A Bleak Outlook for Afghanistan

NPR Image of Afghanistan

Image by David Gilkey, NPR

Almost all Western writers who address the future of Afghanistan (post withdrawal) adopt the perspective of the West and discuss what developments could threaten their countries and how to limit or diminish this impact. To me, the threshold question should be: What do Afghans want?

What matters most in this situation are the opinions of the 35 million Afghans – particularly the 24 million who live in small rural communities.

As we’ve learned, it’s impossible to force unfamiliar, fundamental change on people who resist.

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Maliki’s Departure and Next Steps in Iraq

Maliki’s departure is step one in stabilizing Iraq. Next, the new Iraqi leadership must include Sunni leadership and have an active campaign to win the confidence of the Sunni tribes. This means demonstrating that Shia will share power and that sectarian differences can be worked out in the political process.

International and domestic pressure/leverage is essential to making that happen. I would suggest that the international community propose a set of power sharing principles that specifically outline how the new government must guarantee inclusion and representation of Iraq’s sectarian groups and ensure that no one group can trample on the rights and authorities of the other.

These principles should then be debated and passed as a constitutional measure, as the international community holds the new Iraqi government to these standards. This sort of approach was applied very successfully in the Balkans and other peace processes, and it should have been part of the Iraqi constitution from the start.

U.S. Foreign Policy After Afghanistan – Déjà Vu All Over Again

When it comes to foreign affairs, the Washington policy establishment – and here I refer primarily to the executive and legislative branches – is for the most part crisis-oriented. At some point during my 50-year career in government I heard it said that Washington can only handle two crises at a time. Given the inescapable fact that we’re usually facing some domestic crisis, this means that in foreign affairs the establishment can only effectively handle one crisis. In today’s world with its proliferation of crises – from Russia’s current moves on Ukraine to piracy in the Gulf of Aden, our preoccupation with the situation in Afghanistan and, to a lesser extent, the current imbroglio in Iraq – the establishment has had its hands full.

With Iraq’s divisive prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, stepping down after eight years of tumultuous rule, and the U.S. conducting air strikes against the forces of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), there’s faint hope of an end to Baghdad’s political crisis. The situation in Afghanistan, given the country’s history and culture, is unlikely to be resolved satisfactorily any time soon, but the cessation of active U.S. military operations in that country appears irreversible. President Obama has announced that nearly 10,000 U.S. troops will be kept in the country after 2014, but all will be withdrawn by the end of 2016.

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Social Media Climate: A Digital Unified Action Partner

Today’s quickly evolving geopolitical information environment underlines the need for smart power and social media intelligence (SOCMINT). Most recently, open source information found on social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, helped the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) collect critical data that helped with the Ukraine jet shootdown investigation.

As mentioned in a recent Wall Street Journal article by Julian E. Barnes, the U.S. has spent the last 18 months developing ways to use social media monitoring as a way to gather overseas intelligence. According to the DIA, this “could revolutionize ‘open-source’ intelligence gathering—the kind that focuses on finding key data from publicly available sources, as opposed to intercepting private communications or stealing secrets.”

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Israel’s Long-Term Outlook

The many well-informed, thoughtful media and other public discussions of the current Israel-Gaza-Hamas conflict, in my view, do not adequately address some long-term realities: Israel is a small non-Arab, non-Muslim democratic, modern, prosperous open market country in the middle of a very large Arab + Islamic region that is none of these things.  And then there are the Palestinians dispersed to Gaza, the West Bank and other countries in the neighborhood whose grievances reach back and forward several generations.

I doubt many who were in leadership positions in Israel, Washington, London or Paris during the 1940’s and 50’s believed that Israel’s presence and existence would be accepted and unchallenged. Early Israeli governments understood this well and moved quickly to create the extremely effective citizen ISF and intelligence capacity, which have defended and extended Israel’s right to exist admirably. Throughout Israel’s history, the United States has guaranteed its security and supported financially and otherwise, its development and evolution. Israel is also a nuclear armed state.

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There is No Enemy

Anthony Cordesman is a step behind the real revolution in military affairs. In his recent CSIS article, Cordesman says that revolution involves understanding and countering the asymmetric threat. He is right on every point as far as that threat goes. But nonstate and state actors with asymmetric capabilities are only part of the challenge.

The real revolution in military affairs is to understand that populations themselves are the biggest, most determinative variable in combat. They have far greater ability to influence the course of political, economic or military events than the relatively infinitesimal numbers of asymmetric fighters. General Stanley McChrystal (Ret.) put it more succinctly with Charlie Rose earlier this year when he said, “The people decide who wins.”

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Inducting Morality: The Israeli Conflict Narrative

Since 1948, the world has stood witness to the Arab/Israeli – Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Although the dynamics of the human tragedy may have changed over the years, the narratives informing it have remained near constant.

Humans cannot navigate their daily existence without narratives and narration. Narrative is the principal mechanism humans employ to make sense of their world and what happens in it. Narratives assign identities to both in and out groups, explain current circumstances and impart agency to individuals, groups and entire societies. Narratives are canonical – they explain the difference between the imagined world, in which humans like to believe they dwell or hope to dwell, and the real world, in which we actually toil. In these discrepancies lie the seeds of human conflict, nurtured and watered by the narratives people create.

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