Questions from a skeptic

But back to skepticism, here are a few questions that linger in my mind listening to the president describe his new AfPak plan: $1.5 billion a year to Pakistan? I understand why we need this and why for a while it will send the message to the Pakistanis that it is intended to send: that ...

But back to skepticism, here are a few questions that linger in my mind listening to the president describe his new AfPak plan:

$1.5 billion a year to Pakistan? I understand why we need this and why for a while it will send the message to the Pakistanis that it is intended to send: that Richard Holbrooke is a powerful guy and he can deliver for them. I kid. The point is that we as a country are there for them. But watch this space. The money will be lost, stolen, wasted and those to whom we want to direct it either won't get it or alternatively, will lose power and we will end up suspending it or paying it to an even worse group of people. The money will change the tenor of diplomatic meetings and photo ops but the likelihood that it enduringly wins hearts and minds is pretty close to zilch. Will we really be glad to have a well-trained 200,000 person army in Afghanistan? In the near term yes, but things have a way of changing in that part of the world. I think we have to do it, but proceed with caution. The commitment to civil side support is essential...in the plan and in the foreign aid budget overall...but it will be less productive than ideal unless we revamp our whole approach to nation-building beginning with admitting that we hate it, we are lousy at it and that it is the main mission we have been doing for the past several decades...which means we need to get better at it. This'll take new rules allowing us to force civil side officials to go to zones like this, a civil-side Goldwater Nichols to ensure coordination and common missions and methods, and a hard-nosed view as to what we can't do. I get what they're doing re: the Taliban. But as I have said before, I wonder if there are enough moderate Taliban to serve our purposes. Further, while I enthusiastically support our efforts to help women and girls in Afghanistan, I am not sure this will help us with big chunks of the populace and it may actually empower the more extremist elements in the population at just the time we are trying to coopt them through outreach to the moderates. I know we want Pakistan to be our ally. I get it. But calling them one is a little like calling a cloud in the sky a tiger or a racing car just because it happens to look like one at the moment. Oh...and...exit strategy? While we're pondering one, know that our enemies are counting on the irrefutable fact that we must have one. Whenever it comes, they declare victory.

But, other than that, a pretty good policy launch by the Obama national security team.    

But back to skepticism, here are a few questions that linger in my mind listening to the president describe his new AfPak plan:

  • $1.5 billion a year to Pakistan? I understand why we need this and why for a while it will send the message to the Pakistanis that it is intended to send: that Richard Holbrooke is a powerful guy and he can deliver for them. I kid. The point is that we as a country are there for them. But watch this space. The money will be lost, stolen, wasted and those to whom we want to direct it either won’t get it or alternatively, will lose power and we will end up suspending it or paying it to an even worse group of people. The money will change the tenor of diplomatic meetings and photo ops but the likelihood that it enduringly wins hearts and minds is pretty close to zilch.
  • Will we really be glad to have a well-trained 200,000 person army in Afghanistan? In the near term yes, but things have a way of changing in that part of the world. I think we have to do it, but proceed with caution.
  • The commitment to civil side support is essential…in the plan and in the foreign aid budget overall…but it will be less productive than ideal unless we revamp our whole approach to nation-building beginning with admitting that we hate it, we are lousy at it and that it is the main mission we have been doing for the past several decades…which means we need to get better at it. This’ll take new rules allowing us to force civil side officials to go to zones like this, a civil-side Goldwater Nichols to ensure coordination and common missions and methods, and a hard-nosed view as to what we can’t do.
  • I get what they’re doing re: the Taliban. But as I have said before, I wonder if there are enough moderate Taliban to serve our purposes. Further, while I enthusiastically support our efforts to help women and girls in Afghanistan, I am not sure this will help us with big chunks of the populace and it may actually empower the more extremist elements in the population at just the time we are trying to coopt them through outreach to the moderates.
  • I know we want Pakistan to be our ally. I get it. But calling them one is a little like calling a cloud in the sky a tiger or a racing car just because it happens to look like one at the moment.
  • Oh…and…exit strategy? While we’re pondering one, know that our enemies are counting on the irrefutable fact that we must have one. Whenever it comes, they declare victory.

But, other than that, a pretty good policy launch by the Obama national security team.    

David Rothkopf is visiting professor at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs and visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. His latest book is The Great Questions of Tomorrow. He has been a longtime contributor to Foreign Policy and was CEO and editor of the FP Group from 2012 to May 2017. Twitter: @djrothkopf

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