Why America should withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The United States has been at war in Afghanistan for over 16 years. As of this writing, America has approximately 8,500 troops there now, mostly regulated to an advisory role. The Trump administration is reportedly sending an additional 4,000 American troops to theater while authorizing the Pentagon to send more if it deems it necessary.

Why exactly are American troops still in Afghanistan? After the twin towers fell, America launched Operation Enduring Freedom with two objectives. One was to destroy al-Qaeda and their terror camps. The other was to punish any organizations that supported the terrorist network which, after they failed to turn over al-Qaeda’s leadership, included the Taliban.

That was in 2001. Since then, the mission in Afghanistan has gradually grown into a state building project. This change in objective was a consequence of the post-9/11 consensus that ungoverned spaces were a threat to American security. In order to keep America safe from terrorism, it was essential that America build a functional and democratic state in Afghanistan.

When evaluating American progress on the task of state building, the metrics are dismal. For starters, a sizeable portion of Afghanistan is either under Taliban rule or contested. As of February 2017, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction estimates that the American supported Afghan government has no control of 40 percent of Afghanistan. The remaining 60 percent of the country is under the command of the democratically elected government but it is clear that it is not being properly governed. Corruption and abuse of power is utterly rampant. Transparency International ranked Afghanistan the third most corrupt state in 2015, the World Bank’s Control of Corruption and Ease of Doing Business ranks Afghanistan 186 out of 190 for both “dealing with construction permits” and “registering property,” and when surveyed by The Asian Foundation, approximately 90 percent of Afghans responded that corruption was a problem in daily life.

Considering that this is what 783 billion dollars and 20,000 American casualties gets the American public, America should determine if it makes sense to escalate America’s longest war.

It is not clear that it does.

For one, al-Qaeda has had a safe haven in Pakistan. Up until his death, Usama Bin Laden had been managing the day-to-day operations of al-Qaeda from what some have referred to as the West Point of Pakistan. In his 2015 work The Great War of Our Time: The CIA’s Fight Against Terrorism – From al Qa’ida to ISIS, former CIA official Mike Morell writes “Before the raid we’d thought that Bin Ladin’s deputy, Ayman al Zawahiri, was running the organization on a day-to-day basis, essentially the CEO of al Qa’ida, while Bin Ladin was the group’s ideological leader, its chairman of the board. But the DOCEX showed something quite different. It showed that Bin Ladin himself had not only been managing the organization from Abbottabad, he had been micromanaging it.” Other core leadership of the terror network have either been killed in Pakistan or suspected of residing there. Al-Qaeda’s presence has become so influential in their post 9/11 home that some even suggest that we have seen the “Pakistanization” of al-Qaeda.

Even if American attempts to eliminate al-Qaeda in Pakistan were successful, it is not even clear that the more dangerous branch of al-Qaeda is in Southern Asia. Under pressure from American drone strikes and special operations, al-Qaeda has become decentralized with arguable more threatening branches emerging in the Middle East and Northern Africa. Writing for The Washington Institute, Aaron Y. Zelin noted that “In many ways, the center of gravity for al-Qaeda has shifted from the AfPak region more to Yemen, Syria, and even Libya…” All three states are essentially ungoverned and if state building in Afghanistan is vital for American security then we should also pursue a similar strategy in these areas.

The truth is that despite having safe harbor in parts of Pakistan, the Arabian Peninsula, and Northern Africa, al-Qaeda has not been able to manage another successful terrorist attack on American soil since 9/11. Their failure to do so is because of an aggressive anti-terrorist strategy consisting of drone strikes, special operation raids, enhanced intelligence, and the multiple layers of homeland security established after 9/11. Fighting the Taliban and building a government in Afghanistan had little to do with this.

American priorities are mixed up. Washington is sending American men and women to defend a corrupt and self-serving government against an organization that has no larger goal beyond ridding their homeland of Americans. At this point the Taliban are not fighting for a restoration of an Islamic emirate but to expel foreign forces. Therefore, increasing the number of foreign fighters should only be expected to intensify the conflict. The main mission of al-Qaeda, however, has not changed which is to restore a “true” Islamic government in the Middle East. This goal is pursued by committing acts of terrorism against the United States. Al-Qaeda should therefore be defeated yet fighting the Taliban in order to deny al-Qaeda a safe haven when the organization already has several doesn’t seem logical. Instead of sending more Americans in harm’s way to defend a government whose democratically elected Vice President is currently on the run for torturing a political rival, the United States should seek a power sharing agreement with the Taliban and not worry so much about what style of government it leaves behind in Afghanistan.

