DAVID MILIBAND AND THE MUSLIM WORLD: A COMMENT
"President Obama has made it clear that there is a problem. He said simply a few weeks ago: “America is not and never will be at war with Islam”. Next month he will address this theme in a landmark speech in Cairo. The fact that he feels the need to say and do these things, and the positive reception he has received around the world for his determination and candour, reveal the depth of division and distrust towards the west that has emerged in the period since 9/11. Our coalitions are too narrow and consent far from won.
To broaden the coalition and win consent, we need to understand the Muslim world better, or we will risk undermining the force of our own argument, as I have sometimes done when using the labels ‘moderate’ and ‘extremist’; we need to hold fast to our own values and support those who seek to apply them, or we will be guilty of hypocrisy; and we need shared effort to address the grievances, socio-economic and political, that are perceived to keep Muslims down, and in fact do....
Our challenge is to understand that while there is no single template for a good life, there must be a template – and a better template than the one we have now - for people of diverse views, that derive from different belief systems, to work together....
In setting out these two aims - building coalitions and winning consent - the tension between them is clear. The widest possible coalition will, at times, include groups whose aims we do not share, whose values we find deplorable, whose methods we think dubious. But it will be impossible to win the consent of peoples if we cannot demonstrate consistency and certainty in the application of our values. A rigidly consistent application of our values would surely exclude from the conversation organizations without whom progress is impossible. Yet if we engage all the relevant parties, with no regard for our values or theirs, we are open to the charge of the purest realism.
The way through the tension lies in our commitment to politics and the rejection of violence. It is always when silent consent for violence is withdrawn – in favour of politics - that the actions of diplomacy have the chance to stick. Even in countries which are not democratic, the actions of governments are constantly conditioned by the demands of their people. This, a deep belief in politics, is the bedrock. The nobility of politics is contained in the negotiation of conflict through conversation, the replacement of dispute by compromise and of force by persuasion.
Coalitions can and must be wide but they can only be forged on the basis of a commitment to politics and the renunciation of violence....
Over the last decade the focus of the relationship between the west and the Muslim world has narrowed. Terrorism has distorted our views of each other and skewed our engagement with each other. Organizations with different aims, values and tactics were lumped together. Little or sometimes no distinction was drawn between those engaged in national territorial struggles and those pursuing global or pan-Islamic objectives; between those that could be drawn into domestic political processes and those who are essentially anti-political and violent.
The upshot was that the West came to be seen not, as we would have wished, as anti-terror, but as anti-Islam. No matter that mainstream politicians in the UK and US and in Muslim countries repeatedly rejected the notion of a clash of civilizations. That is how it came to be perceived.
If we want to rebuild relations – to forge broader coalitions - we need to show greater respect. That means rejecting the lazy stereotypes and moving beyond the binary division between moderates and extremists. We should not just see Muslims as Muslims, but as people in all the many guises they occupy in their lives – at home, at work, in all the many aspects of a rounded individual life. There is always more to life than is captured by a single label".
David Miliband, British Foreign Secretary, "Our Shared Future: building coalitions and winning consent," 21 May 2009, in www.fco.gov.uk
"Whoever wants to engage in politics at all, and especially in politics as a vocation, has to realize these ethical paradoxes. He must know that he is responsible for what may become of himself under the impact of these paradoxes. I repeat, he lets himself in for the diabolic forces lurking in all violence. The great virtuosi of acosmic love of humanity and goodness, whether stemming from Nazareth or Assisi or from Indian royal castles, have not operated with the political means of violence. Their kingdom was 'not of this world' and yet they worked and sill work in this world. The figures of Platon Karatajev and the saints of Dostoievski still remain their most adequate reconstructions. He who seeks the salvation of the soul, of his own and of others, should not seek it along the avenue of politics, for the quite different tasks of politics can only be solved by violence. The genius or demon of politics lives in an inner tension with the god of love, as well as with the Christian God as expressed by the church. This tension can at any time lead to an irreconcilable conflict. Men knew this even in the times of church rule. Time and again the papal interdict was placed upon Florence and at the time it meant a far more robust power for men and their salvation of soul than (to speak with Fichte) the 'cool approbation' of the Kantian ethical judgment. The burghers, however, fought the church-state. And it is with reference to such situations that Machiavelli in a beautiful passage, if I am not mistaken, of the History of Florence, has one of his heroes praise those citizens who deemed the greatness of their native city higher than the salvation of their souls....
