About Power & PolicyPower & Policy is a virtual forum for explaining and debating the exercise of American power in the world. The core participants are renowned Harvard Kennedy School faculty members and associates who have spent decades studying how power works.
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Tag Archives: Afghanistan
By Ben W. Heineman, Jr. (A version of this article first appeared on TheAtlantic.com) In this election year, the Administration needs to blunt the Afghanistan issue by showing that the Afghan security forces and the Afghan government can survive the … Continue reading
Several Harvard Kennedy School scholars who have worked in Afghanistan were asked to comment on how the United States should respond to the accidental burning of Korans by the U.S. military, and the subsequent deadly rioting in the country. Here … Continue reading
The Power Problem: Part of a series of views on lessons learned in the exercise of American power in the decade since 9/11. By David E. Sanger Chief Washington Correspondent, The New York Times; Senior Fellow, National Security and the … Continue reading
The Power Problem: Second in a series of views on lessons learned in the exercise of American power in the decade since 9/11. By Linda J. Bilmes The US response to 9/11 has been a major contributor to America’s current … Continue reading
By Rolf Mowatt-Larssen Belfer Center Senior Fellow I recently saw a great flick entitled “Age of Heroes.” It is about the early days of the British SAS in World War II. A team of 8 commandos was airlifted covertly into … Continue reading
President Obama’s speech on Afghanistan has been described as a domestic political compromise between those who want a rapid drawdown and those who want more time. Foreign policy always rests on domestic compromises in a democracy, and the initial reaction … Continue reading
Some hawks have cited the skillful military operation that killed Osama Bin Laden as proof that terrorism must be dealt with by hard power, not soft power. But such conclusions are mistaken. A smart strategy against terrorism also requires a large measure of soft power.
Terrorists have long understood that they can never hope to compete head on with a major government in terms of hard power. Instead, they use violence to create drama and narrative that gives them the soft power of attraction. Terrorists rarely overthrow a government. Instead, they try to follow the insights of jujitsu to leverage the strength of a powerful government against itself. Terrorist actions are designed to outrage and provoke over-reactions by the strong.
For example, Osama bin Laden’s strategy was to provoke the United States into reactions that would destroy its credibility, weaken its allies across the Muslim world, and eventually lead to exhaustion. The United States fell into that trap with the invasion of Iraq. According to a May 6 article in the National Journal, “By conservative estimates, bin Laden cost the United States at least $3 trillion over the past 15 years, counting the disruptions he wrought on the domestic economy, the wars and heightened security triggered by the terrorist attacks he engineered, and the direct efforts to hunt him down.”
Last week, President Obama made a compelling case for why he authorized force in Libya. In doing so, he sought to assure the American people that this intervention was prudent and bore no resemblance to the controversial and costly wars … Continue reading
In December of 2006, in the midst of ongoing struggles in the Iraq war, the US Army and US Marine Corps published a new field manual (FM 3-24) on the subject of counterinsurgency – or COIN, as it is known in the acronym-laden world of defense policy. The product of an intense effort at the Army’s Doctrine Division at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, the new manual provided a detailed and sophisticated analysis of the character and requirements of that difficult mission. Championed by the Army’s most visible and respected senior officer, General David Petraeus, the COIN field manual was received with acclaim and subsequently it was given credit for helping to improve a terrible situation when it was applied in Iraq.
FM 3-24 covers a lot of ground in its 280 pages, but certain passages leap out as particularly important. In its articulation of the principles of counterinsurgency, it has a clear statement of what is essential: “The primary objective of any COIN campaign is to foster effective governance by a legitimate government.” (p. 1-21) A few paragraphs on, the COIN field manual is similarly bold and stark about the consequences if this “primary objective” is not achieved: “A COIN effort cannot achieve lasting success without the host nation government achieving legitimacy.” Here then, in the carefully considered judgment of the US military, is the core concern and the key metric in waging counterinsurgency campaigns.
If effective legitimate government in the host nation is the decisively important prerequisite for successful counterinsurgency, then Dexter Filkins’s latest account in The New Yorker (February 14 & 21) of corruption and incompetence in Afghanistan is devastating in its implications. Filkins lays out in enormous detail evidence of massive and pervasive corruption, which proceeds with almost total impunity.
Corruption in Afghanistan is hardly a new story, of course, but Filkins shows that it pervades the highest levels and the furthest reaches of Afghan society. “Graft,” he writes, “infests nearly every interaction between the Afghan state and its citizens….The Afghan government does not so much serve the people as prey upon them.” Among the elites, with billions of American dollars sloshing around, hundreds of millions go missing — $900 million in the biggest scandal so far discovered, the Kabul Bank “heist” (as Filkins describes it). Filkins quotes an unnamed America official describing the Afghan government as “a vertically integrated criminal enterprise.” The corruption, in short, seems as bad as ever – in fact, worse than ever. What this means is that years of American efforts in Afghanistan to promote good government and stifle corruption have failed – failed utterly and catastrophically, if Filkins’s account is remotely correct.
As a colleague who has been learning from Joe Nye for many years, I join the chorus applauding his latest in a string of pearls of wisdom about power in international affairs. The Future of Power is a must-read. Imaginatively, judiciously, Joe tours the horizon of current debates and offers thoughtful, policy-relevant advice.
From questions about the rise of China and decline of the U.S., to cyberspace and changing metrics of power in 21st century international affairs, he advances the debate.
With so much to agree with, what’s to disagree? While my major difference is more one of emphasis than fundamentals, let me overstate it for the sake of clarity. Consider the core question: what is the single biggest threat to American power and security today?
Interestingly, the current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, has answered this question unambiguously. As Mullen has stated on several occasions, his considered judgment is that “the single biggest threat to American national security is our debt.” By debt he means not only the current mountain of nearly $14 trillion of gross federal debt that has accumulated mostly over the past decade, but also the current trajectory that will add an additional $1.5 trillion this year, and even worse, embedded trendlines in spending and taxing that are undermining America’s balance sheet.
In the words of our colleague Larry Summers, who just returned from Washington: “Is there not something odd about the world’s greatest power being the world’s greatest debtor?”