By Fareed Zakaria
The American public has lost interest in the Iraq war. A topic that was at the center of the national political debate is now barely mentioned in passing. The country has decided to move on, rather than debate whether the war was worth it - though for the vast majority of Americans, the answer to that question would be a decided, “no”.
Yet, it was the most significant military conflict that the United States has been in since the Vietnam War, and so it is worth asking – ten years after it began - what lessons might be learned from the war, aftermath, and occupation. Here is my list:
Bring enough troops. The Bush administration chose to go to war with Iraq in a manner that would make it relatively easy politically. It drew up plans for a small invading army and insisted that the costs would be minimal – silencing those within and without the Pentagon who suggested otherwise. In the first phase of the war, toppling Saddam’s army, the plan worked fine. But as the mission turned from invasion to occupation, the military’s “light footprint” proved to be a deadly problem. Iraq moved quickly towards chaos and civil war, under the eyes of American troops who could do little to prevent it. The lesson of the Balkans’ conflicts in the 1990s had been to have a much larger force, by some calculations four times larger than the United States had in Iraq. But that lesson was not learned in 2003. The next time, if it’s worth going to war, it’s worth staffing it properly.
By Jeffrey Mankoff, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Jeffrey Mankoff is deputy director and fellow with the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Russia and Eurasia Program. The views expressed are his own.
The Obama Administration has faced some tough criticism for supposedly cutting and running from Afghanistan. Less attention has been paid to the impact of the U.S. withdrawal on neighboring Central Asia, which has enjoyed substantial strategic and financial gains from U.S. and allied operations in Afghanistan. The withdrawal of foreign attention and assistance risks exacerbating the two biggest dangers to Central Asia’s stability: rivalries among the region’s states and the breakdown of governance within them. Rising instability in Central Asia in turn is a threat to U.S. interests because of its potential to undermine Afghanistan’s postwar transition (providing an outlet for Afghan drugs as well as a potential refuge for extremists) and to foster regional conflict.
The good news is that with its own dependence on access to Afghanistan through Central Asia set to decline, the United States has an opportunity to play a more constructive role in both promoting regional cooperation and encouraging reform, reducing the potential for Central Asia to become a source of broader instability in the years ahead.
By Fareed Zakaria
China’s one-child policy may have left those born under it less trusting and less trustworthy, suggests a new study reported on in the New York Times.
“In a game involving trust, test subjects were paired with anonymous partners,” the NYT said. “Player One was given 100 renminbi (about $16) and invited to pass it along to Player Two. The money would then be tripled, and Player Two could pass some of it back.”
“Players born after the one-child policy was instituted were less likely to pass money along than the older participants,” it said of the research, which appeared in Science.
Also on China, Beijing has this past week been suffering from pollution levels that are literally off the charts, James Fallows notes in The Atlantic. The U.S. embassy in the city has for some time been releasing its own readings of air pollution on a dedicated Twitter account. For several hours at the weekend, the level of PM 2.5 small-particulate pollution topped 800, putting it “beyond scale” (levels in the low 300s are considered hazardous, Fallows says).
By Ahmad Majidyar, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Ahmad Majidyar is a senior research associate at the American Enterprise Institute, focusing on Afghanistan and Pakistan. The views expressed are the author’s own.
President Barack Obama will meet Afghan President Hamid Karzai today at the White House to assess the progress of the war and discuss America’s future role in Afghanistan. The two leaders are expected to talk about a wide range of issues, particularly concerning security transition to the Afghan lead, reconciliation with the Taliban, and Afghanistan’s presidential elections slated for April 2014. At the top of the meeting agenda, however, will be a discussion over the nature, scope and obligations of a residual U.S. military footprint in Afghanistan after the foreign combat mission there ends next year. Three key issues are likely to be contentious in the talks: legal immunity for U.S. soldiers, transfer of detention facilities to the Afghan government, and Kabul’s request for advanced military equipment.
The immunity issue, which derailed negotiations for a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between the U.S. and Iraq in late 2011, will be the most sensitive one. A postwar U.S. military presence in Afghanistan is inconceivable unless American soldiers are granted protection from local prosecution. Nonetheless, while Karzai might use the question of immunity as leverage to extract concessions from the White House, the issue is unlikely to be a deal breaker this time. Kabul will be more flexible than Baghdad in negotiating a SOFA with Washington because, unlike oil-rich Iraq, Afghanistan’s economy is almost entirely dependent on foreign aid. Moreover, the Afghan government requires U.S. and NATO help to fund, train, and equip its 350,000 security personnel for many years beyond 2014.
