David Rieff Assesses Obama’s Plan For Afghanistan

The author sees some bright signs in the binational approach to security in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
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Question: What strengths do you see in Obama’s plan for Afghanistan?Rieff:    I think that they’re right to link the outcome in Pakistan with the outcome at Afghanistan.  I think that is correct on the part of the Obama administration.  I think it’s also correct… One thing they’ve done that I think is very positive is they’ve reopen contact with Nawaz Sharif in Pakistan.  And they… I think [Holberg] for all his faults did not understand that the Bush administration’s policy of trying to… Basically, anyone but Nawaz Sharif was a mistake.  And simply, that any notion that Pakistan could successfully resist is, you know, fundamentalist and the rest, without Nawaz Sharif buying in to that was a non-starter.  So I view, for example, the decision by this [dire] government to reinstate the chief justice, which was done under severe American pressure.  And the chief justice, after all, is an ally of Nawaz Sharif as a very positive thing.  And suddenly, I’m not sure the Bush administration would’ve had the wit to do… even though… In fairness, the Bush administration was more confident in Asia than it was in any other place in the world in my view in terms of straight foreign policy.  I mean, the Bush administration did terrific things in terms of global health.  And actually, we’ll see if the Obama administration is at the same level.  The stuff on AIDS and other global health issues that took place under Bush despite the anti-abortion decrees were terrific and much better than what happened under Clinton and… You know, maybe Obama will continue them or maybe are even better than them but… But I… I think, basically, the Obama administration’s stuck as, I think, they, off the record, often concede.  They don’t know… They can’t let the Taliban, as presently constituted, win in Afghanistan.  The government… The [quasi] government is worse than useless.  Pakistan is a very fragmented polity.  What are they going to do?  One doesn’t envy… Well, one doesn’t envy Obama generally.  I mean, he… I’m sure there must be moments.  I’m sure it’s only moments where he wanders why the hell he wanted this job in the first place.    

Question: Will NATO’s role expand?Rieff:    Well, I think this engagement is less controversial among… in Europe.  It’s controversial but it’s not that controversial.  Whereas those countries that… those governments in… European governments that engaged in the Iraq war did so over the objections of the overwhelming majority of all their populations, whether we’re speaking of Britain or Spain or Italy.  It’s probably only those small contingents from the former [warsofacq] countries from Georgia, where there might be a different… It’s possible… I don’t have the survey data… the polling data on my head but I think it… As I remember, the polls were more or less for the war at the beginning.  I don’t think Afghanistan is controversial in that way.  I mean, everyone in Europe is not simply, you know, choking to death on political correctness, knows that Al-Qaeda is a real threat, that terrorism is a real thing, that there are Islamist militants in every major European country, and that they don’t distinguish between liberal Europeans and illiberal Europeans.  So… You know, I suppose you can get… I suppose it’s more imaginable in terms of political support.  The question though is that Europe has never been willing in the last 20 years to take seriously the idea of remilitarizing.  And so, it’s not clear to me what Europe brings at the table in a serious way.  Symbolically, the American military will be grateful for more troops in… I’m sure there’re specific places where elite European forces would come in handy.  But… You know, in the larger scope of things, Europe just doesn’t have the forces.  The entire British army is smaller than the US Marine corps.  And the British have the best army in Europe.