Feb 3, 2008

Deconflicting the GWOT Matrix

The success of the initial U.S.-led campaign in Afghanistan was deployed pre-2003 to bulwark speculative pitches of the feasibility of a successful post-invasion endeavor in Iraq. Five years later, U.S. leverage inside Iraq is considerably marginalized and the Taliban and their allies have made an impressive comeback in Afghanistan while U.S.-Afghan relations are on the fray.

Afghans are disillusioned by the failure of real progress in securing and rebuilding their country, again a narco-state as half of the country's GDP is drug-related. The Bush administration promised a Marshall Plan for Afghanistan it never delivered. Compared to other recent post-conflict countries, Afghanistan receives minimal assistance. This despite the fact that Afghanistan remains the home to much of al Qaeda and has served as the largest terrorist haven in the world.

Like McDonald's dropped Kobe and Pepsi a Madonna, Jackson, and Ludacriss, some are now suggesting it's time to deconflict the GWOT matrix and save what can be saved of an Afghanistan critically foundering in the shadow of an embarrassing and debilitating controversy called Iraq.

Last week, January 30 2008, the Center for the Study of the Presidency (CSP) released the Afghanistan Study Group Report. [48-page pdf] The goal of the Afghanistan Study Group, co-chaired by Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering and General James L. Jones, is to provide policy makers with key recommendations that will lead to a re-vitalization and re-doubling of the United States and international community commitment and effort in Afghanistan. The study group’s findings and proposals will be shared with U.S. government officials, Members of Congress, key officials in NATO and at the United Nations, and representatives of the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as other interested governments and parties.

What follows are excerpts from the report deemed to be of some relevance to the thematic obsessions of this shack: (Note: Readers might also want to read two related reports brought to our attention by Steven Aftergood of FAS's Secrecy News: CRS's Afghanistan: Post-war Governance, Security, and U.S. policy [68-page pdf] and NATO in Afghanistan: A test of the Transatlantic Alliance [29-page pdf])

Afghanistan stands today at a crossroads. The progress achieved after six years of international engagement is under serious threat from resurgent violence, weakening international resolve, mounting regional challenges and a growing lack of confidence on the part of the Afghan people about the future direction of their country. The United States and the international community have tried to win the struggle in Afghanistan with too few military forces and insufficient economic aid, and without a clear and consistent comprehensive strategy to fill the power vacuum outside Kabul and to counter the combined challenges of reconstituted Taliban and al-Qaeda forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan, a runaway opium economy, and the stark poverty faced by most Afghans.

The “light footprint” in Afghanistan needs to be replaced with the “right footprint” by the U.S. and its allies. It is time to re-vitalize and re-double our efforts toward stabilizing Afghanistan and re-think our economic and military strategies to ensure that the level of our commitment is commensurate with the threat posed by possible failure in Afghanistan. Without the right level of commitment on the part of the U.S., its allies, and Afghanistan’s neighbors, the principles agreed upon by both the Afghan government and the international community at the 2006 London Conference and the goals stated in the Afghanistan Compact will not be achievable.


The efforts of the Afghanistan Study Group to help re-think U.S. strategy comes at a time when polls indicate a weakening of resolve in the international community to see the effort in Afghanistan through to a successful conclusion. The Pew Global Attitudes Survey of June 2007 reported that the publics of NATO countries with significant numbers of troops in Afghanistan are divided over whether U.S. and NATO forces should be brought home immediately, or should remain until the country is stabilized. In all but two countries, the U.S. and the United Kingdom, majorities said troops should be withdrawn as soon as possible.

Moreover, recent polls in Afghanistan reflect a downward turn in attitudes toward the ability of the Afghan government and the international community to improve those conditions the Afghan people identify as the most critical problems facing the country: insecurity, weak governance, widespread corruption, a poor economy and unemployment.


[T]he Study Group offers three overarching recommendations to bring sharper focus and attention to Afghanistan – within the U.S. government and within the broader international community.

The first is a proposal for the Administration and the Congress to decouple Iraq and Afghanistan in the legislative process and in the management of these conflicts in the Executive branch

The second is to establish a Special Envoy for
Afghanistan position within the U.S. government, charged with coordinating all aspects of U.S. policies towards Afghanistan.

The third is to propose an international mandate to formulate a new unified strategy to stabilize Afghanistan over the next five years and to build international support for it.


The Center for the Study of the Presidency (CSP) was closely engaged in the work of the Iraq Study Group. During the discussions of that group it became more and more evident that Afghanistan was at great risk of becoming “the forgotten war.” Participants and witnesses pointed to the danger of losing the war in Afghanistan unless a reassessment took place of the effort being undertaken in that country by the United States, NATO and the international community.


While most of our analysis and recommendations fall into specific subject areas – including security, governance, counter-narcotics, development, and regional considerations – some of the challenges and solutions facing our effort in Afghanistan cut across those issues. This section deals with crosscutting recommendations.

It is clear that one of the key challenges that the mission in Afghanistan now faces is the lack of a common strategic vision that will reinvigorate our efforts under unified attainable goals. This process has to be done comprehensively – involving both military and civilian aspects of the mission as equals – and in a cooperative fashion among the U.S., NATO, the UN, the EU, and the Afghan government. The Afghanistan Compact should be the basis for any common strategic vision, and discussion should focus on developing strategies to achieve that vision.

For that purpose, the Study Group proposes to establish an Eminent Persons Group to develop a long-term, coherent international strategy for Afghanistan and a strategic communications plan to garner strong public support for that strategy.


Within the U.S., the Study Group calls for decoupling Iraq and Afghanistan. Since 2003, U.S. funding of military and other mission operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have been linked together in the Congressional and Executive branch budget processes for authorizations, appropriations and supplemental requests. The rationale for this was that it would provide a more unified focus on overall “Global War on Terrorism” efforts by the Congress, the Administration and the military.


In July 2007, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) issued a report on the costs of Iraq, Afghanistan, and other war on terror operations since 9/11. The report emphasized the issue of transparency in war and related costs, noting the Iraq Study Group’s observation that the funding/budget requests from the Executive branch are presented in a confusing manner, making it difficult for both the general public and members of Congress to understand the request or to differentiate it from counter-terrorism operations around the world or operations in Afghanistan.

While arguments have been made that in effect the two missions are practically decoupled, we believe this to be insufficient. There is, accordingly, an emerging view that Afghanistan and its long-term problems would be better addressed by decoupling funding and related programs from those for Iraq. Doing so would enable more coherence and focus on the increasingly important Afghanistan (and related Pakistan) issues, both for the Congress and the Executive branch as well as in dealing with other governments and international organizations to achieve needed improvement in coordination, collaboration, and efficacy of efforts in the interrelated military, economic and reconstruction spheres.

Decoupling these two conflicts likely will improve the overall U.S. approach to fighting global terrorism. While the fates of these two countries are connected – and a failure in Iraq would influence Afghanistan and vice versa – tying together Afghanistan and Iraq also creates the false impression that they consist of the same mission, while in reality the challenges in these countries differ significantly from one another. It is not the intention of this recommendation to speak to the comparative funding levels for the two conflicts – only that the Afghanistan Study Group believes it would be best to consider each on their own merits.


Bustednuckles said...

in my experience, whenever a report starts with
'So and So is at a crossroads...",
You can bet there is a tanker truck full of sugar water and bullshit soon to follow.

Meatball One said...

There's a secret slew of leading indicators for BS out there. Thanks for the heads up, Busted. It certainly sounds right now that I've thought about it for a day or two.