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22 June 2011


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Charlie Wilson

"queer the pitch"

I love it.

William R. Cumming

Terrific post and an analysis that seems irrefutable IMO.

The only real defect IMO is that China, India, Russia and others are still in the "Great Game" in Afghanistan.


I can just see the picture on the faces of some of the Western world's mining company executives who were all in a lather to get at Afghanistan's precious minerals. Guess they'll have to 'deal with the locals' if they want a piece of the action.


Brigadier, Colonel,

What is the poor poor Israeli government to do, first their grand 'Greater Israel' plans for Iraq is crumbling around their ears, now their 'security' plans that related to Afghanistan are falling away, what next will we see as their 'great concoction' for the greater Middle East? Now that Bibi/Likud have been scorned by the recently retired Ex-Head of Mossad Dagan and other past Mossad heads for calling their Iran attack plans 'one most stupid things he[Dagan] ever heard of'? What will the poor poor Israeli government do?


Sir doesn't the former northern alliance have have a say in this, not just the Taliban. And isn't there a strong prospect of a partitioned Afghanistan along ethnic lines?

Patrick Lang


A "de facto" partition is inevitable. Since the MSR for our residual CT force will probably run from Bagram north, that is not such a bad thing. pl


Colonel Lang,

I think it is going to be a bit like this for a while -

Tale of Two Cities Chap 2-
"The Dover mail was in its usual genial position that the guard suspected the passengers, the passengers suspected one another and the guard, they all suspected everybody else, and the coachman was sure of nothing but the horses; as to which cattle he could with a clear conscience have taken his oath on the two Testaments that they were not fit for the journey."

USMC 65-72
FBI 72-96


Excellent post FB. Thanks for your analytical perspective. My own feeling is that US policy will continue to be held hostage to our domestic politics. Just like the "War on Drugs", when many politicians ran their campaigns on the "tough on crime" message, we should expect many candidates to run on "tough on terror" platforms or whatever is the next "tough on ...".

The big change clearly has been getting OBL through an intelligence/SF operation. That has created the window to reduce the footprint. In that context and now with the reduction in forces in Afghanistan, my sense is that US relations with Pakistan will get even more estranged. With the US losing strategic interest in the region, I suppose Pakistan, China and India will start their power games in more earnest ensuring the instability of the region.

How do you see the domestic politics in Pakistan evolving as US interest wanes? What do you think will happen to the nexus between elements in the Pakistani military and the jihadis?


Three questions should be asked in the wake of President Obama’s speech on Afghanistan last night. What does it means for the United States’ strategy there – and in Pakistan? Does it represent a qualitative change in official American thinking about its stakes in the region and how figures in the wider ‘war on terror?’ What influences shaped the approach Obama outlined?
Here is a preliminary, and sketchy, attempt to answer them. First, Washington’s goals remain the same. That means a vigorous campaign against the al-Qaeda remnants on both sides of the Durand Line, an unrelenting war of attrition against the Taliban (its leadership above all), a campaign of bolstering anti-Taliban political forces to ensure that they will be minor players in the country’s future, and to secure from a straying Mr. Karzai agreement to accept large American military bases for the foreseeable future. Whatever the odds on achieving these ambitious objectives may have been, they are somewhat lowered by a withdrawal schedule mildly more accelerated than general Petraeus and Secretary gates wanted. Still, the United States will keep there for at least a year and a half a bigger force than the one it had in 2009. At the end of 2012 it will still number more troops than were there in March 2009. As for Pakistan, Obama will continue the relentless, and futile, effort to dictate to the Islamabad leadership an aggressive strategy against all hostile elements. Hence, the risk of a rupture and/or strife within Pakistan will grow. (See story in today's NYT).

This assessment points to an answer for the second question. Mr. Obama’s worldview has not undergone any modification. For all the rhetoric, he still is devoted to creating conditions of zero threat to American security emanating from the region. Too, he has not questioned the goal of a dominant American military presence stretching from the Persian Gulf deep into Central Asia. Perhaps most important, there is no sign of a readiness to engage with other powers to design and implement a broad security system that takes into account the interests and outlook of Iran, Pakistan, India, Russia and China. None of those states will be happy about this. Mr. Obama has no strong foreign policy convictions. But such as they are, they point to following the path first staked out in 2001.