The Afghan money pit

A recent NYT piece reports

The United States spent up to $28 million more than it had to on camouflage uniforms for the Afghan National Army because of the sartorial tastes of a single Afghan official, an American government watchdog said on Wednesday.

report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstructionfound that the Pentagon needlessly spent millions to license a proprietary camouflage pattern that replicates lush forests. Most of Afghanistan’s landscape, however, is desert, and the Defense Department owns dozens of similar patterns it could have used free, the report said.

“They picked the pattern based on a fashion preference, not by experts, but by the minister of defense,” said John F. Sopko, the special inspector general. “That was a dumb decision.”

And we are sending 4,000 of America’s best and brightest to defend this lot.

Utterly unbelievable.

China as a Rising Power Versus the US-led World Order

That is the title of Suisheng Zhao’s short but informative piece.

Here is the abstract.

Although a rising China is not a status quo power content to preserve and emplace the US-led world order, it is not yet a revolutionary power discontented with and willing to undermine the existing order. Not only is China far from the position to overtake the US power, it has not articulated distinctive values to underwrite the world order. China is a reformist/revisionist power, dissatis ed not with the current order but its position in the order.

You can read the rest here.

On a different yet related note, in Zhao’s footnotes I was directed to David Cowhig’s Translation Blog, a translation blog from Chinese to English or what looks like mainland publications. Very much appreciated service and a Web site I expect to consult often.

Hegemony with Chinese Characteristics.

I argue that these conclusions are premature. China’s grand strategy is clearly aimed at supplanting the United States as the dominant military power in East Asia. But this alone does not mean that Chinese and American interests are incompatible. The real question is what China plans to do with its emerging regional preponderance.

 

Would China use its hegemony to maintain an economically open, institutionalized, and rule-based regional order, even if one that is tilted in its own favor? Or would it seek to fundamentally overthrow these decades-old rules and norms in ways that effectively exclude outside economic engagement and threaten the territorial integrity of America’s regional allies?

 

If the latter, then the costs and risks of a more confrontational policy of “containing” China’s rise may be justified. If the former, then Chinese regional hegemony is perfectly compatible with America’s substantive interests, and may even help reduce the burden of the United States’ expansive global commitments. To date, there are surprisingly few indications that a Chinese-led regional order would be antithetical to core American interests in the region.

The author is Kyle Haynes and you can read the full version at the Diplomat.

My only disagreement with the piece is that he implies that Taiwan is an American core interest. It is not and the balance of interest is vastly in favor of China on this interest.

Do we want China to reform?

Moody’s recently downgraded China sovereign debt, a move which was probably overdue.

The article I link to writes that China “has 70 percent more money sloshing around its economy than the United States does, even though the American economy is bigger.”

As well, “More than half of the bank debt in China consists of loans from state-owned banks to state-owned enterprises.”

This isn’t sustainable and is only one aspect of the fragility of the Chinese economy. Other  issues include rising labor costs (making it increasingly difficult to rely on their workhorse model of exporting labor intensive goods), overcapacity, and a still sizeable amount of party corruption.

All of this suggests that China is headed towards an economic crash.

From a security perspective, most analysis I read imply that it is in American interest for the Chinese to reform their economy. The general line of thought is that Chinese economic reforms will help avoid a future economic crash that leads to some sort of nationalist inspired confrontation between China and the regional players (either America or our allies). Yet from a security perspective, if economic power is the best indicator of state power and China is indeed the next and most probable serious contender to America regional hegemony, it’s not clear that America would want China to reform.

For one, all major wars have been the result of an emerging power seeking to reorder its neighborhood to its likening. From Athens and Sparta to Nazi Germany and Europe, the wars that define eras are from not from the emerging powers stagnating but from emerging powers continued rise.

But two, the biggest geopolitical beneficiary of the American financial crisis of 08 was arguable China. It not only gained persuasive power for its style of politics, but from a pure relative power perspective, 2008 was a blessing to China.

Below are IMF data for the GDP based on purchasing-power-parity (PPP) share of world total expressed in percent of world GDP in PPP dollars. This is obviously crude and it’s difficult to know how much of the Chinese growth captured by the data is genuine but the chart is still informative.

 

You can find the data here.

The Chinese and “White left”

That is the new insult being lobbed among China based netizens.

Although the emphasis varies, baizuo (or white left) is used generally to describe those who “only care about topics such as immigration, minorities, LGBT and the environment” and “have no sense of real problems in the real world”; they are hypocritical humanitarians who advocate for peace and equality only to “satisfy their own feeling of moral superiority”; they are “obsessed with political correctness” to the extent that they “tolerate backwards Islamic values for the sake of multiculturalism”; they believe in the welfare state that “benefits only the idle and the free riders”; they are the “ignorant and arrogant westerners” who “pity the rest of the world and think they are saviours”.

