement to call opium cultivation in Afghanistan America's headache. The issue of illegal drug cultivation and smuggling has vexed policymakers for three decades, and led to a multi-billion dollar campaign to combat the phenomenon.

Opium causes all of our problems, so they say—according to a factsheet at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul (pdf), opium creates instability, funds the insurgency, and wreaks havoc on the government. They’re not alone - entire books have been written on the subject.

from The Great Debate UK:

Bagram: Where the future of Guantanamo meets its tortuous past

Moazzam Begg- Moazzam Begg is Director for the British organisation, Cageprisoners. The opinions expressed are his own. -

Little seems to have changed regarding the treatment of prisoners held at the U.S. military-run Bagram prison since I was there (2002-2004). The recent study conducted by the BBC shows allegations of sleep deprivation, stress positions, beatings, degrading treatment, religious and racial abuse have gone unabated. On a personal level though, I can’t help wonder if British intelligence services are still involved.

In April this year, a report issued by Cageprisoners entitled Fabricating Terrorism II highlighted through eyewitness testimony the cases of 29 people, all of them either British residents or citizens, who had allegedly been tortured and abused in the presence of British intelligence agents or at their behest.

from The Great Debate UK:

Bagram lesser known – but more evil – twin of Guantanamo

clara_gutteridge-Clara Gutteridge is renditions investigator at Reprieve. The opinions expressed are her own.-

The big surprise in Tuesday’s revelations of prisoner abuse at Bagram is how long these stories have taken to reach the international media, given the scale of the problem.

Bagram Airforce Base is Guantanamo Bay’s lesser known - but more evil - twin. Thousands of prisoners have been "through the system" at Bagram, and around 600 are currently held there. Meanwhile President Obama’s lawyers are fighting to hold them incommunicado; stripped of the right to challenge the reasons for their imprisonment.

U.S. military giant, diplomatic dwarf?

Bernd Debusmann - Great Debate— Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own —

The U.S. armed forces, the world’s most powerful, outnumber the country’s diplomatic service and its major aid agency by a ratio of more than 180:1, vastly higher than in other Western democracies. Military giant, diplomatic dwarf?

The ratio applies to people in uniform (or pin-striped suits). In terms of money, the U.S. military towers just as tall. Roughly half of all military spending in the world is American. Even potential adversaries in a conventional war spend puny sums in comparison. The 2010 defense budget now before Congress totals $534 billion, not including funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. China’s defense budget is $70 billion, Russia’s around $50 billion.giant_dwarf_w350

First 100 days: Grading Obama’s foreign policy

Michael O'Hanlon– Michael O’Hanlon is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. The views expressed are his own. –

It’s no great surprise in American politics these days, but already a great partisan debate has broken out about President Obama’s foreign policy effectiveness to date. For his enthusiasts, the United States has hit the “reset” button and is reclaiming its place as not only a strong country, but a respected leader among nations. For his detractors, Obama is making the world dangerous by apologizing for America’s alleged misdeeds of the past, naively talking with dictators, and cutting the defense budget.

And as usual, the truth is neither of these polar positions. But as a past critic of Obama, especially during his days of promising a rapid and unconditional exit from Iraq during the presidential campaign, I would nonetheless argue that he has done a good job overall, and that his supporters have the stronger case to date. Still, making too much of provisionally good decisions in the first 100 days verges on playing a silly game of Potomac Jeopardy that only the evening talk shows and political junkies really care about. The bottom line is that Obama is just getting started. But he is off to a more solid start than almost any of his recent predecessors.

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