December 4, 2009
Number 12/09 #02
We begin today’s Update with some analysis of US President Barack Obama’s announcement he will send an extra 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan. The decision comes after the US commander in Afghanistan, and architect of the successful surge in Iraq, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, called for 40,000 more troops last August.
We open with a stinging rebuke from Michael Rubin, a senior lecturer at the US Naval Postgraduate School and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. Published in Forbes, Rubin makes clear his view that 30,000 troops is not enough to bring success to the American enterprise in Afghanistan, suggesting that McChrystal’s figure of 40,000 was based on what was needed, and was completely divorced from politics. Rubin further suggests that the surge in Iraq under former President George Bush succeeded only when “Bush convinced Iraqis that he would not subvert his commitment to victory to politics,” which, according to Rubin, Obama has not done and will not do in Afghanistan. To read this insightful document, CLICK HERE.
Dana Milbank, in the Washington Post, writes that while the troop increase is a definite, the promise to withdraw them in 18 months is unlikely to be carried out. She cites as evidence statements by US Foreign Secretary Hilary Rodham-Clinton, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen and others.
Indeed, the withdrawal promise has drawn all sorts of criticism, including from US Senator and former presidential candidate John McCain, who welcomed the troop increase but stressed insisting on a withdrawal date sent the wrong message to America’s enemies.
The second article in today’s Update is an analysis that suggests the speech Obama made at West Point was more about political gesturing to satisfy both conservatives and the anti-war left than it was about successfully ending America’s engagement in Afghanistan. Gregor Peter Schmitz writes for Der Spiegel on “Obama’s Half-Hearted Surge,” suggesting that “his speech offered many details, but little vision.” To read this analysis, CLICK HERE.
Meanwhile, on Dec. 1, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd promised America that Australia will boost its commitment to Afghanistan, but insisted he and Defence Minister Senator John Faulkner have ruled out sending more fighting troops. Rather, trainers will be sent. (Meanwhile, former chief of the multi-national force in Iraq, Australian Jim Molan, has urged in The Australian that Australia should commit more troops.)
Finally, after the inclusion of Hezbollah in Lebanon’s government, Israeli academic Jonathan Spyer analyses the new Hezbollah manifesto. While some point to the manifesto as evidence that Hezbollah is becoming moderate and undergoing a ‘Lebanonisation’- that is, becoming focused on Lebanon, not its patron Iran – Spyer debunks this view. He points out that discrepancies between the English and Arabic versions of the manifesto make clear Hezbollah’s commitment to violence and jihad, its loyalty to Iran and its desire to establish Shi’ite predominance in Lebanon. For this must read analysis, CLICK HERE.
Readers may also be interested in:
- The Lowy Institute recently released a paper entitled Confronting the Hydra: Big problems with small wars, which analyses ways for countries to successfully fight asymmetrical wars. In the same vein, the US Army War College has released its list of articles and books on asymmetrical conflict.
- David Schenker of the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs asking, are Turkey and Syria walking arm in arm down the same road?
- An interesting analysis from the Israeli think-tank, the Institute for National Security Studies, on the naval efforts to thwart Iran’s regional influence. It comes as more details have emerged on recently seized Iranian arms ships.
- The White House has made clear the end of 2009 remains the deadline for Iran to comply with international demands vis-à-vis its nuclear program to avoid further sanctions.
- However, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has poured cold water on the renewed move toward stronger sanctions by declaring Russia has no evidence Iran is attempting to develop nuclear weapons.
- Meanwhile, Matthias Kuntzel, in the Weekly Standard, compares the Iran policy of the Bush Administration with that of the Obama Administration. He is not complimentary toward the latter.
- Rumours have been swirling in the Middle East as to whether Gilad Shalit is in Egypt in the first part of a prisoner swap plan.
- Hamas has confirmed that it consulted with Hezbollah over the Gilad Shalit prisoner swap deal.
- Meanwhile, a poll has revealed most Israelis prefer toughening Israel’s prisoner swap policies after Shalit is released.
