Shadow-Pentagon Think Tank Releases New AfghaniPakistan Policy Paper

Created: January 23, 2009 12:50 | Last updated: July 31, 2020 00:00

Remember the Center for a New American Security, the counterinsurgent-heavy defense think tank that used to be run by Michele Flournoy and Kurt Campbell before they became, respectively, undersecretary of defense for policy and assistant secretary of state for East Asia? Several other scholars at the think tank are probably going into the administration as well. Which probably means that the brand-new CNAS policy paper on Afghanistan/Pakistan will be widely read. (Indeed, much like an administration policy paper, it’s a svelte three pages.)

Admirably, the paper starts with basic principles — it’s even titled “Tell Me Why We’re There?” — and seeks to provide a ” clear articulation of U.S. interests in Afghanistan, a concise definition of what the coalition seeks to achieve there, and a detailed strategy to guide the effort.” It defines the worthy goals of policy negatively: “The Two No’s” — shades of CNAS’s “Three No’s” for Iraq in 2007, there — are “no sanctuary for terrorists with global reach in Afghanistan,” and “no broader regional meltdown.” If this sounds like a diminished expectation for policy, it’s not, really: authors and counterinsurgency luminaries David Kilcullen, John Nagl, Vikram Singh and Nate Fick says the strategy requires:

An internal balance between centralized and traditional power centers—not central government control everywhere—is the key to Afghan stability. Achieving this will require more military forces, but also a much greater commitment to good governance and to providing for the needs of the Afghan people where they live. The coalition will need to use its considerable leverage to counter Afghan government corruption at every level.

Oh, just that, fellas? Corruption in Afghanistan is, from what I saw, pretty endemic; and decentralized governance, from what people told me, was a contributing factor to it — the local leaders demanded kickbacks, and their provincial leaders demanded kickbacks, all the way up to Kabul. I’m not saying I have a better idea, just that CNAS’ proposals may be in greater tension than the paper discusses.

It also endorses integrating policy with Afghanistan and Pakistan’s neighbors, which presumably means the ‘stans, Iran and India. Interestingly, the paper doesn’t say anything about the prospect of either negotiating with the insurgency to try and fracture it; or building up Iraq-style tribal militias, two recent proposals. I wonder what’s up with that.

Either way, if you’re about to work in the Pentagon policy directorate, you should probably save yourself time and get Flournoy your notes on the CNAS paper by Monday morning.