“The law enforcement approach … mucks up our strategic interests.”

I’ve been tracking the debate within the Administration over whether we should tolerate corruption in Afghanistan in the name of sustaining a war against someone–anyone–in Afghanistan or not for some weeks. Underlying the entire debate is the fact that our goals in Afghanistan–which started as a pursuit of those who struck us on 9/11 and now, having achieved that in Afghanistan, appears to be “not lose”–are totally unclear and apparently divorced from national interest. The debate pits those who believe corruption discredits the Karzai regime and creates support for the Taliban against those who rely on corrupt members of the Karzai regime who claim cracking down on corruption (which is, effectively, the removal of our aid money to private bank accounts in Dubai) will hurt the goal, which they’ve redefined, without Congressional buy-off, as defeating the Taliban.

Here’s how today’s installment, from  By Rajiv Chandrasekaran, captures the debate:

The debate turns largely on how various administration officials view the connection between corruption and the insurgency.

Some officials, principally at the staff level, contend that government venality and incompetence is the principal reason Afghans are joining, supporting or tolerating the Taliban. Other administration and military officials, particularly those at senior levels, maintain that graft is just one of many factors – along with sanctuaries in Pakistan, historical tribal grievances and anger at the presence of foreign forces on Afghan soil – that fuel the conflict.

Compounding the challenge is that many Afghan officials who are regarded as corrupt also provide valuable assistance to U.S. forces, including sensitive intelligence. Some, including the palace aide, are on the CIA’s payroll – a fact not initially known to investigators working on the case.

And while this debate seems to be still raging among those in Afghanistan, Chandrasekaran reports that top officials in the Obama Administration have decided to set aside the law enforcement approach for back room deals.

President Obama’s top national security advisers, who will meet with him this week to discuss the problem, do not yet agree on the contours of a new approach, according to U.S. civilian and military officials involved in Afghanistan policy. But the officials said there is a growing consensus that key corruption cases against people in Karzai’s government should be resolved with face-saving compromises behind closed doors instead of public prosecutions.

Once again, the anonymous official embracing corruption does so in the name of our “principal goals.”

“The current approach is not tenable,” said an administration official who, like others interviewed, agreed to discuss internal deliberations only on the condition of anonymity. “What will we get out of it? We’ll arrest a few mid-level Afghans, but we’ll lose our ability to operate there and achieve our principal goals.”

I’m beginning to believe “our ability to operate there” is our “principal goal.”

All of which discussion sets up this quote from an official in Kabul who has concluded we need to abandon a law enforcement approach.

There is a growing view at the U.S. and NATO headquarters in Kabul that “the law enforcement approach to corruption mucks up our strategic interests,” said the U.S. official there.

Of course, this comment pertains solely to rooting out corruption in Afghanistan. Not detention of captives. Not corruption of American contractors. Not targeting terrorists.

But it sure reveals, in stark fashion, how far we’ve come from our “principal goal” of governance, which is at least partly to support and defend the Constitution, otherwise known as a law enforcement approach.

  1. croghan27 says:

    I’m beginning to believe “our ability to operate there” is our “principal goal.”

    So the reason we are spending billions (trillions?) and expending the lives of thousands of our youth is to … facilitate the spending billions (trillions?) and expending the lives of thousands of our youth

    That about sums it up and quite well too ….

  2. JohnLopresti says:

    Maybe related:

    I saw a travelogue Spencer wrote several years ago after a visit he paid to the region.

    Recent TGross interview discussing Egyptian origins of Afghan SArabia AlQ. WHYY now provides a several-paragraph excerpt of its recently aired interviews, loc.cit.

    How to **level** the bidding playing field in 1970 Japan passenger airline purchasing, following local mores.

    Having begun with these comparisons, I thought Afghanistan is a different diorama than Iraq, and cutting to the chase of the barter system might be more regionally adapted than the secondphasing way the bribe system unfurled in postCPA Iraq.

    Then I remembered the sense of refinement contained in a document recently filed in the US regarding bureaucracy benign neglect through political stasis as a smokescreen to cover other possible reasons for inaction in matters involving electoral campaign money. Cf. also, summary of that complaint filed by CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan

  3. donbacon says:

    I would put it differently, that our principal goal ought to be to negotiate a settlement soon, including the Taliban, in which President Karzai would be a principal agent, and that being the case we shouldn’t let corruption get in the way of that.

