Shadow Government

The top 10 variables in Obama’s “Af-Pak” policy

By Philip Zelikow I entirely sympathize with the Obama administration’s stated objectives for its new Pakistan-Afghanistan strategy. I hope they can accomplish them. On the surface, President Obama’s strategy review seems to have reaffirmed and extended the core conclusions of the review done in the last months of the Bush administration, overseen by Lt. Gen. ...

By Philip Zelikow

I entirely sympathize with the Obama administration’s stated objectives for its new Pakistan-Afghanistan strategy. I hope they can accomplish them.

On the surface, President Obama’s strategy review seems to have reaffirmed and extended the core conclusions of the review done in the last months of the Bush administration, overseen by Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute. I’m not sure this is true, but it seems so from the publicly available information. Certainly some of the key players from that review (like the Secretary of Defense, the theater commander, and Lute himself) are still in place, and the views of the current national security adviser (Jim Jones) were factored into the previous work.

Though I am sympathetic to the administration’s objectives, I just do not have an informed opinion about its proposed strategy to achieve them.  I’m happy to read and learn from the views of others who feel they know more.

To be more specific, below are ten variables I don’t understand well enough. I understand the administration’s reticence on most of these points.  But I can’t form much of an opinion without filling in these blanks.

The variables are listed in rough order of importance.  You’ll see that all of the Pakistani ones come first.

Top Ten Analytic Variables (as of March 2009):

1. A quality assessment of Pakistani intentions and capabilities, underpinned by a deep, candid assessment of the country’s general prospects.

2. U.S. policy to hedge against the more likely risks that may lie ahead in Pakistan.

3. Policy on how to deal with increasingly open Taliban base areas in Quetta and Baluchistan (western Pakistan).

4. Analysis of current and new aid programs to Pakistan.

5. Policy for how the United States would attempt to enforce its nominal benchmarks on Pakistani actions.

6. Analysis of how U.S. troops in Afghanistan will be employed. I understand the new training piece. But what about the city/village/provincial security piece? Is this, in its essence, a stabilize/train/withdraw strategy or a clear/hold/build strategy?

7. Policy for how the U.S. would attempt to enforce its nominal benchmarks on Afghan actions.

8. If the United States becomes the indispensable funder of the enlarged Afghan Army and Police for the foreseeable future (not the case in Iraq), doesn’t this make Afghanistan a protectorate of the United States? If so, to what extent is the United States accountable, and responsible, for the selection and performance and behavior of army and police commanders?   (I’ll leave off the issue of civilian leaders …)

9. Analysis of the new strategy’s counter-narcotics approach for Afghanistan and Pakistan, including the "new" emphasis on crop substitution. Is it Afghan/Pakistani/U.S./NATO policy to seek out and destroy drug labs and target principal traffickers? Are we and our local allies planning to allocate resources and forces that have a plausible chance to perform this mission?

10. Analysis of current policy for the detention and judicial handling of enemy captives in Afghanistan.

I have not listed the UN, NATO, or World Bank variables. Or the issues of civilian capabilities or PRTs. Or the details of police training/field mentoring — though all of these are very, very important too.

Philip Zelikow is the White Burkett Miller Professor of History at the University of Virginia. He is also a former government official, having held posts in five previous administrations.
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