The Third Afghanistan War

Towards the end of last year, there were some indications that the U.S. military was preparing for a significant escalation of the Afghanistan War. Now, though, it seems like the Obama administration is increasingly signaling a more modest set of strategic goals. One of Nikolas Gvosdev’s readers suggested they would return us to:

. . . September 2001 — to the initial offer made by President Bush to theTaliban. Turn over Al-Qaeda and don’t export subversion to otherstates, and we won’t interfere in your internal affairs.

I’m not sure how accurate a depiction of Obama’s signals that is, since from what I’ve been reading, there’s a strong emphasis on rooting out Taliban bases in Pakistan included in even his more limited approach. That’s a little less “hands off” than the above portrays, and could easily escalate if there is no broader nation-building effort to contain the potential fallout. But I, too, mentioned the similarities to the immediate post-9/11 focus here.

With that in mind, I direct your attention to this WPR opinion briefing by Karin von Hippel and Frederick Barton of CSIS, which in addition to calling for a “whole of government” approach to the counterinsurgency effort in Afghanistan, emphasizes the need to multilateralize the reconstruction efforts needed to stabilize thecountry and, by association, the Pakistan frontier.

Hippel and Barton essentially argue against the return to a 9/12 mindset of narrowly defining the war effort as a function of American national security interests. But they emphasize the need to accompany any military escalation with a regional stabilization project that would include –in addition to our NATO partners and the U.N. — the participation in a civilcapacity of China, Russia, Iran, India and Saudi Arabia.

It’s a variant on the old saw, If you’re having trouble solving a problem, make it bigger. Only in this case, it’s the solution that Hippel and Barton are making bigger. That kind of inclusion, of course, means sacrificing an element of control. But between Russian supply routes and recent suggestions of even Iranian logistical assistance, sacrificing control seems like the direction things are now going in anyway.

The question remains whether we can get Europe, Russia, China and Iran to buy in, none of whom seem to have as great a sense of urgency as we do.

But Hippel’s and Barton’s approach seems to offer a better chance of success than either returning to the goals of 9/12 (the first Afghanistan War), or unilaterally escalating the current conflict (the second Afghanistan War).

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