- The Swedish plan to pass an EU motion calling for East Jerusalem to be the Palestinian capital (despite no reciprocal recognition of West Jerusalem as the Israeli capital) and implying the EU would recognise a unilateral Palestinian declaration of statehood has Israel concerned. Israeli Opposition Leader Tzipi Livni has encouraged French President Nicolas Sarkozy to help torpedo the motion, a plea which is apparently falling on fertile ground. The draft motion is here.
- An explosion on a bus filled with Iranian pilgrims near a Shi’ite holy site in Syria has been described as a tyre blow out by Damascus. Photos reveal something more sinister.
Forbes.com, December 1, 2009
Announcing the results of his administration’s first policy review on Afghanistan more than eight months ago, President Barack Obama declared, “I want the American people to understand that we have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaida in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future.” To achieve those goals, the president explained, “we need a stronger, smarter and comprehensive strategy.” Unfortunately, the strategy Obama announced tonight will not achieve it.
On Aug. 30, 2009 Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, issued a report advocating, among other items, a surge of 40,000 troops into Afghanistan. Over subsequent months, this number became a political football. Both Vice President Joseph Biden and Gen. Karl Eikenberry, the U.S. ambassador in Kabul, advocated fewer troops. After lengthy deliberation, Obama on Tuesday night agreed to send 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, bringing the total U.S. commitment to over 100,000 troops. NATO, the administration hopes, will contribute enough to address the shortfall in McChrystal’s request.
McChrystal is a veteran counterinsurgency expert. He made his request based not on politics, but a calculation of what it would take to win in Afghanistan. Obama has however refused to separate politics from national security. The problem is not troop numbers. When he declared on Tuesday, “These additional American and international troops will allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces, and allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011,” the president has undercut the McChrystal plan and made success difficult to achieve.
There should be nothing wrong with an open-ended commitment to victory. In late 2006 and early 2007, when the Bush administration put the finishing touches on the strategy that would become the Iraq surge, Obama and many of his top aides questioned its wisdom. On July 19, 2007, for example, Obama declared, “Here’s what we know. The surge has not worked.” That a year later Obama scrubbed his criticism from his campaign website suggests that today he recognizes the positive impact of George W. Bush’s decision. What Obama fails to understand, however, is that the surge is not only a military strategy, but a psychological one as well.
Iraq’s surge succeeded because Bush convinced Iraqis that he would not subvert his commitment to victory to politics. Bush’s actions showed insurgents had misjudged the U.S. and that Bin Laden was wrong: The U.S. was no paper tiger. Iraqis, no more attracted to al-Qaida’s extreme vision than ordinary Afghans are to the Taliban, believed America to be strong. Rather than make accommodations to the terrorists, Iraqis could fight them. The Sunni tribesmen believed that the U.S. would guard their back, and let neither al-Qaida nor Iranian proxies run roughshod over them. For Iraqis and Afghans, it is an easy decision to ally with militarily superior forces led by a commander-in-chief with a clear and demonstrable will to victory.
Obama is not Bush. By declaring his commitment finite, he removes the psychological force from his surge. NATO allies, who, because of limits they place on their troops’ activities, are hardly dependable on the best days, will understand that absent U.S. commitment, furthering their own commitments is silly. Pakistan will bolster its support for the Taliban. In Islamabad’s calculation, militant Islam is a lesser evil than Pashtun nationalism. If Obama is preparing to cut-and-run–which, fairly or unfairly, is how Pakistani generals will read his speech–then strengthening links to the Taliban will make Pakistan the dominant player in post-surge, post-withdrawal Afghanistan. The Taliban, too, will understand that, at best, they need only lay low, perhaps bloodying U.S. troops enough to keep the Afghanistan war unpopular among the Hollywood, university and media sets Obama cares about.
Obama is also wrong to believe that his surge will buy enough time to inject stability into Afghanistan’s state or society. His inability to commit to the country’s future will lead President Hamid Karzai to resist U.S. demands for reform. Obama’s civilian “dream team” has turned into a nightmare. Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke’s longing for the spotlight–and desire to create a High Commissioner to administer the country–has made the mercurial Karzai even more resistant to advice.
