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May 28, 2013

Fault-Lines in Afghanistan’s Political Settlement

April 15, 2013 by

A member of the U.S. military conducts a patrol in Wardak province, Afghanistan

During 2013 the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) will continue to reduce its footprint in Afghanistan as coalition partners rapidly withdraw troops ahead of the end of the NATO Afghan mandate in 2014. However, 2014 will not be the end of the US or the International Community’s (IC) mission in Afghanistan. 2014 will mark the beginning of a new chapter for IC engagement in Afghanistan. To be successful NATO and the IC must immediately take several aggressive steps in order to prepare for the political transition.

Significant efforts have been made both in Europe and the US to set the stage for negotiations with the Taliban. The hope is that such negotiations will ready Afghanistan for a more productive post-2014 political environment. Despite the international community’s presence in country for more then a decade, these discussions are premature because of the inability of the Afghans and the IC to push for a robust internal Afghan political settlement. If Afghans cannot get along with each other internally, they certainly cannot coherently negotiate with an external force.

Rather than focusing on settling disputes between competing factions within the Afghan government in order to create a coherent and effective Afghan government, the IC has left such discussions up to the Afghans, and in doing so has allowed for the continuation of the inept and corrupt Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GIRoA). In many respects this failure can be traced to the reason the IC remains in Afghanistan. Except for security, IC support in Afghanistan has failed to reform its political system, advance its economy significantly, or address systemic corruption in any substantive way. This failure is the result of competing internal political factions within the Afghan government.

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Chuck Hagel’s Confirmation Hearing: Neocons Search for Relevance

February 5, 2013 by

President Barack Obama and former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2009. Image via WBUR

Chuck Hagel’s going over at the hands of Republican members of the Senate Armed Services Committee was more than an argument over political and policy differences; it was another spasm in the efforts of neoconservatives to define U.S. security policy in their own image.

Chuck Hagel, a Republican former two-term senator from Nebraska, had once been considered one of the neoconservatives’ own, at least for a while. After joining the Senate in 1997, he quickly became one of Republican Sen. John McCain’s more avid wingmen. He helped run the Arizonan’s 2000 campaign for the party’s presidential nomination. Hagel also voted for the 2002 resolution to authorize U.S. action against Iraq, the precursor to the March 2003 invasion.

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Firefight with Taliban through a Helmet Cam in Logar Province

January 27, 2013 by

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Afghanistan’s Long Road to Gender Equality

January 8, 2013 by

An Afghan woman teaches a class of girls in the Rukhshana School on March 11, 2002

In all countries with troops still on the ground in Afghanistan there is steadily growing public feeling that the sooner their armed forces are out of the war there the better. And hopefully with minimal further injury and loss of life.

While the various home governments will no doubt spin the line of how successful the deployment has been, we should have no doubt that post-International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) Afghanistan will be a very difficult place. Not just in terms of the country’s obvious ongoing political fragility, but also with respect to its socio-cultural environment and in particular, the subordinate situation of women.

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Congressional Self-Assessment Board Necessary to Preserve National Security

December 6, 2012 by

In recent years, political agendas have begun to trump the best interests of the nation. The United States Congress is in a constant state of gridlock and seems unable to put party politics aside to invest in a strategic vision to protect and advance U.S. interests. In order to strengthen U.S. national security, Congress must be a fully functioning and cohesive entity. In the current state of U.S. politics, however, Congress is abdicating its responsibility to play this vital role. Reforming Congress should be a priority in the coming years, spearheaded by an intensive review conducted by its members. Without internal reform, Congressional paralysis will continue to directly threaten U.S. national security.

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US Leaders Sending Mixed Messages on Afghanistan

December 6, 2012 by

After more than a decade at war, The United States’ leaders are still unable to decide on a single policy in Afghanistan, with some still searching for reasons to stay while others are ready to move on.

On one side, the U.S. Senate, in a notable show of bipartisanship, voted 62-33 last week to accelerate the withdrawal of the remaining U.S. combat forces from Afghanistan ahead of the official 2014 drawdown date.  The measure’s sponsor, Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon), argued that Al Qaeda’s influence in Afghanistan is minimal, and that counterterrorism operations should focus on terrorist strongholds elsewhere.