    The US needs to support Karzai. He hosted a June peace conference where he called insurgents “brothers” and “dear Talibs,” He asked the United Nations to remove Taliban leaders from the international sanctions black list and ordering the freeing of Taliban suspects from government custody.

    A recent report indicates that the US has already initiated talks with the Taliban. According to the Asia Times report, the Pakistan military and Saudi Arabia are acting as go-betweens to facilitate the negotiation process.

    In Afghanistan we’ve had a surge of US troops but unlike the case in Iraq we have a president who actually favors reconciliation. The US should not let corruption (the US has it too) stand in the way of that larger objective.

    • KrisAinCA says:

      What type of settlement do you mean here, don? I settlement as to a division of land and wealth within the country? Can you clarify? Thanks.

      • donbacon says:

        In the most recent Jirga, President Karzai informed the delegates at the outset; “There is no mention of a key Taliban demand that NATO troops leave Afghanistan,” when in fact that was one of the Taliban’s key demands. NATO is currently conducting a military offensive against the Taliban in Kandahar province.

        The NATO military presence must be removed for there to be any chance of peace in Afghanistan. The Taliban leadership’s one non-negotiable demand is the complete withdrawal of Western forces. They say that this must take place before they will negotiate any settlement with the government in Kabul, but there might be some room for compromise.

        The oft-repeated objection to any Taliban control in Afghanistan is that the Taliban would establish “safe havens” for al Qaeda. Paul Pillar, deputy CIA chief of the counterterrorist center under President Clinton: “The US and other Western governments say we are in Afghanistan in order to deny terror groups like Al Qaeda a safe haven from which to plan new attacks. But that is no longer a valid assumption. Terrorists don’t need a sanctuary to plan attacks from. We are investing enormously in an operation that is based on a flawed assumption. The reality is that the terror threat to the West would not significantly increase if we were to leave Afghanistan.”

        Would any concessions to the Taliban result in the Taliban taking total control of Afghanistan? Pillar again: “This is another assumption that is rarely questioned. But prior to the U.S. intervention in 2001, the Taliban did not have uncontested control of Afghanistan. They had the upper hand in a civil war against the Northern Alliance; they had the backing of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia while the Northern Alliance had the backing of Iran, Russia, and India. The U.S. essentially threw its weight behind the Northern Alliance to drive out the Taliban.”

        While the Taliban is integrated somehow into the Afghan government, which is a matter for the Afghans to decide, there needs to be support for the Afghan effort in the form of a regional effort toward diplomacy and peace. President Obama needs to implement his promise of a new strategy on March 27, 2009: “. . .together with the United Nations, we will forge a new Contact Group for Afghanistan and Pakistan that brings together all who should have a stake in the security of the region — our NATO allies and other partners, but also the Central Asian states, the Gulf nations and Iran; Russia, India and China.”

  4. TarheelDem says:

    I’m beginning to believe “our ability to operate there” is our “principal goal.”

    Given the fact that we can no longer define what “win” or even “not lose” look like, it is clearly that there is no consensus that our goal is “our ability to operate there”. There are some players for whom that has always been our principle goal. But I don’t see an coherent policy that states what our goal is. We will see if the current review can create this focus. Until that review is done, all anonymous and attributed remarks from any US official should be seen as part of the politics surrounding the decisions to come out of that review.

    Those folks counseling looking the other way on corruption are in fact undermining the possibility of counterinsurgency working. There is self-contradiction at the heart of the current US actions in Afghanistan, one that exposes the mission creep of a stable government as essentially not possible. In that circumstance, any additional money that goes to the Karzai government is being shoved down the rat-hole just as surely as those pallets of currency delivered to Iraq by the Bush administration.

  5. chicagodyke says:

    now that it’s officially hit the mainstream media (well, english media anyway [guardian, sunday times, etc]) i can say without the foil that in addition to keeping Halliburton and Lockheed coffers nice and full, and potentially helping those poor, sad energy companies out of the poorhouse by helping them with the gas resources there, we’re also there because heroin is a great way for merc companies to make a lot of tax-free money (not that they’re paying taxes, but you know). yes, our soldiers are dying so that we get a bunch of kids in Europe and America and elsewhere hooked on smack. Freedom isn’t free you know, including the freedom to be a lifelong junkie!

  6. ThingsComeUndone says:

    Who told Afghan officials to invest in Dubai Afghanistan is not exactly swimming in financial advisors?
    Any bets some Loyal Bushies who helped set up the Afghan bank in question had dealings with a Dubai bank? After all the bank could have funded job projects in Afghanistan.
    Why Dubai? Is Obama being blackmailed about American involvement and forced to clean up another Bush mistake?

