Oct 12th 2009

Fighting a War by Objective

by Alon Ben-Meir

A noted journalist and author, Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is professor of international relations and Middle East studies at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University. Ben-Meir holds a masters degree in philosophy and a doctorate in international relations from Oxford University. His exceptional knowledge and insight, the result of more than 20 years of direct involvement in foreign affairs, with a focus on the Middle East, has allowed Dr. Ben-Meir to offer a uniquely invaluable perspective on the nature of world terrorism, conflict resolution and international negotiations. Fluent in Arabic and Hebrew, Ben-Meir's frequent travels to the Middle East and meetings with highly placed officials and academics in many Middle Eastern countries including Egypt, Israel, Jordan, the Palestinian territories, Syria and Turkey provide him with an exceptionally nuanced level of awareness and insight into the developments surrounding breaking news. Ben-Meir often articulates


The ongoing deliberations among President Obama's national security team and congressional leaders are necessary to determine the best possible means of successfully conducting the war in Afghanistan. But what must guide these discussions and take precedent for all parties involved is a thorough understanding of the objective and a clearly outlined mission. President Obama needs to define his goals candidly when it comes to counter-insurgency, counter-terrorism and nation-building, especially as he considers sending additional troops to bolster these efforts. Does the United States want to rid Afghanistan of the Taliban, or does it want to eliminate Al-Qaeda as a terrorist organization and find some modus operandi with the Taliban? Only when the objective is fully understood by the White House, State Department, Pentagon and congress can President Obama shape the overall war strategy and assemble the resources necessary to wage a successful campaign.

As critical as this process is to achieving a positive outcome in Afghanistan, America's national security interests are being compromised by the ideologues from both parties who have polarized this war for petty political gain. What should be an in-depth analysis of American military strategy has become a partisan talking point for media outlets and congressional leaders to spur over. Is it just a coincidence that every single Republican Congressmen favors the immediate dispatch of an additional 40,000 American soldiers as requested by General McChrystal, even before they know the exact purpose and placement of the troops? And each of their Democrat counterparts - including Vice President Biden - has rejected the expansion of troops before a consensus is made as to the objective of the war. One thing is clear however; following the initial success of overthrowing the Taliban in 2001, the war of necessity in Afghanistan was neglected as focus was shifted to the war of choice in Iraq. This negligence allowed the Taliban and Al Qaeda to regroup and remobilize their fighters as they entrenched themselves in the tribal areas in Pakistan, forcing the United States to wage anew what could have been concluded a few years ago. As the attention now shifts back to Afghanistan, it is essential this time the goals are realistic and attainable, with an exit strategy in mind. This war is undoubtedly dangerous and complex, so anything less than a full consideration of the options available would put thousands of lives unnecessarily at risk.

President Obama is correct in trying to gather advice from those on all sides of the spectrum who know best what strategy the United States must adopt to carry out a perilous war of this magnitude. He should not be rushed to make a decision that will inadvertently cost hundreds, if not thousands of American lives. It is equally important to emphasize that this is not just an American war. In the final analysis, the Afghan people and their government - and the same can be said about Pakistan - must learn how to deal with internal insurgents and terrorist groups that are out to terrorize their citizens and undermine their government just as much as they want to undermine American and allied efforts.

The surge took place in Iraq when it became abundantly clear that the additional troops would turn the tide of the war. Moreover, what has succeeded in Iraq is the building of the Iraqi military and internal security forces to the level that allows the United States to decide on a time line for withdrawal. In addition, the United States was able to persuade the Iraqi insurgents to join the political process. This is not the case with the Taliban and is not likely to change with the current policy. The war in Afghanistan has outlasted the war in Iraq and we are not anywhere near having an exit strategy.

For this reason, the United States must focus on a number of key issues essential to the security of United States and the well-being of the Afghan people. The first is a targeted counter-terrorism strategy, as this directly affects all civilian and military efforts in the region. The Obama administration's counter-terrorism strategy thus far has shown tremendous success by inflicting substantial losses on Al-Qaeda, and rendering the organization considerably weaker than it has been in many years. Because the Taliban are indigenous and there is no realistic possibility of eliminating them, to deal with them in the long term the United States must fashion a strategy that could lure the majority who are not ideological to give up the fight and join the political process.

The second tier of this strategy must address the reconstruction and revitalization needs of the Afghan people on a community level. One of the best ways to deter the Taliban is to provide Afghan villages with jobs and resources so that people have a stake in their communities. American efforts in this capacity, through the Provincial Reconstruction Teams and work with local Non-Governmental Organizations, have been successful thus far, and more importantly they are welcomed by the people. In his March address of US strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, President Obama stated, "To advance security, opportunity, and justice...we need agricultural specialists and educators; engineers and lawyers. That is how we can help the Afghan government serve its people, and develop an economy that isn't dominated by illicit drugs." In this respect, the US needs to devote its aid and resources to the NGO's and Afghan initiatives that have been effective in impacting the communities and building
up the economy.