Finally, how do we explain the White House’s readiness commit to a schedule of force reductions that runs against the grain of Petraeus/Gates/Panetta? We have to look at American domestic politics to understand the dynamic within the administration that led to this outcome. Obama’s preoccupation is getting himself reelected. All else pales into relative insignificance. His in-house advisers, Chief of State William Daley and National Security Adviser Thomas Donilon, pushes very hard to reinforce the President’s already strong predisposition to put politics above foreign commitments and goals. The rhetoric about the need to concentrate on domestic needs was similarly inspired. As public support for leaving Afghanistan grows, and as the country’s economic problems fester, it became imperative to cast Afghanistan in this light.
There is reason to believe, nonetheless, that Obama hopes to have it both ways, i.e. a politically rewarding reformulation of America’s position in AfPak and a spinable measure of success in at least preventing an unraveling.


"A "de facto" partition is inevitable. Since the MSR for our residual CT force will probably run from Bagram north, that is not such a bad thing. pl"

But of course that means we are utterly dependent on Russia in the absence of regime change in Iran. The implications for our capacity to compete with China and Russia for predominant influence in Central Asia seem quite ominous to me.

Ultimately this leads to Central Asia being China's highway into the Middle East, giving them a way to bypassing our naval supremacy in the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf.

Patrick Lang


Our residual presence would be small enough to be supplied by air in an emergency but routine supply could be done through russia. that would be better than the Pakistan route as at present. pl



"Ultimately this leads to Central Asia being China's highway into the Middle East, giving them a way to bypassing our naval supremacy in the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf."

Have a look at the Chinese/Afghan/Pakistan/Kashmir border region on Google earth. Imagine a high speed rail link from China racing down the Pamir valley into Afghanistan, then across then to Mashad (Meshed?) in Iran, then on to Iraq, Syria and Turkey.


Don't believe all the Chinese propaganda. They are growing but their present high-speed rail is over budget, cheapened by corruption and inferior materials and the average Chinese can't afford it. China building a high-speed rail to Turkey is a pipe dream.

"With the latest revelations, the shining new emblem of China’s modernization looks more like an example of many of the country’s interlinking problems: top-level corruption, concerns about construction quality and a lack of public input into the planning of large-scale projects.

Questions have also arisen about whether costs and public needs are too often overlooked as the leadership pursues grandiose projects, which some critics say are for vanity or to engender national pride but which are also seen as an effort to pump up growth through massive public works spending."


FB Ali


“With the US losing strategic interest in the region.....”

I do not think that will happen. What Obama has signalled is that the US attempt to dominate the region through a heavy footprint in Afghanistan is going to end. The US will still try to retain a lighter presence there for this purpose. Whether it can succeed remains an open question.

I doubt that the insurgents will accept any settlement with Karzai that permits this. The US is then likely to try what Col Lang has postulated: a de facto partition with the North becoming a US client. There are many serious difficulties to achieving this. There is no clear ethnic dividing line: Pashtuns in sizeable numbers are to be found in many parts of the North (their allegiance will be to the Pashtun government in Kabul, whatever its complexion). All Afghans (Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks, and the rest) are weary of unending war; this also applies to the leaders in the North (they would much rather enjoy their vast, recently acquired wealth in peace). Partition would be a recipe for continued conflict. The one group which will be most motivated to continue fighting are the Afghan and Pakistan jihadis; they will not rest as long as a US-dominated enclave exists.

Ultimately, the US may have to go further north to find a CT base, where it will come up against Russian and Chinese strategic interests, and, of course, local jihadis. A much better bet will probably be the Gulf sheikhdoms ─ while they last.

Patrick Lang

FB alli

Not exactly what I have in mind but if it happens... pl


One might envision a scenario in Sept whereby the US/IMF declined to use its money to save the looted Afghan banking system. What happens if we don't cover the theft and the ANA/ANP and bureaucracy aren't paid by Karzai?

And in Pakistan, where we are generally despised, what if Congress took a long and lengthy look at the situation before providing additional funds? Armies must be paid. The Chinese generally do not provide cash with foreign aid and the Saudi's have issues closer to home now to worry about.

Besides the military spending and heroin, what else is really happening there? Speculative copper rights? Talk of Chinese high speed rail through Afghan warlord and Taliban toll booths? Not likely.