  7. chicagodyke says:

    We will see if the current review can create this focus.

    hahahaha, you funny, T.

    seriously tho: what will be different about this “review” from any of the dozens that have happened in the last 10 years? reviews like these are masturbatory exercises for Village technocrats, who have a tiny bit of guilt that taxdollars are being funneled from programs that feed hungry american children and spent on mercenary companies who turn Afghan children into pink paste. the result will be the same as all the others: the american people don’t seem to mind, so let’s stay the course! freedom! schools! happy afghan girls! terra!

    the review might result in some shuffle of command over there, or perhaps a few extra dollars to one pet program over another that is deemed “not working,” but nothing will change. too much money being made by the people who own the State Dept, and every other fucking branch of “our” government.

  8. ThingsComeUndone says:

    I’m beginning to believe “our ability to operate there” is our “principal goal.”

    Operate not control, not make safe for a natural gas pipeline certainly not get al Quieda, who cares if more Afghans start shooting at us every day thats the future doing nothing is easier right now.
    I think Obama the Pentagon and State Dept stay in bed all day when they think of Afghanistan.

  9. Mary says:

    I’m beginning to believe “our ability to operate there” is our “principal goal.”

    I think that’s it in a nutshell, EW. We want a base of operations near Pakistan. We want a base of operations that is in a “battle theatre” and outside the reach of courts. We want a base of operations to … have a base of operations.

    We have such a capacity to conflate Afghanistan as being “ours” that I don’t think most people really process the point that make about a corruption crackdown leading inexorably to OUR money in Afghan gov and institutions. We have some legitimate money going there (but even that is ending up settling in corrupt niches), but we have lots of money going to individuals in government, to bribe and buy them individually. That is corruption in gov – think a guy named Jefferson with a few tens of thousands in his freezer.

    So what we are basically doing is reinforcing one of the things the people in Afghanistan hate most about the gov we’ve imposed on them (its corruption) but we are also holding ourselves out to the people of Afghanistan as being a genesis for that corruption; a protector of that corruption; and an equally corrupt partner with their government corruption.

    That’ll work well.

    This is a post that everyone who doesn’t understand why people are turning to the Taliban or tolerating them more and more needs to read. There’s a lot more – the inability of gov (or unwillingness of well paid on the side, corrupt officials who are being primarily charged with building military assets)to provide services and security etc. – but the ideological battle is lost when America is there saying “listen, corruption investigations have to either not involve America and its actions and not involve politicians who are important to America, or you can’t have them.”

  10. ThingsComeUndone says:

    Does it seem to anyone else that bases in Afghanistan, the former soviet republics, Nato etc form a ring around Russia?

    • Glenn says:

      I think it’s more accurate to say that the American government wants a puppet government in Afghanistan as part of a larger strategy to establish a ring around China. Now that China is the second largest economy on Earth, it’s definitely established itself as the single largest challenger to the American military’s quest for “full spectrum dominance”, which is why many Americans want to contain China. Because China is so much closer to Afghanistan than America is, China could more effectively establish trade with Afghanistan. But American control of Afghanistan limits the ability of the Chinese to gain access to Afghani raw materials and markets. The American government can’t really oppose Afghani corruption, because “corruption” is the puppet strings though which the Americans expect to buy the continuing support of their Afghani puppets.

        • Glenn says:

          I agree that it would be better if Americans focused on their own economy. But I think that to understand the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, one needs to see them as (probably unsuccessful) attempts by some American strategists to use America’s military superiority to gain economic advantages over America’s main competitors.

      • bobschacht says:

        The Great Game used to be preoccupied with preventing Russia from acquiring a port on the Indian Ocean. Afghanistan is not only strategically important in that respect for Russia, but also China. Not that Afghanistan itself is on the Indian ocean, but Western Pakistan, to the urbane Pakistani, is like the Wild Wild West was in the US about 150 years ago. And guess what? Which country is the most important investor in the only deep sea Pakistani port on the Indian Ocean in Western Pakistan? China!

        The Great Game continues…

        Bob in AZ

  11. ThingsComeUndone says:

    Are we still fighting the Cold War? Are we trying to prevent Russia from ever being a power again? Is that the goal of our foreign policy the NeoCons certainly are paranoid enough to have thought this up.

