Senate Afghanistan Hearing: Shift the War Policy
By Matt Southworth on 04/25/2011 @ 06:00 PM
Next week on May 3rd, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing called “Afghanistan: What is an Acceptable End-State, and How Do We Get There?” about the July 2011 drawdown in Afghanistan. On the docket will be Dr. Anne-Marie Slaughter of the State Department and Princeton University, Richard Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations and former Ambassador Thomas Pickering, co-chair of a recent Century Foundation Task Force report on negotiating peace in Afghanistan.
For Slaugher’s part, she’ll likely represent the policy position of Obama administration. Slaugher has stated the U.S. presence in Afghanistan is “going to require our commitment over years and the commitment of other forces, NATO forces.” Not surprising given the U.S.-NATO commitment to be in Afghanistan until 2014 and beyond. Also worth noting, the State Department’s requested share of war funding for FY2012 is roughly $10.6 billion, which is additional funding to the $47 billion base budget (of course, that’s miniscule compared to DoD’s $118.1 billion war and $596 billion base budget requests).
Richard Haass wrote a piece about Afghanistan last July called “We’re not Winning. It’s not Worth it.” Haass has been calling for a strategy overhaul in Afghanistan for nearly a year now. “The time has come to scale back U.S. objectives and sharply reduce U.S. involvement on the ground” said Haass. Since last July, Haass’ criticism has not waned. In addition, he and others have been advocating the U.S. take up political reconciliation talks with all groups, including the Taliban. FCNL supports political reconciliation talks and this would be an important policy shift for Haass to discuss next week.
Speaking of reconciliation talks, Pickering’s report, co-chaired by Lakhdar Brahimi, covers the basics: should the U.S. negotiate; who should the U.S. negotiate with; and what should be negotiated? The report concludes that the U.S. cannot afford to opt-out of negotiations. As even Generals have stated, a political solution is the only solution to the conflict in Afghanistan. At a briefing with Pickering two weeks ago, I asked about the report and July 2011. Pickering indicated that he believed negotiations should happen in addition to the current strategy—which I believe is a mistake. The U.S. must absolutely shift away from the military led strategy in July to enhance hope for a political solution in Afghanistan.
Of July 2011, Pickering said the date is no longer a focal point for a large troops withdraw, as it was replaced by 2014 at the NATO summit in Lisbon in November. The community certainly should not give up on a meaningful reduction in July—nor is it, as witnessed by the recent letter signed by 81 members of Congress supporting a meaningful drawdown. Ultimately, orders have already been issued for troops coming and going over the next 6-12 months. Yet numbers don’t seem to matter much around here; bipartisanly across on the Hill, staffers tell me they’re not looking for a number exactly, but a policy shift. Since most Hill staffers seem content to wait for the Pentagon to inform them (and the White House) on what should be done in July, inertia seems to be directing the drawdown for all too many.
A policy shift is in order; the question is a shift to what? Will the U.S. resource the war in Afghanistan with 90,000 troops at the cost of over $100 billion dollars until 2014 with a slightly repackaged military led strategy? Will the Obama Administration finally acknowledge that the military led strategy in Afghanistan is failing by every metric and shift to another kind of mission in Afghanistan? The U.S. should not continue to slug on militarily while being outmaneuvered by Taliban with shovels. Perhaps a diplomatic mission with the desired ends of a political settlement with all Afghan groups would be best to deliver peace and regional stability. Next weeks hearing has the potential to shape the impending policy shift. You can weigh-in by contacting your elected officials today.