Politics is a strong and slow boring of hard boards. It takes both passion and perspective. Certainly all historical experience confirms the truth --that man would not have attained the possible unless time and again he had reached out for the impossible. But to do that a man must be a leader, and not only a leader but a hero as well, in a very sober sense of the word. And even those who are neither leaders nor heroes must arm themselves with that steadfastness of heart which can brave even the crumbling of all hopes. This is necessary right now, or else men will not be able to attain even that which is possible today. Only he has the calling for politics who is sure that he shall not crumble when the world from his point of view is too stupid or too base for what he wants to offer. Only he who in the face of all this can say 'In spite of all!' has the calling for politics".
Max Weber, "Politics as a Vocation," 1918.
David Miliband's latest endeavor to make a name for himself, which to some extent did indeed 'work' (id est., a favorable leader in the bien-pensant Financial Times last week), however only to the extent that his usual offerings of semi-pious platitudes, and hypocrisy and moral double bookkeeping, were clothed in the borrowed & new (if intellectually speaking very threadbare) robes of the new American President and his 'respect agenda' (Bog Gospodi help us!). As per Miliband (and the ex-junior Senator from Illinois with the absurd name), the West is on the losing side (or at the very least yet on the winning side) of the public relations battle with violent and anti-political fringe of Al-Qaeda, et. al. And, the way or the means to change this, is to repeat for the ten thousand time, that the West is not, per se: 'anti-Islam', and that Islam is a 'peaceful religion' (the fact that the people throwing the bombs and killing others are Muslims, is something that Miliband chooses to ignore...), et cetera, et cetera. That in addition the West needs to endeavor to try to contact (and one would assume) negotiate with those Islamicists who are not per se, interested in violence qua violence, but, merely interest in violence as a means to an end. Here of course is the real crux of Miliband's speech. Now if one ignores for an instance the sloppy thinking behind it (id est., even Hitler or Stalin, for example, were not at some level adherents of violence for its own sake: I am sure they would have been quite content if all of their opponents had merely committed suicide, rather than having to be killed, et cetera.), the real point that the British Foreign Secretary is trying to make, in a sotto voce fashion, is that not 'all', of our opponents need to be killed, and, some of them (elements in the Taliban being the prime example), can be 'turned' to 'our side', insofar as they are willing to give up the gun, and, adopt or go back to the political game.
That is en effet, Miliband's main point. And, what got him that favorable leader in the FT. The only problem (one that I give the FT credit for pointing out), is that once one leaves this rather cloudy & airy vacuity, and, proceeds to endeavor to find out qui? Who are the groups, and, the elements in the Muslim world, who while not necessarily having 'our values', none the less, one can try to include in 'our coalition', that the issue tends to become a trifle more difficult. At least where Miliband, and, his American friend are concerned. 'Elements', of the Taliban, who (as per Miliband) favor a merely 'tribal version of Islam', which was not perhaps entirely represented at the Bonn Conference of 2002, are mentioned more than once. The fact that the 'tribal version of Islam', that Miliband mentions includes such things as honor killings, no schooling for girls, forced marriages for girls under the age of twelve, et cetera, et cetera. If one were to ask Miliband if he would be willing to countenance an open alliance with such creatures, one would assume that our Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary of State, would immediately wrinkle his nose, point it in another direction, all the while uttering that 'of course no such thing was ever envisaged', 'how possibly could anyone ever have thought such a thing', et cetera, et cetera. Yet, as a practical matter, it is precisely such unsavory 'friends', as these village elders, who may or may not (I am much more skeptical, as I noted a few postings back about the ability to easily 'turn' such elements of the Taliban), be prized away from the Taliban, who we need to ally with. Let us be clear: diplomacy and statecraft is at times a messy or indeed a nasty business. As the late great Max Weber pointed out above, if one is interested in savings souls, one should probably not enter politics. The ultimate, 'art of the possible', as the even more great Otto von Bismarck-Schonhausen once put it. The real issue as it relates to the Muslim world, indeed the troubled, ugly and not very appealing world outside of the USA, Canada, Japan (other parts of East Asia) and Europe, is how does one hold hands or co-operate with rulers who while not in the least democratic or tolerant, are: a)legitimate; b) not aggressive outside of their own borders. The answer seems to at least me, that context is everything. Of course one may very well respond it was precisely 'context', which labeled Saddam Hussein as being an evil dictator who needed to be over-thrown, when in precisely anothercontext, Hussein, was say much more tolerant of say differing faiths than the rulers of Saudi Arabia, and, not as dangerous to the surrounding region as say the current rulers of Persia.