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Review of Thomas P.M. Barnett’s The Pentagon’s New Map

December 3, 2012 by

The Pentagon’s New Map
by Thomas P.M. Barnett While in graduate school, I had the opportunity to study the theories and strategies involved in post-conflict reconstruction and security stabilization efforts throughout the world. As in all international relations courses, we delved into case studies and analyzed the successes and inadequacies found in the individual scenarios, and, as a student at a military college, the ones centering on America’s response to situations overseas elicited many fascinating, in-depth discussions on the Pentagon’s role in reconstruction efforts.

With topics focusing primarily on how to develop and implement security frameworks to not only end conflicts but also insure they do not arise, again, in the near-term, it seemed to me that the conversations focused primarily on short-term objectives, rather than the long-term dynamics important when implementing post-conflict stabilization efforts. We were not discussing how the US military could become more effectively involved in interagency and intergovernmental operations on the ground that would afford it the ability to assist in producing a viable infrastructure for national renewal.

I agreed with the strategies underpinning the US military’s security initiatives but felt the short-sighted policies failed to seize the opportunity to formally rebuild and, thus, integrate the war-torn nation into the global system. Why does the international community seem unwilling to acknowledge that short-term policies create nothing more than a revolving door for future foreign interventions? What needs to occur within the US military to formulate a new strategy that would assist in reinforcing modernization efforts in failing states, which would eventually lead to a more cohesive world community?

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US Foreign Policy in Central and South Asia

December 1, 2012 by

U.S. Air Force Capt. Nick Morgans protects a simulated casualty from flying debris as an HH-60 Pave Hawk lands during a mass casualty exercise near Kandahar, Afghanistan, Dec. 24, 2010

From the ice-bound passes of the Hindu Kush to the blazing heat of the Karakum Desert, Central Asia is a sub-continent steeped in illusion. For more than two millennia conquerors have been lured by the mirage that it is a gateway to immense wealth: China to the east, India to the south, Persia to the west, and to the north, the riches of the Caspian basin. Greeks, Persians, Arabs, Mongols, British, and Soviets have all come and gone, leaving behind little more than forgotten graveyards and the detritus of war.  Americans and our NATO allies are next.

It is a cliché that Afghanistan is the graveyard of empires, but a cliché doesn’t mean something is not true, just that it is repeated over and over again until the phrase becomes numbing. It is a tragedy that the US was “numb” to that particular platitude, although we have company. In the past 175 years England has invaded Afghanistan four times.

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The Kardashians voted: Now you have no Excuse

November 6, 2012 by

The ever-preening reality stars, Kim and Kourtney Kardashian let it be known to their millions of fans via social media that they exercised their right to vote. While I find their celebrity status to be undeserved, I will give them credit for exercising their right. Leaving her fans in suspense, Kim Kardashian tweeted her 16,542,488 followers, “Sending in my absentee ballot now!!! Make sure you vote!!!!… I’m filling out my voting card in a room filled w people,everyone is telling me their opinions! Vote how YOU want.” I’ll forgive her butchery of the English language, Twitter only allows for a limited number of characters.

Sadly, the USA Today found that 90 million eligible voters plan to sit this election out. Their reasons vary from too busy, their enthusiasm is lacking or the always popular their vote won’t matter.

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Raising the Stakes in Asia

October 26, 2012 by

Depending on one’s ideological bent, America’s so-called “pivot to Asia” could be interpreted in varying ways. However, one thing that is increasingly clear is that the Obama administration is intent on re-asserting America’s strategic centrality in the Asia-Pacific. This was very explicit in Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s 2011 piece for Foreign Policy, entitled “America’s Pacific Century.”

The U.S. pivot to Asia is motivated and shaped by both economic and military-strategic factors. Essentially, it is still an ongoing process that will depend on the cooperation of regional allies as well as the evolving patterns of Sino-American relations.