By Malou Innocent, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Malou Innocent is a foreign policy analyst at the Cato Institute. The views expressed are the author’s own.
It is fitting that Afghan President Hamid Karzai visits Washington this week after months of wrangling over the fiscal cliff. Americans descry their country’s massive debt and oppose an 11-year war funded largely through deficit spending. Karzai’s trip provides the American people with a subtle reminder of President Barack Obama’s proclamation that it’s time to do “nation building at home.” In keeping with that pledge, the president should scale-back expectations of America’s long-term civil-military assistance to Afghanistan when he meets with Karzai on Friday.
Some in Washington charge that opposition to an indefinite presence or ongoing assistance amounts to abandonment, defeatism, and throwing up our hands and just walking away. Not so. It stems from a judgment of whether the benefits will offset the costs. Over the last four years, U.S. officials committed increasing levels of military and economic means without offering any hope of achieving a stable, political end. Whether the effort was “clear, hold, build” or “government-in-a-box,” part of the problem was that Kabul’s interests and Washington’s were always gravely misaligned, be it on drone strikes, night raids, detention policy, regional relations, expatriate behavior, anti-corruption measures, or foreign immunity. Those outstanding differences persist amid deeper questions over how the coalition plans to reach a broader political settlement and stem the country’s slide toward civil war during its planned transition and the country’s upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections.
This is the latest in a series of entries looking at what we can expect in 2013. Each weekday, a guest analyst will look at the key challenges facing a selected country – and what next year might hold in store.
By Juan Cole, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Juan Cole is the Richard P. Mitchell Professor of History and director of the Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies at the University of Michigan. He maintains the popular blog, Informed Comment.
What does 2013 have in store for Afghanistan? As NATO and U.S. forces begin leaving in the thousands, and as their combat mission ends this coming year, can the green Afghanistan National Army take up the slack? With violence now higher than in 2009 when the Obama administration’s troop escalation was decided on, can any progress be made on political reconciliation? Will President Hamid Karzai resign and hold early elections for his successor, as he has suggested? Is there any hope for a more robust economy and a semblance of good governance, as financial scandals continue to rock Kabul? How will regional powers such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, India and Russia position themselves as Afghanistan moves out of the North Atlantic sphere of influence?
The Obama administration will certainly withdraw some of the 68,000 U.S. troops currently in Afghanistan throughout 2013, though the timetable and the number to be pulled out have still not been decided. Gen. John Allen, outgoing commander of U.S. forces and of the International Security Assistance Forces in country reportedly wants to delay any further withdrawals until fall of next year. (Some 34,000 troops came out in 2012). Allen’s hand was presumably weakened in November, however, when he was reportedly investigated over inappropriate communications with Tampa socialite Jill Kelley, as part of the fallout of an FBI investigation of CIA director, David Petraeus. He will be succeeded in 2013 by another Marine, Gen. Joseph “Fighting Joe” Dunford, who spent 22 months in the Iraq War.
By Heather Barr, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Heather Barr is Human Rights Watch’s Afghanistan researcher. Follow her @HeatherBarr1. The views expressed are her own.
In Afghanistan, this year’s observance of International Human Rights Day, December 10, began with the murder of a rights advocate.
An unknown gunman shot and killed Najia Sediqi, acting head of the Afghan government’s Department of Women's Affairs in the eastern province of Laghman, as she traveled to work that morning. Sediqi’s murder is appalling, but not surprising.
Sediqi had held her post only a few months following the murder of her predecessor, Hanifa Safi. Safi was killed on July 13, when an improvised explosive device attached to her car was remotely detonated. Safi’s husband and daughter and six other civilians were wounded. No one has claimed responsibility for Safi's murder, nor for Sediqi’s. There have been no arrests in either case.
By Javid Ahmad, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Javid Ahmad is a program coordinator for Asia at the German Marshall Fund of the United States. The views expressed here are his own.
Now that President Barack Obama has been reelected for a second term, the White House is reportedly reevaluating its mission in Afghanistan, once again igniting the debate over the level of residual American forces that will remain in the country after 2014. That date marks the point when the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) – which includes the army and the police – take the lead responsibility for Afghanistan’s security. And, while the exact size of the post-2014 deployment is still unclear, it seems the number of residual American troops might range from between 10,000 and 15,000, in addition to a few thousand international troops.
The transition process is incredibly delicate, as it will be important to ensure that the Afghan army and the police are in a position to manage Afghanistan’s security. This means determining the precise role of residual troops, the type of missions they will conduct, the number of bases they will require, and just as importantly, the nature of their relationship with the Afghan government, the ANSF, and the Afghan people. Some of these ambiguities will be clarified in a bilateral security pact between Kabul and Washington, expected to be concluded by May 2013.