The reality of the situation, is that due to a variety of differing and not very intelligent or cogent reasons, Western views and policies as they relate to the Muslim world are at best quixotic and at worst idiotic & simply mindless. As per the latter, Miliband's not very intelligent attempt in his speech to explain why the West refuses to deal with Hamas. A similar answer would not doubt be offered for not dealing with say Hezbollah, and, a short while ago, for not dealing with the regime in Syria. Similar intellectual conundrums emerge as per Miliband's allied topic of winning 'consent' for a 'larger coalition', with the West. The fact of the matter is that the vast majority of Muslim majority states in the world, and, almost all of the same in the Near and Middle East, are ruled dictatorially. Many run `a la 'Police State' methods in the old-fashioned sense of the term. Egypt being a prime example. With such a background, it is both quixotic and idiotic to talk about 'consent' of the majority of the population in any meaningful sense of the word. And, while no doubt, in some polls, a majority of the Muslim population of the world expresses 'admiration', for American / Western Democracy (leaving aside for a second how such polls are conducted and who exactly is being polled...), the fact of the matter is that such 'admiration', does not in any real sense translate into active support for either an alliance with the West, much less ignoring and or overlooking Western policies which inflame Muslim feelings in much of the world (aka Palestine for starters). Especially, since most of the current regimes in the Near and Middle East, are and have been currently allied to the West in the first place. What Miliband and his America counter-parts would like to do is the square the circle in the following sense: Muslims, while not in any way giving up their ardent and true beliefs, should at the same time also: a) be tolerant of other faiths. At least while Western journalists are looking; b) not oppress women. At least while Western journalists are looking; c) believe in Democracy, and, at the same time, make sure to vote for: i)the current regime in power, at least if they are friendly to the West; ii) vote against any party or parties which is not friendly to the West. Especially, if this party actually represents the intolerant and fanatical beliefs of the vast majority of the voting population; iii) vote and support the foreign policies of the current regime, which supports the West, and, which is vastly hated by almost the entire population, not only of the country but much of the entire region.
To conclude, notwithstanding all of the 'brilliance', of the upcoming speech in Cairo, by the new American President (believe you me, 'brilliant', 'path breaking', are some of the many terms that will be used to describe this speech by the bien-pensant Western press), the fact of the matter is, that the conundrum that I referred to above, by Western policymakers as it concerns the Muslim world will continue, as long as the clear rules of grossmachtpolitik are avoided like the plague and hazy and cloudy rhetorical tricks `a la Milibands recent speech are indulged in.
IS WASHINGTON ON THE 'ROAD TO DAMASCUS'? A COMMENT
"Middle Eastern disappointments are mounting and some of the Arab hopes in Obama have begun to fade. The Syrians are saying that in three months Obama’s policies in the Middle East should be clear. By that time elections in Lebanon and Iran will be over and the dust will have had time to settle. If US policy changes have not taken shape by then, they probably will not take shape at all. A number of Syrian officials got mud on their faces with the sanctions fiasco. They had supported the notion that Washington had indeed turned a new page.
Palestinian officials said they were disappointed that Monday’s round of U.S.-Israeli talks in Washington produced no clear progress on the removal of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank or other issues they feel are crucial to rejuvenating stalled peace negotiations.
Israel stood firm against demands from Barack Obama on Monday to cease the construction of Jewish settlements and embrace the “two-state solution” to achieving peace in the Middle East".
"Is Obama turning into a Bust", 18th May 2009, in www.syriacomment.com
"Tout commence en mystique, et tout finit en politique,"
Charles Peguy, Notre Jeunesse (1910).