Victory in Afghanistan is crucial. Those who say occupation sparks insurgency misunderstand what is at stake. Afghans dislike occupation, but they place a higher priority on security. Security brings tolerance of the U.S. presence, and stability and a responsive government enables withdrawal. To cede the Taliban a safe haven, either now or post-surge, is unacceptable. Absent a stable government and a more capable Afghan National Army, the Taliban will fill the vacuum as they did from 1994 to 2001. The Taliban and their al-Qaida allies remain ideologically committed to the destruction of Western society. Not only will failure in Afghanistan mean a renewed threat to Americans across the globe, but it will also enable Islamists to convince more and more people that, having defeated two superpowers, they are the wave of the future. Unless Obama convinces the Taliban that his commitment to victory is unwavering, prepare for a dozen new Afghanistans.
Michael Rubin, a senior lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate School, is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
Gregor Peter Schmitz
Der Spiegel, December 2, 2009
As expected, US President Barack Obama promised a large increase in the number of American troops in Afghanistan. But at the same time, he promised to begin pulling them out already in 2011. His speech offered many details, but little vision. And Obama failed to adequately explain a war that many no longer support.
US President Barack Obama is standing on the stage inside West Point’s Eisenhower Hall, hundreds of uniformed cadets sit facing him. It is a sea of “cadet gray,” a color only to be found at this elite officer training school. Obama is there to explain exactly what it is he wants to do in Afghanistan — for days, America has been speculating on what Obama would say in this highly anticipated speech. Would he send 30,000 new soldiers? Perhaps 40,000? And when would they go? How long would they stay?
First, though, the president speaks about the past. “It is important to recall why America and our allies were compelled to fight a war in Afghanistan in the first place,” he intones. He speaks of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and al-Qaida, and reminds his listeners that the US Congress voted almost unanimously for the invasion of Afghanistan.
It sounds, at first, like a history lesson.
But then Obama begins speaking directly to the soldiers who have gathered to hear him speak. “I know that this decision asks even more from you,” he says, almost cautiously. He talks of the letters he has written to the families who have lost sons or daughters in the fight. He speaks of visiting the wounded and receiving the coffins returning from the front.
Why Fight in the First Place?
“If I did not think that the security of the United States and the safety of the American people were at stake in Afghanistan,” he continues, “I would gladly order every single one of our troops home tomorrow. So, no, I do not make this decision lightly.”
Obama’s task on Tuesday evening was a difficult one: that of explaining an eight-year-old war that many Americans no longer support. According to a recent survey conducted for CNN by the Opinion Research Corporation, just one-third of Americans think that the West is currently winning the war in Afghanistan. Many have lost sight of why the US is fighting the war in the first place.
But can Obama turn things around?
“Afghanistan is not lost,” Obama ensures his audience. “But for several years it has moved backwards” and “the Taliban has gained momentum.” Furthermore, he implies, there is a danger that Afghanistan could once again become a base for terrorist operations. “The status quo is not sustainable.”
The president took almost three months to review his options in Afghanistan and to shape a new strategy. He repeatedly sat down for long consultations with his advisers and was unmoved by mounting criticism about the amount of time his strategy redesign was taking. But on Tuesday evening, Obama finally presented his three-pronged approach: more soldiers, in an effort to create the conditions for a withdrawal; a strengthening of the civilian structures and institutions; and a more effective partnership with neighboring Pakistan, where many terrorists have found shelter.
Curious, Double-Pronged Strategy
But the most important element was the surge in the numbers of American troops to be sent to Afghanistan: “As commander-in-chief, I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 US troops to Afghanistan.”
Still, Obama made clear that the commitment is not an open-ended one. “After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home.” By then, he said, improved training will have improved the capabilities of Afghan security forces. America’s most important goal, he said, remains that of defeating al-Qaida in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
It is a curious, double-pronged strategy. A rapid surge, set to be complete by next summer, coupled with a rapid draw-down, planned to already begin in 2011.