By Moeed Yusuf & Thomas Lynch, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Moeed Yusuf is the South Asia adviser at the U.S. Institute of Peace and Thomas Lynch is a distinguished research fellow at National Defense University. The opinions expressed here are theirs alone, not those of their institutions or the U.S. government.
U.S. peacemaking efforts in Afghanistan ultimately depend on a holistic, regional approach that mostly involves India and Pakistan.
In 2014, Afghanistan faces both the drawdown of American forces and the election of President Hamid Karzai’s successor, both significant transitions. The bid to create a stable post-2014 Afghanistan can only go so far without dealing directly with the intense rivalry between India and Pakistan – vested neighbors and nuclear regional kingpins. Yet despite recent positive overtures between the two sides, Pakistan continues to be deeply troubled by an increased Indian presence on its western border, while India is adamant to prevent Pakistan’s complete hold over Afghanistan.
By Gareth Price, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Gareth Price is senior research fellow on the Asia Program at Chatham House. The views expressed are his own.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s visit this week to India highlighted the strengthening relationship between the two countries. While India has invested heavily in a range of development projects in Afghanistan since 2002, its emergence as a political player is relatively new, considering that as recently as January 2010, and under Pakistani pressure, India was excluded from a conference in Istanbul discussing security in Afghanistan. Deteriorating relations between the United States and Pakistan, and the subsequent announcement of 2014 as the year of “transition” changed the West’s attitude towards India’s role. By June of this year, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was urging India to play a more active role in Afghanistan.
While there had been speculation prior to Karzai’s India visit that the two countries would agree to scale up training of Afghan army officers, in the end the main focus was on economic engagement. Under the Istanbul process of regional engagement, India had already agreed to lead work on increasing regional interaction among chambers of commerce, and on commercial opportunities in the region. It has also hosted an investment summit for Afghanistan. On the trip, Karzai reiterated that Afghanistan was open to Indian business.
By Javid Ahmad, Special CNN
Editor’s note: Javid Ahmad, a native of Kabul, is a program coordinator with the Asia Program of the German Marshall Fund of the United States in Washington, D.C. The views expressed are his own.
The war in Afghanistan was largely ignored in the lead up to the U.S. presidential election. But with a second term now confirmed for President Barack Obama, Kabul is once again vying for Washington’s attention.
Over the next two years, Afghanistan faces three important transitions – political, security, and economic – of which the viability of all are dependent upon U.S. financial commitment. A bilateral security agreement is currently being negotiated between Washington and Kabul, and this will supersede the current status of forces agreement and guarantee a lighter military footprint for the foreseeable future to assist the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and pursue counterterrorism objectives. And, while Afghanistan’s donor-drunk economy will continue to rely on open-ended financial support from foreign donors for some years, the country’s political transition seems to be on track, with the next presidential vote set for April 5, 2014.
But in the immediate future, the key challenge for Washington is to revitalize the stalled peace talks with the Taliban, discussions that could help put an end to the ongoing deadly confrontations. If withdrawing responsibly in 2014 is indeed high on President Obama’s agenda, then he has little choice but to prioritize and accelerate the peace talks, negotiate a ceasefire between all sides, and reach a settlement that ensures that the Taliban lay down their weapons. If Washington is not serious about pursuing such talks, it should be talking about possible contingencies should post-2014 plans not go as hoped.
Barack Obama has won reelection as America’s president. But while the economy – and avoiding the so-called fiscal cliff – will inevitably take up much of his time, there are numerous foreign policy challenges facing the next administration. GPS asked 10 leading foreign policy analysts to name 10 things that Obama should focus on next. The views expressed are, of course, the authors' own.
Keep Arab Spring on track
By Kenneth Roth
Kenneth Roth is executive director of Human Rights Watch.
The biggest human rights challenge facing President Obama in his second term is finding ways to help keep on track the reform agenda that launched the Arab Spring. Most important is ending the horrible slaughter of civilians in Syria. Obama should stop pretending that Russia’s and China’s obstructionism absolves the U.S. of responsibility to continue ratcheting up pressure to stop the atrocities.
In Egypt, the regional trendsetter, Obama has properly said he respects the election that brought the Muslim Brotherhood to power, but now he should press the government, like all others, to respect basic rights, including of women and minorities. In Libya, Obama should stop treating the country as a “mission accomplished” and actively help elected authorities build the rule of law. And Obama should keep his promise to “promote reform across the region” and stop the discrediting double standard of making exceptions for U.S. allies, whether friendly monarchs or Israel.