My distant friend Joshua Landis' Syria Comment, is no doubt the best source for information and news about the regime in Damascus. Of that there is as the French say: il va sans doute. However, as I have had a chance to observe on more than one occasion, Landis' reading of American policy and indeed at times European policy in the region leaves a lot to be desired. For example in the late Winter and Spring of 2008, he was predicting that the European powers would 'break' with the Bush regime's policy of boycotting Syria, and, indeed engage the latter `a la what Turkey has been doing. At the time, I wrote and told Joshua Landis directly that this is a rather unlikely scenario. And, subsequent events unfortunately perhaps have proven me rather than Landis correct. Similarly, with the election of the new American administration, Syria Comment, was initially widely enthusiastic, taking for real coin, the drops of symbolism that was (and is) coming out of Washington. Whereas, I on several occasions, going back to mid-November, opined that due to a variety of factors, including the staffing of the new administration, the caliber of the new American President, and, indeed, certain patterns of behavior that one can expect from new President's, most especially Democratic Party Presidents, one should expect very little indeed from the new regime in Washington. And, that especially in the case of Syrian-Israeli relations, while the new administration would most definitely not block or attempt to block any ongoing peace negotiations between Tel Aviv and Damascus, it would most definitely not endeavor to 'jump start', the same either. In short, any progress between the Israelis and the Arabs would come due to progress between the parties themselves, and, not due to any American pressure or positive policy. `A la 1977 (Sadat's Trip to Jerusalem) and 1993 (Oslo Talks). So the same has come to pass. With the electoral triumph of Netanyahu and his coalition partners in the recent elections, any idea of an organic Israeli-Syrian peace process, has become completely unstuck. Consequently, any moves along the path to peace at this point depends upon the Americans forcing the pace, and, indeed, specifically forcing the pace on the Israelis. In light of Netanyahu's recent meeting with his American counter-part, there does not appear to be any signs of anything like this occurring. Apparently, only now is Landis willing to acknowledge that the Apostle Paul does not have at the moment any American devotees...
'TRANSFORMING A LOUIS XIV WINE BOTTLE INTO A COKE BOTTLE': THE NEW 'FOREIGN AFFAIRS' SEVENTEEN YEARS ON
In my youth as an under-graduate at University, I first started to read and indeed subscribed to the American periodical Foreign Affairs. It was then edited by that august, paragon of the WASP ascendancy, William P. Bundy, the son-in-law of Dean Acheson and the older brother of the equally august and mandarin McGeorge Bundy. In short, at that time, and for a good while longer, the periodical was a sort of 'house journal' of the old-school elements of the American foreign policy establishment. Which is not to say that it had an overt 'line' in any particular policy questions or debates. Indeed, one of the many virtues of the 'old' Foreign Affairs (hereafter 'FA', for short), was that it deliberately positioned itself as being open to all points of view, and one was as likely to read an analysis of say American foreign policy by a Soviet academic, as one was to read an analysis of Sovietskaya Vlast by an American academic. Particularly useful and a quite frequent event in the periodical at that time was the position piece by a foreign minister, head of state or some such equivalent figure, outlining or defending the policies of his government or country to the FA audience. However the chief virtue perhaps of the old FA, a virtue which it shared with the old New Yorker (the New Yorker of William Shawn that is), was that in the words of the late great Dwight Macdonald:'it was edited for the people who wrote for it, and, only incidentally for the people who bought and read it'.
Meaning that in reading and purchasing the periodical, one was entering a mental universe which was not geared towards satisfying the whims of the general public, or even the lay educated, general public. With the end result being that while not by any means perfect, the old FA, was about as good a foreign policy periodical that one could wish to read in those days. There were longish (in the best old New Yorker style) articles on subjects which while perhaps topical at one time were no longer on the top of any one's popularity chart. Indeed, there were a whole slew of articles, by such grandiose figures as Robert Tucker, Isaiah Berlin, Sir Michael Howard, Raymond Aron, Paul Nitze, David Calleo, George Kennan, William McNeill, among others. Articles which could have very well be published in academic journals, and, which had all the appearances of the same: long historical backgrounds, and explanations, as well as that quintessential aspect of the academic article: a footnote.