  12. Minnesotachuck says:

    Once again, John Boyd’s six criteria for assessing a state’s grand strategy come to mind, as I’ve commented here before:

    + Ensure the nation’s fitness, as an organic whole, to shape and cope with an ever-changing environment.
    + Strengthen national resolve and increase the nation’s internal political solidarity.
    + Weaken the resolve of the nation’s adversaries and reduce their internal cohesion.
    + Reinforce the commitments of our allies to our cause and make them empathetic to our success.
    + Attract the uncommitted to our cause.
    + End conflicts on terms that do not sow the seeds for future conflicts.

    In no way does the Afghanistan fiasco support any of these, not to mention avoiding undermining them. And then there’s the likely imminent collapse of Pakistan, per a piece in Asia Times today.

  13. donbacon says:

    Another reason for an early negotiated settlement is that India, a US ally, wants the war to continue.

    recent news report:
    India, seizing on Afghanistan’s travails, has pumped in over a billion dollars toward improving Afghanistan’s economic and social infrastructure. On the face of it, this magnanimity should be considered a praiseworthy gesture. But the Pakistani ruling circles and especially its Armed Forces are alarmed at India’s burgeoning influence in Afghanistan. India’s economic largesse coupled with the opening of its consulates in Afghan provinces close to Pakistan’s border, have rung alarm bells in Islamabad.//(end of news report)

    Increasing Indian influence in Afghanistan is what fuels Pakistan’s support for the Taliban (which was recently highlighted in wikileaks). Couple this with Obama’s deciding to “partner” with Pakistan and we have an unacceptable situation. The US president partnering with a country that supports the killing of US troops? That’s treasonous.

    Indian support for extending the current war, for its own benefit, with the concomitant continuing Pakistan support for the Taliban, is but one more reason why the US should negotiate soon to end this thing.

    • bobschacht says:

      You should provide a link for that news report, because it contains important information. Pakistan traditionally has been much more worried about what India is up to than what Afghanistan is up to. And India would love to divert Pakistan’s resources from its Eastern border (with India) and from Kashmir to its Western border with Afghanistan.

      Bob in AZ

      • donbacon says:

        news report on Indian influence in Pakistan

        1. This Indian influence is why Pakistan supports the Taliban which is killing US troops. Pakistan doesn’t want an ally of its arch-enemy — India — on its western flank. General McChrystal in his assessment a year ago said that the Pakistan ISI is probably supporting the Taliban.
        2. Any negotiated settlement in Afghanistan should accommodate Pakistan in this matter, as well as considering the interests of other countries in the region, includin China which borders Afghanistan and has commercial interests especially in a large copper mine it is working.

        Unfortunately the US is weak in diplomacy currently. Perhaps James Baker is available?

  14. donbacon says:

    The (Colin) “Powell Doctrine” states that a list of questions all have to be answered affirmatively before military action is taken by the United States:
    1. Is a vital national security interest threatened?
    2. Do we have a clear attainable objective?
    3. Have the risks and costs been fully and frankly analyzed?
    4. Have all other non-violent policy means been fully exhausted?
    5. Is there a plausible exit strategy to avoid endless entanglement?
    6. Have the consequences of our action been fully considered?
    7. Is the action supported by the American people?
    8. Do we have genuine broad international support?

    The same doctrine ought to apply to the continuance of a conflict.

  15. donbacon says:

    another point of view on India:

    Exit Is A Smarter Strategy (which I favor)
    KANTI BAJPAI, Sep 13, 2010

    The Indian strategic community thinks that the US must stay in Afghanistan for as long as it takes to wear out the Taliban and ensure stability in that deeply troubled country. It would probably be better for the US to withdraw as quickly as possible and turn its attention to its internal problems, its role in East Asia, and much larger global challenges.

  16. x174 says:

    thanks for keeping us up to date on the trajectory of our un-principled goals: hard to believe that we could have been saddled with a president worse than bush-cheney. . .

  17. donbacon says:

    more on India from Arun on another blog;

    Indian influence in Afghanistan relative Pakistan is virtually inevitable. For instance, Karzai studied in India; and many future Afghan students will likely study in India – it is relatively inexpensive, and the quality is better than that available in Pakistan. Similarly, the market for Afghan goods is deeper and broader in India than Pakistan.

  18. Propagandee says:

    Somebody needs to remove all the old Milton Bradley Risk games from the Pentagon and initiate some kind of 12 step program for its strategic thinkers.