Obama’s balancing act raises many questions. Is it even possible to deploy so many soldiers so quickly? Doubts are already being voiced in the Pentagon. Even Obama advisers admitted in a conference call with journalists that the exact rate of troop deployment would be “difficult” to calculate.
In addition, how seriously will the enemy take the surge when the withdrawal date has already been set? The former Republican presidential candidate John McCain warns that the Taliban could just sit out the surge. There is also the question of how much will be accomplished with additional soldiers when the corrupt Afghan government under President Hamid Karzai remains in power.
A Sense of Optimism
“The days of providing a blank check are over,” Obama said in his speech. In the future, more American money will flow to local institutions rather than to Karzai, Obama aides told reporters. Even the withdrawal date of 2011 is to be understood only as “the beginning of a process” which would depend on conditions on the ground, they explained.
The president had to provide his country an explanation of the war — and also communicate a sense of optimism. Obama tried to do that during his 33-minute speech. But he got bogged down in detail and in theory. The usual personal stories about encounters with soldiers or ordinary people were missing. He also largely failed to explain how General Stanley McChrystal’s new combat strategy will work.
Is Obama himself perhaps lacking in resolve, even though Afghanistan has now become his war? Columnist Charles Krauthammer told the TV channel Fox News that despite all his mistakes, George W. Bush never let questions about his resolve arise. Obama, however, deliberately avoids using certain powerful words. He rarely talks about building a democracy in Afghanistan. “I refuse to set goals that go beyond our responsibility, our means, or our interests,” he said in his speech.
Furthermore, the fact that the $30 billion needed for the increased number of troops is not included in the already deeply red US budget looms over Obama’s new strategy. The US cannot afford a never ending conflict in Afghanistan. And it could endanger Obama’s re-election in 2012.
Worse, the American president can hardly count on help from elsewhere. Obama emphasizes that this is not just America’s war. “We’re confident that there will be further contributions in the days and weeks ahead,” he said, referring to NATO allies. But Europe is unlikely to provide more than a few thousand additional soldiers.
This mixture of retreat and advance is also making it more difficult for Obama to convince perhaps the most important group of consituents: his supporters. Many Obama voters no longer see the war as necessary, despite the fact that, during his campaign, Obama promised a stronger American presence in Afghanistan.
Some Democrats are discussing the merits of a special “war tax” which could fund the Afghanistan efforts and avoid taking government money away from other reform projects, such as health care and climate change. “If the president intends to go in over our objections, he should have to bear the burden of asking for a tax to pay for it,” said Congressman Mike Honda, a member of the House Appropriations Committee. Other Democrats, though, are not quite as keen. In a television interview Maxine Waters, a Democrat, said that she was disappointed with the decision and that she would be concentrating on domestic issues instead.
Trust of Americans
Controversial film maker Michael Moore, darling of the American left wing, was harsh in his criticism. “With just one speech … you will turn a multitude of young people who were the backbone of your campaign into disillusioned cynics,” he wrote in an open letter on his Web site. In the letter he asked whether Obama really wanted to be the new “war president.”
And Internet organization MoveOn.org, which helped get Obama into the White House, suggested that it’s more than five million members call the White House in protest. “The President needs to hear that we want to bring the troops home, not send more,” the Web site wrote.
Meanwhile the president’s advisors were busy trying to put a positive spin on the decision, arguing that the trust of the Afghan people would be strengthened through the increased troop numbers.
But it’s the trust of Americans that Obama should be most worried about.
Jerusalem Post, December 2, 2009
Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah this week announced the publication of a new political manifesto, outlining the goals of his movement. The document is the successor to Hizbullah’s first manifesto, published in 1985, and many regional analysts have hailed it as reflecting the group’s “Lebanonization.”
This term is intended to mean that the new manifesto represents the abandonment of the movement’s core Shi’a Islamist outlook, and its acceptance of a new role as an influential player in Lebanese domestic politics. However, this view is excessively optimistic. The new manifesto reveals that Hizbullah’s strategic goals are unchanged.