To sustain these initiatives and to allow the United States to settle on a realistic exit strategy, the United States must increase its efforts on training the Afghan military and internal security forces. These forces need to be significantly increased and trained so that they will be capable of facing and effectively dealing with these threats on their own over time. The current Afghan military - with only 93,000 soldiers - should be tripled in size, as should the police. However difficult, expensive and time consuming the build-up of the Afghan security apparatus is, it remains an absolute necessity. Without it there is no hope that the United States can extract itself from the war in Afghanistan with any certainty that Al Qaeda and the hard-core Taliban fighters will not reconstitute themselves and pose significant threats to the United States and its allies. This is where the Obama administration along with its international partners, especially the EU, ought to allocate the training personnel and necessary funding.

The Afghan and Pakistani people do not want to see their country ravaged by an endless war, nor do they want to see hundreds of thousands American troops effectively occupying their land. What they need is both military and economic assistance, but certainly not provided on an open-ended basis. The United States and its allies must see to it that the money is spent for the right purpose and that any troops sent over have a clear-cut strategy in mind. President Obama is getting extensive advice from a variety of sources and military experts. Whatever decision he makes must be one that is clearly defined with an end-game in sight.

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

May 13th 2021
"Regardless of how the current and future violent conflicts between Israel and the Palestinians in Jerusalem will end, there will be no Israeli-Palestinian peace unless East Jerusalem becomes the capital of a Palestinian state while the city remains united."
May 7th 2021
EXTRACT: " Would the United States be prepared to risk a catastrophic war with the People’s Republic of China to protect the Republic of China, better known as Taiwan? "
May 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "Human history, ancient and contemporary, is replete with instances of genocide – that is, the effort to eradicate a people, erase their history, denigrate their culture, and destroy their physical presence. Many of these atrocities have been recognized by the victims and other nations who support them. But, with the notable exception of the German acknowledgment of the Holocaust, rarely have the perpetrators of these crimes accepted responsibility and offer recompense "
May 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "The best way to defend liberal democracy is to practice it at home and abroad with the “courage and self-confidence” that Kennan touted at the dawn of the Cold War. This is also the best way to ensure the survival of our own conception of human freedom. And survive it will."
May 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Sammy Roth at the LA Times/ Boiling Point Newsletter reports that California’s main power grid was powered for several hours last Saturday by 90% renewables. For just four seconds that day, the grid, which covers 4/5s of the state, reached 94.5% generation by green energy. California is the world’s fifth largest economy. The main grid does not cover Los Angeles County. On the other hand, these figures do not include the electricity generated by the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, which is not counted as renewable but which is also very low-carbon."
Apr 23rd 2021
EXTRACT: "It is no accident that there has been an economic divergence in Central and Eastern Europe. Those countries that have joined the European Union have improved their economic governance, and GDP has begun to converge with Western Europe. Between 2014 and 2019, Hungary, Poland, and Romania grew at an annual average rate of 3.9%, 4.1%, and 4.7%, respectively. Meanwhile, Belarus and Ukraine experienced minimal growth during this period, and Russia’s economy expanded at an average annual rate of just 0.7%. Though Russia had a higher per capita GDP (in terms of purchasing power parity) than Croatia, Poland, Romania, and Turkey as recently as 2009, all of these countries have since overtaken it. Russians today are shocked to learn that they are worse off than Romanians and Turks. Among EU member states, only Bulgaria is still poorer than Russia. With its close proximity to the EU single market, Russia could have had higher growth if it had pursued sound economic policies. Instead,..... "
Apr 22nd 2021
EXTRACT: "As far as anyone can tell, the US military is not on the verge of an internal breakdown, let alone primed to stage a coup d’état. But few predicted anything like the US Capitol riot before protesters equipped with body armor, stun guns, and zip-ties breached the building. Before the US is blindsided again, its leaders must act resolutely to root out extremism in the military."
Apr 17th 2021
EXTRACT: "The new report on 2020 by the International Renewable Energy Agency reveals that the world’s renewable energy generation capacity increased by an astonishing 10.3% in 2020 despite the global economic slowdown during the coronavirus pandemic." .... "In 2020, the global net increase in renewables was 261 gigawatts (GW). That is the nameplate capacity of some 300 nuclear power plants! There are actually only 440 nuclear power plants in the whole world, with a generation capacity of 390 gigwatts. So let’s just underline this point. The world put in 2/3s as much renewable energy in one year as is produced by all the existing nuclear plants!"
Apr 16th 2021
EXTRACT: "When we examined the development of nations worldwide since 1820, we found that among rich Western countries like the United States, the Netherlands and France, improvements in income, education, safety and health tracked or even outpaced rising gross domestic product for over a century. But in the 1950s, even as economic growth accelerated after World War II, well-being in these countries lagged.