You can read more here.

 

Avoiding a Sino-American Confrontation: Why the US Should Accommodate a Rising China.

Many good points made in a Christopher Layne brief discussing how to manage China’s rise.

Here is one.

First, without delving too deeply into the arcane details of nuclear weapons strategy, we know that, because of the “stability/instability paradox,” although nuclear armed states are deterred from using nuclear weapons against each other, they are not stopped from fighting a conventional war. This isn’t speculation: in the 1999 Kargil conflict, India and Pakistan — both armed with nuclear weapons — fought each other with conventional forces.

 

It is ungated and can be read in it’s entirety here

China as the non revisionist power.

Analogies to other rising powers with shallower histories — France, the United States, Germany, Japan, the USSR — are not helpful in predicting the consequences of China’s rise. China has no messianic ideology to export; no doctrine of “manifest destiny” to advance; no belief in social Darwinism or imperative of territorial expansion to act upon; no cult of the warrior to animate militarism or glorify war; no exclusion from contemporary global governance to overcome; no satellite states to garrison; no overseas colonies or ideological dependencies to protect; no history of power projection or military intervention beyond its immediate frontiers; no entangling alliances or bases abroad.

This is supportive of the logic of accommodation and against  the logic of confrontation.

You can read the rest here.

BBC interview with North Korean Diplomat

They are not Iran. They have no ideology they want to export.

They want the regime to survive.

As Vice-Foreign Minister Han made clear to me, North Korea has learned the lessons from recent history, in particular the US-led attempts at regime change in Iraq and Libya.

 

“If the balance of power is not there, then the outbreak of war is imminent and unavoidable.”

 

“If one side has nukes and the other side doesn’t, and they’re on bad terms, war will inevitably break out,” he said.

 

“This is the lesson shown by the reality of the countries in the Middle East, including Libya and Syria where people are suffering from great misfortune.”

I’m not defending the regime (they aren’t the sort of government I want to be ruled by) yet if America does want to fix this issue it should address it’s post-cold war foreign policy first, NK foreign policy second.

From a third party view, NK foreign policy appears to be rational.

You can read the rest here.

Background on Policy Options for a Nuclear North Korea.

With the end of “strategic patience,” I wanted to direct attention to Doug Bandow’s recent work on the North Korea problem. Nothing about the paper is libertarian (I think the stock libertarian response would be that a nuclear North Korea is either 1) rational NK policy to preserve the regime or 2) none of America’s business) but the paper is the one of the best introductions to how complicated the situation is.

Below is the introduction. A longer read but it is so well written you can get through it within one sitting.

Northeast Asia is perhaps the world’s most dangerous flashpoint, with three neighboring nuclear powers, one the highly unpredictable and confrontational North Korea. For nearly a quarter century the United States has alternated between engagement and containment in attempting to prevent Pyongyang from developing nuclear weapons.

 

Unfortunately, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) has accelerated its nuclear and missile programs since Kim Jong-un took power in December 2011. Washington has responded with both bilateral and multilateral sanctions, but they appear to have only strengthened the Kim regime’s determination to develop a sizeable nuclear arsenal. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has grown increasingly frustrated with its nominal ally, but the PRC continues to provide the DPRK with regime-sustaining energy and food aid.

 

The United States and South Korea, in turn, have grown frustrated with Beijing, which is widely seen as the solution to the North Korea problem. However, the Obama administration’s approach has generally been to lecture the PRC, insisting that it follow American priorities. Unsurprisingly, successive Chinese leaders have balked.

 

China does possess an unusual degree of influence in Pyongyang, but Beijing fears an unstable DPRK more than a nuclear DPRK. From China’s standpoint, the possible consequences of a North Korean collapse—loose nukes, mass refugee flows, conflict spilling over its border— could be high. The Chinese leadership also blames Washington for creating a threatening security environment that discourages North Korean denuclearization.

 

Thus, the United States should change tactics. Instead of attempting to dictate, the United States must persuade the Chinese leadership that it is in the PRC’s interest to assist America and U.S. allies. That requires addressing China’s concerns by, for instance, more effectively engaging the North with a peace offer, offering to ameliorate the costs of a North Korean collapse to Beijing, and providing credible assurances that Washington would not turn a united Korea into another U.S. military outpost directed at the PRC’s containment.

 

Such a diplomatic initiative still would face strong resistance in Beijing. But it may be the best alternative available.