Afghanistan: The Civilian Strategy

A lot of observers, myself included, have criticized the way in which U.S. foreign policy has been militarized of late. One pernicious illustration of that trend is how these same observers, myself included, often spend a lot more time analyzing the military components of U.S. foreign policy than the civilian aspects. Both trends are exagerrated when it comes to Afghanistan and, before it, Iraq. Part of that is understandable, since Afghanistan is a warzone. And if foreign policy really is militarized, then to undersatnd it, you’re better off analyzing the military strategy.

Nevertheless, I found it interesting that, for all the attention given to a series of recent military reports leaked and released out of Afghanistan, a lot of people, myself included, ignored the State Department’s report (.pdf) on its Afghanistan and Pakistan strategy when it was released two weeks ago. (Laura Rozen did a brief but informative write-up, with a couple useful links.)

I wouldn’t say there’s anything earth-shattering in the report, although it did presage the emphasis coming out of the London conference on Taliban reintegration by a week or so. But if you want a good primer on the “civ” objectives of the civ-mil effort, it’s a good place to start.

A lot of these themes popped up repeatedly in the discussions I heard in Prague. As always, lots of questions remain among practitioners about how realistic, how well-conceived and how achievable many of these objectives are. This would be a good opportunity to add that I’ve heard wildly varying accounts in the past few weeks of the mood on the ground in Afghanistan, ranging from panicked, to impasse, to counting the days to 2011, to window of opportunity, to ignored progress. Tough to say which is true, and they might not be mutually exclusive.

As for me, my opinion has been shaped, and although there’s certainly more than enough news coming out of Afghanistan to support the argument that the new strategy is hopelessly flawed, I’m willing to give its component parts some time to see if they make any difference.