I stopped reading FA sometime in 1990, as it interfered with my doctoral studies, and, perhaps because of a certain snobbish aspect of reading something which even had the slightest inkling of being aimed at an non-academic audience. Which in retrospect was a pity, since within two years time, a veritable revolution came upon the old FA, and, transformed it into the version that one sees today. This revolution like all such events was perhaps not necessarily well-thought out. And, again like all revolutions it was inspired by a mixture of motives: apparently, in the case of the Council on Foreign Relations, it was a feeling (this is a bit of guesswork on my part) that FA, while wonderful for what it was doing, was a bit 'old hat', and, needed to be (to use a vernacular expression of American origins) 'jazzed up'. I would imagine that perhaps the chief inspiration for this feeling was that the pernicious event, the publication in the summer of 1989, in the then new, periodical The National Interest, of Francis Fukuyama's rather facile and convoluted exercise in trying to make Hegelian metaphysics understandable for the great unwashed masses of the pays legal of official Washington: 'The End of History and the Last Man'. Which however much it reads laughably today (or for some of us, even then), was regarded by many in the world of foreign policy thinkers, as the very dernier cri of such exercises. The historical successor to George Frost Kennan's 'Sources of Soviet Conduct', essay of 1947.
With that as a background, it perhaps makes more understandable (if not necessarily very comprehensible even at this point in time), the hiring as the next Editor (only the fourth since 1922) of Mr. James Hoge. A provincial (from Chicago), second-rate hack journalist, and, his deputy, Fareed Zakaria, a no account mountebank from Dieu knows where. And, the revolution was on: end notes were dropped, the periodical's gray color was jettisoned for a light bluish color, with the titles to the various articles highlighted in boldface, the size of the same were cut by almost one-third (from an average of 7000 words to under 5000), with many now being of a much more topical and journalistic in nature. And, the creme de la creme of the new FA, the crowning glory of the enterprise: cartoons were added. For what purpose one dares not say or hazard a surmise. In short, what was once an erste-klasse periodical, was turned in a much more demotic and vulgar (using that word in its etymological original sense of 'base'& 'common')one. Or as the egregious Zakaria put it to the New York Times, more than ten years ago: "the aim now is to edit the magazine for the reader, rather than the writer" (see: "Foreign Affairs Magazine Becomes Harder to Predict," 12 January 1998, in www.nytimes.com
). With that type of transformation, it was not surprising that even after I left academia, and, had now had the time to indulge in reading FA, I chose not to do so, given the new guise that Hoge and Zakaria and dressed it up in. Rather similar in that respect to my principled refusal to read ever again the New Yorker, since the sub-human Tina Brown got her dirty (albeit manicured) fingers on it back in 1993.
Recently, a young friend of mine, gave me a gift subscription of FA, and, after allowing some issues to lie unopened on my desk, I took the plunge and decided to read all of the same in order. And, while I have not by any means changed my mind about the damage that was done to a fine periodical by Hogue and company, I will admit that here and there one sees essays worth reading and even talking and pondering about. If one merely looks at the current issue for example there is a precis of Leslie Gelb's new book, Power Rules (to be discussed in a future posting), as well as a fine essay by John Newhouse, and some quite interesting review articles by Fouad Ajami, and Zbignieuw Brzezinski. Some of the others (such as Ian Bremmer's on 'State Capitalism' and Karatnycky & Motyl on the dilemmas of contemporary Ukraine), while interesting in parts suffer from a lack of in depth analysis and a proper historical background. And, even the Newhouse piece, when one compares it to an article by the then Republican Senator, Charles Mathias, circa 1981, one notes that the former has no footnotes, and the latter has thirty-six, as well as a more in depth historical background of the topic under discussion in the latter. In short, most of the pieces to be found in the new FA, are a higher species of the type of type of journalism that on can encounter in say the Financial Times or even the New York Times. Still, notwithstanding these flaws and the idiotic cartoons, as well as the tendency to publish articles of a rather too topical nature, the overall result is not as horrid, as I had been lead to expect. And, while it is hardly at the same level as say the Journal of Strategic Studies or Chatham House's International Affairs, it is at the very least much better than the now current incarnation of say something like Foreign Policy (the latter being basically unreadable). And, while a quick comparison between say the old FA (I have eight years worth from 1981 to 1990), and, the new highlight the flaws in the latter, one has at this point in time to make concessions to the decadence of the age. The only other observation that I can come up with, is that I am impressed (negatively) with the huge number of academic adverts for graduate programs in the general area of 'international affairs'. In the current issue, I counted fifteen (15) such advertisements. As opposed to say the fewer than one in the Summer of 1981 issue. One has to wonder exactly who are these advertisements aimed at, and, indeed, what species of creatures pays for the privileged of attending these programmes, at least half of which were not even in existence, circa 1981. However that is a question best left up to another entry in this journal.
