Cordesman: Afghanistan ‘won’t be solved by moving out of Iraq’
Anthony Cordesman; Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images Yesterday, I attended the Jane’s U.S. Defense Conference, an annual gathering bringing together American and European defense industry representatives with national-security officials. The theme of this year’s conference was “the outlook for policy and defense business under the next presidency,” an appropriate enough subject for the day of the ...
Anthony Cordesman; Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images
Yesterday, I attended the Jane’s U.S. Defense Conference, an annual gathering bringing together American and European defense industry representatives with national-security officials. The theme of this year’s conference was “the outlook for policy and defense business under the next presidency,” an appropriate enough subject for the day of the Pennsylvania primary.
There was an overwhelming sense at the conference that despite billions more dollars in defense spending, the United States is not adequately preparing for the threats of the 21st century, nor is it giving the “warfighters” the resources they need to achieve victory. Major General Charles J. Dunlap of the U.S. Air Force, for instance, worried that an overemphasis on counterinsurgency was leading the U.S. to ignore the possibility of warfare with a “peer country” (read: China). Former Under-Secretary for Defense Acquisition Jacques Gansler argued that protectionism and the prioritization of congressional pork projects were causing the misuse of defense resources, necessitating a law stipulating that “Congress should not be making defense-acqisition decisions.” The State Department’s Deputy Director of Policy Planning Kori Schake lamented the miniscule size of her own agency’s budget relative to defense, saying that every one of State’s problems could be “traced back to chronic underfunding.”
Oddly enough in a discussion of current national-defense priorities, Iraq and Afghanistan hardly came up until near the end of the day, when the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Anthony Cordesman gave a briefing on both conflicts. Given the weakness of both countries’ political institutions, Cordesman feels that the term “counterinsurgency” ought to be abandoned altogether in favor of “armed nation-building.” Since Cordesman sees far more progress toward this goal in Iraq, I asked him if troop withdrawal there would increase the likelihood of success in Afghanistan:
If we can move forward in Iraq in ways that seem possible, we may be down to 10 brigrades by 2009. You can’t suddenly move those brigades to Afghanistan. They require retraining. They will have to be re-equipped and restructed to fight a different kind of war on different terrain, dealing with a different culture with different values.
I also have to say that while troops are important… far more important are the aid teams and advisory teams… rapid turnover of deployments in a country where personal relationships are even more important than they are in Iraq, the inability to take aid workers out into the field where they are really needed… The problem isn’t troop levels and it won’t be solved by moving out of Iraq.”
It seems ironic that the takeaway message of a national-defense conference was that what we traditionally think of as defense can only do so much. The next president’s foreign-policy team will need to learn to walk and chew gum at the same time if it wants to begin to address the problems left over from the current one.
Joshua Keating is a former associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating
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