Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Khalilzad: It’s still the economy, stupid!

My CNAS colleague Iranga Kahangama went to see former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad speak at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. This is his report: While the intended purpose was to discuss what is at stake for the U.S. in Afghanistan, I found myself more intrigued by the discussion of ...

575469_091216_RicksKhalilzad2.jpg
575469_091216_RicksKhalilzad2.jpg

My CNAS colleague Iranga Kahangama went to see former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad speak at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. This is his report:

While the intended purpose was to discuss what is at stake for the U.S. in Afghanistan, I found myself more intrigued by the discussion of internal economic development in Afghanistan that actually dominated the night.

My CNAS colleague Iranga Kahangama went to see former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad speak at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. This is his report:

While the intended purpose was to discuss what is at stake for the U.S. in Afghanistan, I found myself more intrigued by the discussion of internal economic development in Afghanistan that actually dominated the night.

Ambassador Khalilzad raised two key economic points worth examining. First, with all the talk of investing in small Afghan businesses and building the economy through local entrepreneurs, we seem to have forgotten the behemoth investment firm in Afghanistan that is the United States Military. Khalilzad stressed the importance of using the military’s purchasing power, and how procurement with an “Afghan first” mentality could help build up an Afghan economy. He mentioned having to drink bottled water from Dubai and eat German fruit while serving in Afghanistan, but these goods were available in Afghanistan too, just not institutionalized.  With over 30,000 more troops headed into the country, the military can create not only major demand, but a demand significantly financed through DOD’s budget to stimulate the economy.

(Read on)

Secondly, he stressed the need for wider diplomacy to facilitate Afghanistan into a better regional context. Specifically, the Ambassador stated multiple times that it was possible to eventually see Afghanistan serve as a land-bridge, connecting central Asia to south Asia. By developing trade routes, roads, and railroads in Afghanistan, it can serve as a means for trading, and to exchange south Asia’s abundant raw materials with central Asian goods and services. By serving as a connecting hub for the region, Afghanistan would lessen the outside threats it faced from its neighbors, in addition to growing economically. 

However, while these serve as great take away points to consider, it is really the absence of action in these arenas that should be most concerning. The event was truly symbolic of how the mindset of policymakers should be working. The night started off with an analysis of our military and national security strategies, but quickly moved into a discussion about the internal political and economic development of Afghanistan. The time has come to entrust our military and its leaders, instead of endlessly debating timetables and withdrawal dates. We as a society, and as a polity, should be moving on to figure out the development and civilian capacity needs of Afghanistan after our military succeeds. It may not be 1992 anymore, but guess what? It’s still the economy, stupid! 

MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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