Observe: The November 2009 manifesto does not differ substantively from its predecessor in terms of its view of the region and the clashing elements within it. Its first part, entitled “Domination and Hegemony” in the English version, consists of a long denunciation of the United States and its role in the Middle East and the world post-1945.
The US is depicted as the “root of all terror,” and a “danger that threatens the whole world.” Washington is seen as in the process of implementing a “New Middle East project” intended to dominate “the nations politically, culturally, economically and through all aspects.” The creation of the “Zionist entity” is described as the most “dangerous step” in the American drive for hegemony. The English-language document reiterates Hizbullah’s support for “armed struggle and military resistance” as the best way of “ending the occupation.” The longer Arabic version is less ambiguous, committing Hizbullah to “liberation of all the usurped land” and restoring the “usurped rights of all no matter how long and how great the sacrifices.”
So no change in the core strategic view. But proponents of the idea that the document reflects a more pragmatic Hizbullah have pointed to the lack of “religious rhetoric” in the new manifesto, compared to the 1985 document.
It is correct that the new manifesto does not include the previous document’s call for the establishment of an “Islamic Republic” in Lebanon. But here an interesting discrepancy emerges. The longer, Arabic version of the manifesto is steeped in religious rhetoric and Islamist terminology. Nasrallah opens his statement with two quotations from the Koran. The manifesto’s first section refers to “resistance in the way of jihad,” and the “jihadi way.” The section dealing with “Palestinian resistance” depicts Hizbullah as practicing “jihadi resistance.” The section dealing with Iran notes the “blessed Islamic revolution led by the Vali al-Faqih Imam Khomeini.” (The latter phrase refers to the system of government operative in Iran, Vilayat al-Faqih – rule of the jurisprudent, i.e., clerical rule.) The section on “resistance” deals with the movement’s “mujihadeen and its martyrs.”
The Arabic version of the manifesto also contains a whole section entitled “Jerusalem and the Aksa Mosque,” which asserts that “to liberate Jerusalem and defend Aksa Mosque” is a “religious duty” incumbent on Muslims
But in the English-language version of the manifesto, the section on Jerusalem, and all the phrases mentioned above, do not appear. The English version, indeed, is innocent of all reference to jihad or Koranic quotation. On Al-Manar, it is not made clear that the English version contains only selected excerpts from the manifesto. On the regime-supported Syrian News Station Web site, meanwhile, the English version is presented as the “full text of Hizbullah’s new political document.”
The discrepancies suggest that Hizbullah considers it in its interest to tone down or remove the pro-Iranian and jihadi parts of its identity when presenting itself to the outside world. But the full document in its original form suggests that the movement has not strayed far from its original path.
The new manifesto contains a call for the ending of the sectarian system of political representation in Lebanon. This is the final aspect cited by those asserting that Hizbullah is undergoing a process of moderation. But this does not represent a concession on Hizbullah’s part. The movement believes, possibly correctly, that the Shi’a community has a long-term demographic advantage in Lebanon. Ending Lebanon’s consociational system is therefore intended, in the fullness of time, to deliver the country into its hands.
In the meantime, Hizbullah established de facto in the violence of May 2008 that there was no force within Lebanon that could prevent it from asserting its will. It has forced its opponents to accept its conditions in negotiations for the formation of a new government. The new cabinet is set to contain an opposition-blocking third and will also overtly endorse the continued independent role of Hizbullah’s armed forces.
The new manifesto suggests that Hizbullah circa 2009 is a far more confident and comfortable player in Lebanon than it was in its earlier years. The reason for this, however, is not because the Shi’a Islamist movement has adapted itself to prevailing Lebanese realities. It is because Hizbullah has successfully imposed itself upon these realities, and hence may now proceed at its own pace.
On this basis, Hizbullah has secured the perimeter of the Iranian-financed state-within-a state that it maintains in Lebanon.
The new manifesto represents the movement’s willingness to coexist on its own preferred terms with other elements within the country. This coexistence is intended to usher in a “natural” process that Hizbullah believes will, in the fullness of time, result in its domination of Lebanon.
Jonathan Spyer is a senior research fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs center, IDC, Herzliya.