Apr 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Some presidents indulge in the “Mount Rushmore syndrome” making an obvious effort to achieve greatness. Normally soft-spoken and apparently modest Biden is making his own bid for immortality."
Apr 9th 2021
EXTRACT: "New ways of thinking about the role of government are as important as new priorities. Many commentators have framed Biden’s infrastructure plan as a return to big government. But the package is spread over eight years, will raise public spending by only one percentage point of GDP, and is projected to pay for itself eventually. A boost in public investment in infrastructure, the green transition, and job creation is long overdue."
Apr 7th 2021
EXTRACT: " One can, and perhaps should, take the optimistic view that moral panics in the US blow over; reason will once again prevail. It could be that the Biden era will take the sting out of Trumpism, and the tolerance for which American intellectual life has often been admired will be reinvigorated. This might even happen while the noxious effects of American influence still rage in other countries. For the sake of America and the world, one can only hope it happens soon.  "
Mar 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "By refusing (despite having some good reasons) to end electoral gerrymandering, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., has directly enabled the paralyzing hyper-partisanship that reached its nadir during Donald Trump’s presidency. By striking down all limits on corporate spending on political campaigns in the infamous 2010 Citizens United decision, he has helped to entrench dark money in US politics. And by gutting the 1965 Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder, Roberts has facilitated the racist voter-suppression tactics now being pursued in many Republican-controlled states."
Mar 24th 2021
EXTRACT: "the UK’s tough choices accumulate, and the problems lurking around the corner look menacing. Britain will have to make the best of Brexit. But it will be a long, hard struggle, all the more so with an evasive fabulist in charge."
Mar 15th 2021
EXTRACT: "Over the years, the approach of most American policymakers toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been Israel-centric with near total disregard for the suffering endured by the Palestinian people. The architects of policy in successive US administrations have discussed the conflict as if the fate of only one party (Israel) really mattered. Israelis were treated as full human beings with hopes and fears, while Palestinians were reduced to a problem that needed to be solved so that Israelis could live in peace and security.  ..... It is not just that Israelis and Palestinians haven’t been viewed with an equal measure of concern. It’s worse than that. It appears that Palestinians were judged as less ​human than Israelis, and were, therefore, not entitled to make demands to have their rights recognized and protected."
Mar 8th 2021
EXTRACTS: "XThere’s a global shortage in semiconductors, and it’s becoming increasingly serious." ...... "The automotive sector has been worst affected by the drought, in an era where microchips now form the backbone of most cars. Ford is predicting a 20% slump in production and Tesla shut down its model 3 assembly line for two weeks. In the UK, Honda was forced to temporarily shut its plant as well." ..... " As much as 70% of the world’s semiconductors are manufactured by just two companies, Taiwan Semiconductor (TSMC) and Samsung."
Mar 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "Back in 1992, Lawrence H. Summers, then the chief economist at the World Bank, and I warned that pushing the US Federal Reserve’s annual inflation target down from 4% to 2% risked causing big problems. Not only was the 4% target not producing any discontent, but a 2% target would increase the risk of the Fed’s interest-rate policy hitting the zero lower bound. Our objections went unheeded. Fed Chair Alan Greenspan reduced the inflation target to 2%, and we have been paying for it ever since. I have long thought that many of our economic problems would go away if we could rejigger asset markets in such a way as to make a 5% federal funds rate consistent with full employment in the late stage of a business cycle."
Mar 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "Under these conditions, the Fed is probably worried that markets will instantly crash if it takes away the punch bowl. And with the increase in public and private debt preventing the eventual monetary normalization, the likelihood of stagflation in the medium term – and a hard landing for asset markets and economies – continues to increase."
Mar 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Massive fiscal and monetary stimulus programs in the United States and other advanced economies are fueling a raging debate about whether higher inflation could be just around the corner. Ten-year US Treasury yields and mortgage rates are already climbing in anticipation that the US Federal Reserve – the de facto global central bank – will be forced to hike rates, potentially bursting asset-price bubbles around the world. But while markets are probably overstating short-term inflation risks for 2021, they do not yet fully appreciate the longer-term dangers."
Feb 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "To be sure, calls to “build back better” from the pandemic imply some awareness of the need for systemic change. But the transformation we need extends beyond constructing modern infrastructure or unlocking private investment in any one country. We need to re-orient – indeed, re-invent – global politics, so that countries can cooperate far more effectively in creating a better world."