Perhaps we cannot buy allegiances, but we might occasionally rent them where we can. And in the end, maybe that and an occasional punitive raid is all we need to leave a lasting impression where needed.

FB Ali

Col Lang,

I was actually projecting beyond your idea, i.e, that the present US force would be replaced with a much smaller CT force based primarily at Bagram. If Karzai arrives at an agreement with the insurgents, this would not be permitted. The US then might try to effect a de facto break by the North from the South, and move its CT force to the North.

If there is no agreement, the war will go on and, at some point in time, the insurgency will take over Kabul (the Afghan army can delay it for a while, but will not be able to prevent it). That could then result in a de facto partition, with the US moving its CT base to the North.

I listed some of the problems that maintaining this base in the North is likely to encounter.

Ken Hoop

The "improvement" in Iraq to which Mr. Ali refers is like the "improvement" in my Spanish grade in college one semester.

Wherein the instructor agreed to give me a "D" on the condition I didn't take the course the following semsester.


Obama's war strategy has been pretty obvious since he got the job. We should bear in mind he's a smart lawyer, a skilled politician, has a cool personality & is a deliberate decision-maker.

He knows he's no military genius (that's why he wanted Republican Gates to stay & why he's ok w/ Petraeus - at least the guy's smart). He gave the military / national security elites just about everything they wanted - to the great disappointment of the left - & the right's befuddlement (didn't stop 'em from bitchin', but what does?). He merely insisted that OBL be killed (must've been on his ToDo Before Next Election list) - thus the years of intense death-by-drones ops.

What the NatSec industry overlooked ('cause they never have to take a Pres too seriously?) was the quid pro quo... "ok, you can have your damned war for 4 more years, but no matter what, I'll be shutting it down to moot its impact on my next campaign."

That season is upon us & he's got his own job to do - get re-elected. It doesn't surprise me the Princes of Power weren't listening & are now upset - they're not accustomed to determined adversary - at home.

Patrick Lang

FB Ali

I agree. pl

William R. Cumming

It would be of interest to know if President Obama thinks the USA has succeeded or failed in Afghanistan or whether his decisions are solely political calculation?


I found this article interesting with regard to the rise of anti-US advisers to Karzai and their bias toward Pakistan, Iran and China.

Shah Alam

Obama is certainly reading the bigger picture right vis-a-vis the hawks: any further delay in drawing down the troops can adversely and perennially affect the economy at home. If he doesn't take effective steps now to wrest the economic slide down, further delay may inflict an irreversible damage. He also knows that the so called victory, no matter how any one defines it, is pretty much a mirage.

Obama has some victory and a kind of face-saving to claim in the shape of Bin Laden's killing and he couldn't have timed it better to start getting troops out yet leaving the remaining on ground to re-assess for a just-in-case situation.

The end game will end in poetic justice with , like FB says, US likely leaving in helicopters - though without EVER learning a lesson. And Karzai will either have to negotiate with the Taliban to arrange for a genuinely representative government or surrender to Taliban. Either way, it will prove (to US) that a non-representative government cannot last indefinitely.

What remains to be seen though is what happens in Pakistan. US has churned enough trouble in that country for it to take care of it on its own since the US is already hinting at reviewing its aid programme.


The key to unlock our Af-Pak problem lies right at hand: Iran.

The larger strategic aspect (from a US perspective) of Af-Pak is its function as an access corridor (independent of Russia) to Central Asia. Central Asia as a buffer zone helps protect US dominance in the Persian Gulf and ME from increasing Chinese influence.

If the US gave up its compulsive campaign to overthrow the Iranian government and reached an entente with Iran, the strategic value of the Af-Pak corridor would diminish significantly. Iran is the keystone, the nexus between the ME, Central Asia and South Asia. It can serve both as a bulwark of US strategy in the ME and the best possible transit corridor for influence into and energy out of Central Asia.

We are throwing away our inherent competitive advantage with the Iranians to pursue a pointless vendetta, pushing them into China's arms. We have the most incompetent, disloyal strategists in history running our foreign policy.

As for Pakistan, we've done so much damage to our long-term position there, it's just unbelievable. Some sort of inept attempt to support Baluchi separatists will probably be the icing on our cake of strategic incompetence.

Charles I

J google Israel Leviathan field

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