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Taking a Bite out of Terror: Battling the Taliban’s Influence in Schools

October 15, 2012 by

A crowd of more than 300 gathered for the first visit by the Paktia Province deputy governor to the Jani Khel district Feb. 15, 2009. It was the first such meeting in the district and many of the locals had never seen their provincial leaders

When US Major Lee and Captain Gil entered Ganat Kahiyl High School in eastern Afghanistan recently, a local teacher slipped them a small note: “The Taliban have visited our school and forced their curriculum upon us. Can the government help?”

This was not an empty threat. Insurgents burned down Sahakh High School in the same district a couple months earlier for teaching girls and the government’s curriculum. Taliban attacks on schools that defy insurgents are reported often, though difficult to confirm because of Taliban influence, say analysts. In fact, the US officers were visiting the school to promote the Village Outreach Program, devised by the local US Army and the district governor of Zormat to battle that type of Taliban influence on schools and children.

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Romney’s Proposed Foreign Policy: Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle

October 9, 2012 by

Stuck in a Cold War, Ozzie and Harriet time warp, Mitt Romney is living in a black and white dream world where America’s foes are easily identifiable and manageable, military solutions are preferred and effective, and America simply cracks a whip and everyone else snaps to attention. This was in clear evidence at yesterday’s VMI speech, in which Romney characterized America as a weak and feckless power under President Obama, and where every enduring high profile conflict in the world has a simple solution and would simply disappear as he waves a magic wand as president.

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A Fatuous Exercise: Australia and the Security Council

September 25, 2012 by

Private Allen Pitt from the Brisbane-based 6th Battalion Royal Australian Regiment maintains a watch as troops from the 1st Reconstruction Task Force patrol the streets of Tarin Kowt in southern Afghanistan. Image via news.com.au

“Australia, for the most part, is invisible in international politics and rarely rates a mention in international media.”

– M. Connors, New Global Politics of the Asia Pacific, 60

Why do countries bother? In a sense, a position as a temporary member on the UN Security Council is merely an award to the best and smoothest briber – such a country can claim some ceremonial status, not more. The gang of five retain their vice like grip on proceedings, allowing some faux respectability to be conferred on the other ten members who do the decent thing and innocuously rotate. Some commentators have been frank enough to identify the farce and call it as it is.

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Green-on-Blue Violence forces NATO shift in Afghanistan

September 19, 2012 by

U.S. Army soldiers with 1st Battalion, 102nd Infantry Regiment, 86th Brigade Combat Team, Task Force Iron Gray cordon and search Masamute Bala in Laghman province, Afghanistan, as they provide security on Sept. 25, 2010

The deceptive ways a loss in war is described can be contagious. Retreats are often regarded as odious, but sometimes necessary. These can either have the genius of the British spirit of tactical withdrawal, or a more laughable concept of an honourable peace. When that power tends to be a Goliath, or even a Colossus, explanations for what ‘victory’ or ‘defeat’ constitutes assume the exotic, tinged with madness.

By whatever stretch of the imagination, NATO’s latest change of tack in its deployments, minimising contact between Afghan recruits and its own soldiers suggests a monumental victory for the Taliban forces. It is questionable whether a transition strategy can feasibly work where Afghan policemen and soldiers are kept out of the loop. The mantra from the foreign forces stationed in Afghanistan has been solidarity with local forces in the fight against the enemy. That, it would seem, is no more.

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David Hicks: The Man Who Was Chemically Tortured

September 17, 2012 by

Amnesty International’s protest for David HIcks. Jason Ilagan/Flickr

One sensed they were out to get him from the start. David Hicks, a misguided, foolish man, who found himself at a paramilitary camp in Afghanistan, had to be punished. Since the Australian authorities struggled to find a basis to get the former Guantánamo inmate for his participation on the wrong side of ‘terror’, they did so vicariously. Hicks, detained for six and a half years, made an Alford plea, acknowledging the submitted evidence without admitting to the charges. He was convicted under the Military Commissions Act 2006 for providing material support for terrorism and served a seven-month prison sentence in Australia on his return.

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