Obama strategy for Afghanistan poorly planned

Freedom New Mexico

The Obama administration has announced it may have to turn to military personnel, mainly reservists with relevant civilian skills, to fill hundreds of posts that had been intended for civilian experts.

The Obama strategy for Afghanistan announced last month included a dramatic increase in “nation-building” efforts that would include, as President Obama put it, agricultural specialists and educators, engineers and lawyers. Unfortunately, the administration is having trouble recruiting civilians to fill those posts, even though they are slated to work in areas where active combat is not under way.

As Richard Holbrooke, the administration’s special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan put it, “there has been widespread, legitimate concern that AID (Agency for International Development) and other civilian agencies would not be able to put enough people there fast enough. Michelle Flournoy, undersecretary of defense for policy, confirmed April 28 in a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies that “we’re going to be playing a game of catch-up.”

The attraction for the administration of turning to the military is that in most cases civilian government employees cannot be ordered to accept an overseas assignment in a war zone, but military personnel can be. The idea is to find reservists with civilian “skill sets,” as Flournoy put it, in small-business management, veterinary medicine, legal affairs, public sanitation, and air traffic control to beef up the Afghan government. The reservists would be expected to wear civilian clothes and research is under way to see if they can be required to serve longer than the several months that reservists typically serve.

This rather desperate move should cause some second thought about whether the Obama plan for Afghanistan is workable or practical. The idea of beefing up the government in a country where an insurgency is under way may look good on paper, but is always more difficult on the ground, especially in a country like Afghanistan that may have little desire to see a Western-style government complete with bureaucracies for every conceivable function built in their country.

As we see it, the strategic interest of the United States in Afghanistan is not that it have a government that meets U.N. specifications, but that it not be used, as it was before 9/11, as a staging ground for international terrorist attacks, especially attacks on the U.S. Given that the Taliban in Afghanistan is mostly an indigenous organization, as distinguished from al-Qaida, which has international ambitions — and by all reports is located in Pakistan these days — this should not require decades of nation-building and military action. All it would take is notification that if we see any evidence of al-Qaida bases we will blow them to smithereens, and perhaps give the Afghan government five minutes notice.

Any decent person must hope the Taliban does not achieve governmental power again in Afghanistan. But our core interest is preventing al-Qaida from operating there. If that can be achieved without nation-building — indeed, if nation-building, which looks to many Afghans like occupation, might make achieving that goal more difficult — it is time to reconsider the U.S. commitment to nation-building.