KISSINGER ON THE CURRENT AMERICAN STRATEGY IN AFGHANISTAN
"FT: Can, in any conventional sense of the word, Petraeus win this war in Afghanistan?
Dr Kissinger: In the traditional sense of fighting against an adversary with whom it is possible to make an enforceable agreement, no. In the sense of gradually defeating the insurgency and reducing it to impotence, theoretically yes, but it would take more time than the American political system would permit.
FT: So what are the prospects?
Dr Kissinger: To announce a terminal date when the attrition of the opponent is one of the elements of the strategy lets the adversary regulate his own intensity of combat and gives him a deadline. It seems to me an unwise procedure.
FT: So is there an urgent need for Obama to rethink the strategy?
Dr Kissinger: There’s a need for him to rethink the deadline and there is a need to rethink the way it has been designed. It has been designed to turn over the responsibility for security to an Afghan government on a national basis. That, I think, would be very difficult, at least within the stated time limits.
FT: So you’re saying that you need less ambitious, less centralised goals and more time?
Dr Kissinger: Right, but I don’t want my views to be considered an attack on the president’s general view. I agree with the objective he has stated both in his West Point speech [announcing a 30,000 troop surge to Afghanistan last December] and when he dismissed Gen McChrystal.
FT: But the manner in which it is being implemented, the strategy, is something that is imminent need of being rethought?
Dr Kissinger: It needs adaptation to realities.
FT: The plan is to look at this all in December. Is that waiting too long?
Dr Kissinger: I think the underlying strategy would be best reviewed as Gen Petraeus is taking over.
If you leave the strategy in place and you want to gauge how effective it is or how much progress has been made, December is reasonable. If you want to take another look at the strategy without a great announcement, a review with Gen Petraeus might be appropriate. But I would not make a big public announcement about that.
FT: What is at stake if the US does keep to this unrealistic timetable and these unrealistic goals?
Dr Kissinger: The basic issue is that the diplomatic and military elements of the current strategy are not compatible with each other. The military strategy cannot be accomplished within the deadlines and the deadline encourages the adversaries to wait us out.
FT: But do you also argue that a precipitate withdrawal projects weakness?
Dr Kissinger: Rather than weakness, it projects above all ambivalence.
FT: Does Obama need to take a firm hand to the civilian hand of this effort, with the article revealing the difficult relations between McChrystal and people like US Ambassador Karl Eikenberry and special envoy Richard Holbrooke?
Dr Kissinger: It’s essential that there is a strategy that is carried out by the civilian and military elements together. Holbrooke is being unfairly attacked. I don’t think he’s ever had any significant authority with respect to Afghanistan. He is a somewhat challenging personality but he has performed admirably in every previous job, so I think he is not, in terms of his abilities, an obstacle.
FT: And Eikenberry, whose memo doubting some of the fundamentals of the strategy has become so public?
Dr Kissinger: It would be essential that the ambassador and the theatre commander have parallel views. You can’t throw the execution of policy open to permanent debate at that level. It should be debated before the policy is established, but the execution of it cannot be subject to a monthly debate.
FT: There are people who say give this more time.
Dr Kissinger: I agree we need time and patience and having been involved in a war with some similar characteristics, the last thing the administration needs is to be harassed by people pressuring them from the outside.
So my basic attitude is to be supportive of the overall effort administration and to support the objectives that the president stated in his relief of General McChrystal.
But I do think that the basic premise that you can work towards a national government that can replace the American security effort in a deadline of 12 months provides a mechanism for failure. On the other hand, if we are willing to pursue the stated objective the public must be prepared for a long struggle. This is a choice that needs to be made explicitly or else we should look for intermediate objectives".
Daniel Dombey,"Transcript: Interview with Henry Kissinger," 28 June 2010 in www.ft.com.
"[Policy] is like a play in many acts...which unfolds inevitably once the curtain is raised. To declare then that the performance will not take place is an absurdity. The play will go on, either by means of the actors...or by means of the spectators who mount the stage....Intelligent people never consider this the essence of the problem, however. For them it lies in the decision whether the curtain is to be raised at all, whether the spectators are to be assembled and in the intrinsic quality of the play."
Furst von Metternich, quoted by Henry Kissinger in, A World Restored: Metternich, Castlereagh and the Problems of Peace 1812-22, 1957, p. 41.
Dr. Kissinger's interview in the Financial Times on the subject of Afghanistan is for my purposes quite interesting for the following reason: he points out the fallacy in the American Administration's dubious proposition of a 'time-table' to evaluate how the war is progressing by the Summer of 2011. As has been stated here on any number of occasions and elsewhere of course, the upshot of any such public pronouncement is that the Taliban has become more and more convinced that by merely surviving for awhile longer, they will have in effect scored a victory in this conflict. Especially, since they have all around them signs that the Americans and their NATO allies are uninterested in remaining longer than a year or two at the utmost. A feeling which has by this time also begun to be believed by not only the elements of the Karzai regime (allegedly by Karzai himself as well) but also by the regime in Pakistan. Lest anyone uttering the mots 'quiet interval', think that such a similar 'end-game', is possible in Afghanistan, one may point out that unlike the case of South Vietnam, the debacle when it does occur will be sudden and swift. With all of the rats leaving Karzai's ship, almost the minute that the last Western soldier leaves the country. With elements of the former Northern Alliance, regrouping in the north of the country to prepare for a new civil war `a la 1990-1994. A conflict which will assuredly provide for new staging grounds for Al Qaeda and its allies and recruits worldwide as well as the region. One gets the impression that the new Allied Commander-in-Chief, General Petraeus seems to thoroughly understand this point. One only hopes that the rest of the American administration does as well before it is too late.