Watching a president dismiss a senior general inevitably calls to mind Abraham Lincoln, who during the Civil War sacked generals left and right until he found one who served his purposes, and Harry Truman, who famously fired Gen. Douglas Macarthur during the Korean War. Unlike his predecessors, who removed generals either for their performance or due to disagreements over policy and strategy, President Barack Obama let Gen. Stanley McChrystal go because McChrystal had permitted a command environment that led some of his staff to crudely dismiss the president’s advisers. As if to underscore the continuity in policy and strategy, Obama […]

Finding an Afghanistan Exit Strategy

I’ve consciously avoided commenting on the broader subject of Afghanistan strategy over the past six months for three reasons. First, I agreed with the Obama administration’s December 2009 strategy review. Second, even if I didn’t, it seems counterproductive to relitigate the decision at the appearance of every news item that suggests things might not be going as planned. Third, any strategy takes time to assess, and will often defy momentary appearances. So yes, Marjah was a disappointment, the Kandahar “offensive” has anti-climaxed before it even began, and it seems that the insurgency has made inroads into Afghanistan’s northern, non-Pashtun provinces. […]

Are the deck chairs being reshuffled on the Titanic that is the Afghan war? First, Afghan President Hamid Karzai forced the resignations of his interior minister, Hanif Atmar, and the head of his intelligence services, Amrullah Saleh. Next, the U.K. special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Sherard Cowper-Coles, went on indefinite leave, turning over his post to his deputy. Now, in the aftermath of the infamous Rolling Stone profile, U.S. President Barack Obama has removed Gen. Stanley McChrystal as commander of U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan, replacing him with Gen. David Petraeus. What is interesting to note, of course, […]

The McChrystal Myth: Does He Really ‘Get’ COIN?

I’m not going to spend too much time piling on to the McChrystal story, which one way or another will be resolved in the next few days. I do want to address one recurring theme of the commentary, though, which is this idea that Gen. Stanley McChrystal, despite having royally blundered regarding the Rolling Stone profile, really “gets” COIN and is the best man for the job in Afghanistan. The problem is that when you go through the Army’s vaunted counterinsurgency field manual (.pdf), McChrystal, as revealed in the profile, is guilty of a failure in leadership on the most […]

The Soaring Cost of Supplying NATO Troops in Afghanistan

A Congressional report, released Monday, detailing how taxpayer money is going into the pockets of Afghan warlords in return for protecting NATO truck convoys has drawn attention to an immense logistical problem in Afghanistan that gets only intermittent attention: resupplying NATO forces in the conflict. Hopefully the House will broaden its investigation to take in the broader issue of the cost and security of the resupply lines themselves. The high cost of providing American and other allied troops with everything from ammunition to condoms is a key reason why keeping a soldier on the ground there costs almost double what […]

As if to provide yet one more piece of evidence of the Afghan tragedy, the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) released a report yesterday showing the devastating effects of domestically produced opium on Afghanistan’s own population. It complements other studies (.pdf) that have highlighted the suffering that Afghan opium, heroin, and other opiates cause in other countries. Taken together, the reports make it clear that solving the Afghan drug challenge will require a comprehensive multilateral approach. Yesterday’s UNODC report (.pdf), entitled “Drug Use in Afghanistan: 2009 Survey,” confirms a pattern seen in the international evolution of the […]

BEIJING — In 2003, China formulated the “Peaceful Rise,” a foreign policy framework for how it would re-emerge as an influential player in the new multilateral order. The most recent demonstration of how Beijing is putting this vision into practice is the ongoing four-nation tour to South Asia and the Asia-Pacific by China’s vice president and potential future leader, Xi Jinping. Xi has visited Bangladesh, Laos, New Zealand and Australia, with a separate visit to Myanmar promised in the near future. Taken together, the deals he has signed on the tour shed light on China’s principal strategic objectives in one […]

McChrystal and the Afghan Drawdown

The first thing that occurred to me about Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s ill-advised Rolling Stone profile is that it pretty much guarantees that the July 2011 drawdown schedule will stick. For that reason alone, it might make sense for the Obama administration to fire McChrystal, not immediately, but on the installment plan, by letting him run out the clock until then. The second thing that occurred to me — and this gives you an idea of how badly the leaked quotes reflect on the state of civil-military relations between McChrystal’s command and his civilian superiors — is the parallel between the […]