LES EVENEMENTS DANS MOSCOU: UN COMMENTAIRE
"MOSCOW (Reuters) - Dozens of Russian riot police broke up a gay rights demonstration on Saturday before the Eurovision Song Contest final in Moscow, grabbing protesters and throwing them into police cars and vans.
A police spokesman said around 40 people were arrested but Russia's Interfax news agency quoted a police source as saying up to 81 gay rights activists had been detained, including 32 held at a separate protest in the city centre.
Russian riot police trampled hedges and pushed reporters away when they arrested about 35 protesters unfurling banners at the Sparrow Hills park overlooking central Moscow, calling for gay rights. Those arrested included Russian, Belarussian and British campaigners.
"There is no freedom for gays in Russia," British gay rights activist Peter Tatchell shouted as police bundled him into a waiting car at the park, which is popular with newly weds. "We call on President (Dmitry) Medvedev to meet with us."
Tatchell was released a few hours later after what he said was intervention from the British Embassy in Moscow.
Gay activists in Russia say they are fighting for their constitutional rights in a deeply intolerant society and compare their plight to that of gays in Western Europe last century.
The late leader of Russia's influential Orthodox Church, Patriarch Alexiy II, said that homosexuals suffered a mental disorder similar to shoplifters....
Russian gay leader Alexeyev, dressed in a grey suit and tie, was detained by riot police while strolling with a man wearing a long white bridal grown. They said they were about to be married and asked why riot police wanted to arrest them.
"We have reason to believe you are walking with a man dressed as woman," one of the policemen told them, before a dozen riot police dragged them off to waiting vans....
Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov has taken a hard line against homosexual protesters, once describing a gay rights parade as "satanic." Luzhkov's spokesman had said the gay protest could not go ahead because it would undermine morality in the capital".
"Russian police bust gay rally on Eurovision day," 16 May 2009, in www.reuters.com
What can one say about the above but:tam armis quam ingenio
THE CHANGING OF THE GUARD IN AFGHANISTAN: WHAT DOES IT MEAN?
"WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Monday replaced the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan and picked a former special forces commander to oversee President Barack Obama's military strategy against a growing Taliban insurgency.
Gates asked for the resignation of Army General David McKiernan less than a year into a command that normally would last 18 to 24 months after concluding the new U.S. strategy in Afghanistan required fresh military thinking.
Gates recommended Army Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal, a former Green Beret, to take over command of the 45,000 U.S. troops and 32,000 other forces from other NATO countries now in Afghanistan.
McChrystal, the director of the U.S. military's Joint Staff, must be nominated by Obama and confirmed by the U.S. Senate before he can take up the post.
Gates also named Lieutenant General David Rodriguez as deputy commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Rodriguez was lauded by Pentagon officials for a counterinsurgency effort he led in eastern Afghanistan while commanding the Army's 82nd Airborne Division".
"Pentagon Replaces top Afghanistan commander," 11 May 2009, in www.reuters.com
"The US is discovering that its present force posture has serious resource limits in fighting asymmetric or irregular wars, and conducting armed nation building. At least for the next few years, the US will have to fight the Afghan-Pakistan conflict war with a force posture whose land component is limited to the ability to fight one major regional contingency involving asymmetric or irregular war.
It also is far from clear when these resource limits will change. While Secretary Gates has talked about the need to change US force structures, no one has as yet advanced any clear plans for making such changes or even convincingly described the architecture of such a force. Simply training and/or assigning more civilians does not necessarily create any major improvement in real world US capabilities for armed nation building, and calling for smart power does not make power smart. The necessary changes may come, but it is unlikely that they will come before the end of President Obama’s present term of office.
Accordingly, US strategy must accept the fact that this is a limited war fought for limited objectives where the cost can exceed its value. The US cannot afford to become overcommitted to either Afghanistan or Pakistan. Its strategy must consider options that limit future US commitments and that focus on containment – undesirable as those options may seem. The US may well be able to win – particularly if the Afghan and Pakistani governments become more effective partners – but it cannot let a limited war fought for limited purposes become the central focus of its strategy and actions – even at the regional level.