Kyrgyzstan’s Ethnic Clashes and the Afghanistan Surge

Seen from Washington’s perspective, the current ethnic clashes in the southern Kyrgyzstan city of Osh are yet another example of the risks of doing business in a very dangerous neighborhood. True, the U.S.-run Manas airbase, a vital supply hub for NATO forces in Afghanistan, is a long way from the current conflict. (Manas is in the north, near the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek.) But with President Barack Obama’s build-up of 30,000 additional troops for Afghanistan currently pouring into Manas en route to deployment, any threat to the base would create a logistical nightmare. The ethnic clashes between Kyrgyzs and Uzbeks […]

Judging by the atmospherics on display during last week’s inaugural U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue, the bilateral relationship between the two countries appears to be on solid footing. U.S. Under Secretary for Public Affairs William Burns called the relationship “one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century,” while U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke of a joint responsibility to “determine the course of the world.” U.S. President Barack Obama even made a surprise visit at the dialogue’s reception, and announced that he would visit New Delhi in November. Yet this flowery rhetoric masks the complex realities of what has been […]

Global Insider: The India-Pakistan Water Dispute

Late last month, Pakistani extremists staged protests along the India-Pakistan border, rallying against what they called India’s unfair use of the shared waters of the Indus River. In an e-mail interview, Harvard School of Public Health Professor and former World Bank Senior Water Advisor John Briscoe, explains the India-Pakistan water dispute. WPR: What is the background of the water dispute in Kashmir? John Briscoe: At partition in 1947, the line between India and Pakistan was drawn on religious grounds, paying no attention to hydrology. As a result, more than 85 percent of the irrigated area of the Punjab — the […]

‘An Ally In Kabul Going Rogue’

Fouad Ajami, the director of Middle East Studies at the School for Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, talks with Peter Robinson of the Hoover Institution about the United States’ partners in Kabul. Ajami says that Karzai has no interest in the Untied States leaving Afghanistan and his motivation to usurp U.S. resources has made him a rogue ally for U.S. leadership.

War is Boring: Training for Afghan Forces Accelerates Ahead of 2011 Deadline

On Monday, an Afghan suicide bomber blew himself up outside a NATO police-training facility in Kandahar. The blast opened a hole in the wall that allowed two more suicide bombers to race into the compound. Afghan police opened fire, killing the two bombers before they could set off their explosives. In addition to the three bombers, one American trainer was killed and three police were injured. The attack was a reminder of the extreme dangers faced by Afghan security force trainees and their NATO instructors. The bombing also underscored the growing importance of Afghan security forces, nearly nine years into […]

Global Insider: Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff

Late last month, Pakistan’s Defense Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar denied rumors that the government was planning to extend Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani’s term as chief of army staff. In an e-mail interview, Hassan Abbas, Bernard Schwartz Fellow at the Asia Society and Quaid-i-Azam Professor at Columbia University, discusses the possible candidates for one of Pakistan’s most powerful positions. WPR: As Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani’s honorable retirement in November 2010 draws nearer, what are the prospects of his term as Pakistan’s chief of army staff being extended? Hassan Abbas: There have been credible rumors about a possible extension in service for […]

KATMANDU, Nepal — Nepal’s ruling coalition inked a compromise deal with the opposition Maoists to extend the term of the Constituent Assembly (CA), which also functions as the interim Parliament, on the verge of its expiration on Friday. While the standoff was prolonged by a narrow power struggle between the two blocs, observers can take comfort in the fact that both sides ultimately heeded the popular mood demanding stability. The CA was elected in 2008 and mandated to write a new constitution to finalize the country’s transition from a theocratic monarchy to a secular democracy. Its tenure was due to […]

APEC Leaders Retreat, Sydney, Australia, 2007 (White House photo by Eric Draper).

The development of Asian regionalism has been slow, particularly in responding to regional conflicts and the development of a free-trade area. But that should not obscure key advances in regional cooperation. In an article published in the Winter 1993-94 issue of International Security, Aaron Friedberg, a professor at Princeton University, contrasted Europe's "thick alphabet soup" of institutions with Asia's "thin gruel." Some two decades later, no one would now describe Asia's institutional landscape as a thin gruel. It, too, is an alphabet soup of sorts, with names like ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation), APT […]