Anthony Cordesman, "Is the Afghanistan-Pakistan Conflict Winnable: the broader strategic context," 29 April 2009, in www.csis.org
"Le Marechal dreams of a political [military] victory," Clemens von Metternich talking of Field-Marshal Graf Radetsky, circa 1847
The announcement made today by the American Defence Secretary, Mr. Gates that he is replacing prematurely the top American commander in Afghanistan, General McKiernan, with a former Green Beret, and one of the top commanders in the Iraqi front, is another indication that the Pentagon and indeed the White House, are seriously concerned about the not so favorable trends in the conflict. Both in Afghanistan and in Pakistan. It would appear, that on the surface at any rate, that the replacement of General McKiernan, would be a victory for the type of counter-insurgency warfare favored by the overall, theatre commander General Petraeus. The author of the tactics which to a considerable degree, helped to stabilize to an good degree Iraq in 2007-2008. On the other hand, it is less than clear that General Petraeus vision of a possible military 'victory', in Afghanistan is something that his political master's back home in Washington, DC., are willing to back to the hilt. According to the American online journal stratfor.com
, the real meaning of the replacement of General Mackinnon is as follows:
"Ultimately, Petraeus is charging that Obama and Gates are missing the chance to repeat what was done in Iraq, while Obama and Gates are afraid Petraeus is confusing success in Iraq with a universal counterinsurgency model. To put it differently, they feel that while Petraeus benefited from fortuitous circumstances in Iraq, he quickly could find himself hopelessly bogged down in Afghanistan. The Pentagon on May 11 announced that U.S. commander in Afghanistan Gen. David McKiernan would be replaced, less than a year after he took over, with Lt. Gen. Stan McChrystal. McKiernan’s removal could pave the way for a broader reshuffling of Afghan strategy by the Obama administration.
The most important issues concern the extent to which Obama wants to stake his presidency on Petraeus’ vision in Afghanistan, and how important Afghanistan is to U.S. grand strategy. Petraeus has conceded that al Qaeda is in Pakistan. Getting the group out of Pakistan requires surgical strikes. Occupation and regime change in Pakistan are way beyond American abilities. The question of what the United States expects to win in Afghanistan — assuming it can win anything there — remains.
In the end, there is never a debate between U.S. presidents and generals. Even MacArthur discovered that. It is becoming clear that Obama is not going to bet all in Afghanistan, and that he sees Afghanistan as not worth the fight. Petraeus is a soldier in a fight, and he wants to win. But in the end, as Clausewitz said, war is an extension of politics by other means. As such, generals tend to not get their way".
George Friedman, "The Strategic Debate over Afghanistan", 11 May 2009, in www.stratfor.com
The above analysis, while cogent and indeed accurate in some ways, obscures one important factor which make the opposition between Petraeus and his political masters back home in Washington, DC., more than a bit reductionist. Specifically, the ongoing instability in Pakistan, makes the idea that at a certain point in the future, the Americans and their allies, tutti quanti, could simply quit the country, tout `a coup, more than slightly unreal. One does not need to know very much about either country to surmise that if the Americans were to leave a Taliban controlled Afghanistan, while Pakistan was still contending with its own Taliban insurgency, then the likelihood of the latter country following the former into the hands of the insurgents, would increase exponentially. Even someone who is as skeptical of 'over-investing', in the 'Af-Pak' theatre as Anthony Cordesman, has also recently noted that:
"Strategically, the overall stability of a nuclear-armed Pakistan has the highest priority, and no victory in Afghanistan, or Afghan-Pakistan border area, can be meaningful if Pakistan slides towards chaos or jihadist rule".
Quoted in: "Obama tests Afghan, Pakistan Stragegy," 5 May 2009, in www.nytimes.com
The upshot of the above strategic fact is that the Americans and their allies (such as they are...) are stuck in Afghanistan for the foreseeable future. The logic of the situation calls for either a 'surge' strategy, but on a much grander and larger scale, than what was attempted and achieved in Iraq (say adding not 20,000 troops, but, more along the lines of 100,000 to 150,000) or conversely, sticking with a minimal increase in forces, and, hoping that via the use of air power, and, Petraeus's counter-insurgency tactics that two, three or four years of efforts will result in, if not 'victory', then at the very least, something approaching the beginnings of a stabilization `a la Iraq in mid to late 2008. It would not be too difficult to hazard a guess which particular path Marechal Graf Radetsky would favor.