Executive Summary

Afghanistan and Iran were top themes in the think tank community in Washington DC this week. Both issues worked against the Obama Administration and are creating a general perception that Obama is failing to develop a coherent foreign policy.

Analysts become more critical on Obama’s Afghanistan policy as it became clear that the president was trying to avoid the issue. The problem became even more sensitive when it was disclosed that Obama had only talked to his top general in Afghanistan once in nearly three months.

Iran also remained a subject of think tank commentary in large part because of the revelation that Iran was building another nuclear facility.

The biggest issue in Washington is the question of how many US forces to commit to Afghanistan and what their goals will be. The American Enterprise Institute produced a report that argues for an addition of 40,000-45,000 U.S. troops in 2010 to the 68,000 American forces that will be there by the end of this year. The report illustrates where U.S., NATO, and Afghan forces are now and where additional forces are needed to accomplish the mission. It links the U.S. force requirements to the growth of the Afghan National Security Forces on an accelerated timeline. It explains the methodology for assessing the adequacy of a proposed force-level.

One paper looking at Afghanistan strategy was done by the Council on Foreign Relations. Clare Lockhart, director of the Institute for State Effectiveness and a former adviser to the Bonn process (which established post-Taliban governance after the U.S.-led invasion of 2001), says improving Afghanistan’s governance capabilities will have a greater long-term impact. Lockhart says U.S. involvement is essential in two areas: bolstering Afghan security forces and helping civilian leaders craft a new type of stability compact based on governance models. But she opposes the international “civilian surge” supported by some policymakers, saying an influx of global workers and projects “leached away” the capability of Afghan civilian institutions built up in past decades.

An event by the Foreign Policy Research Institute highlighted another aspect of Afghanistan policy, the police force. This event noted that although the US has been successful in reducing Taliban influence, the Afghan police force must be trained to meet higher standards so they are seen as helping to reduce violence in the country and upholding the law. Currently the Afghan population sees the corruption, police criminality and abuses of power of the national police and this will undermine long term efforts to create peace in that county.

The Washington Institute for Near East Policy also looked at the resurgence of Taliban forces. The event noted that terrorists are younger than they were and are more likely to be unwilling to spend a lot of time in training. This means that they are having a harder time retaining them. The total result is that they think Al-Qaida is weaker and its future depends to a great extent on what happens in Pakistan.

The Heritage Foundation looked at the 2010 Defense spending bill and argued for increasing spending on several types of aircraft and missile defense found in the Senate bill. Unfortunately, the paper doesn’t put the increased spending in the context of a comprehensive defense strategy.

An interview by the Council on Foreign Relations looks at upcoming talks with Iran. As the United States and world powers prepare to sit down with their Iranian counterparts on October 1, much attention will be on what concessions, if any, Iran is willing to make on its nuclear program. Joseph S. Nye Jr., who pioneered the theory of soft power, says while he doesn’t expect any major breakthroughs from the talks, Washington nonetheless has a responsibility to push Iran to come clean. “If [the Iranians] develop nuclear weapons, there’s likely to be a chain of proliferation in the Middle East. This may make the prospect of nuclear weapons being used go up by a significant probability,” Nye says. “We have a right, as do their neighbors, to try to persuade them to forego that.” Nye says revelations of a secret uranium-enrichment plant near the holy city of Qom may strengthen Washington’s hand in negotiations. But more than anything, Nye says, President Barack Obama’s decision to engage Iran has shown other regional actors that U.S. foreign policy is increasingly multilateral.


2010 Defense Appropriations Bill: Conference Report Should Defer to Senate Bill on Many Programs
By Mackenzie Eaglen
Heritage Foundation
September 29, 2009
Web Memo 2633

This week, the U.S. Senate will continue debate on the fiscal year (FY) 2010 defense appropriations bill (H.R. 3326). As the bill moves into conference, Members should retain funding for many important programs. Specifically, Members of the conference committee should: Maintain Senate language allowing the Pentagon to use appropriated funds to develop an export variant of the F-22A Raptor; Retain funding in the House and Senate bills for nine additional F/A-18E/Fs above the President’s budget request for a total of 18 aircraft; Continue funding C-17 Globemaster III production by purchasing 10 additional planes as proposed in the Senate bill; Keep Senate funding for an additional DDG-51 above the President’s budget request; Retain funds in the Senate bill for an additional $1.5 billion above the President’s budget request to the critical National Guard and Reserve Equipment account; and Maintain added funding in the Senate version of the bill for ground-based missile defense and six additional Standard Missile-3 Block 1A interceptors.
Read more

Iranian Weapons of Mass Destruction
By Anthoney Cordsman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
September 2009

Iranian Weapons of Mass Destruction: The Birth of a Regional Nuclear Arms Race? is an expert, insider’s look at Iran’s current and potential ability to wage both conventional and asymmetrical warfare—and the options available for dealing with a nuclear Iran.
Are we on the brink of a regional nuclear arms race in the Middle East? In this important volume, Anthony Cordesman and Adam Seitz examine how Iran’s nuclear ambitions have already altered security policy for the United States, Iran’s neighbors, and the international community. Cordesman and Seitz address the full range of issues related to Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons, including its emphasis on medium- and long-range missiles, the decline of Iran’s conventional military capabilities, and the continued Iranian efforts to undercut the spread of democracy in the region.

Afghanistan’s New Development Priorities: A Discussion with Mark Ward
By Mark Ward
Center for Strategic and International Studies
September 28, 2009

Mark Ward discusses progress made in initiating more Afghan-led development initiatives in some of the most difficult Taliban strong-holds in Afghanistan. Mark Ward is the Special Advisor on Development to the Special Representative of the Secretary General for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), based in Kabul. He is responsible for implementation of UNAMA’s mandate to improve donor coordination and aid effectiveness in Afghanistan.
Watch video

Afghanistan Force Requirements
By Frederick W. Kagan, Kimberly Kagan
American Enterprise Institute
September 21, 2009

President Obama identified a number of questions that must be answered before he can make a considered decision about whether or not to increase troop levels in Afghanistan. The assessment of General Stanley McChrystal, which appeared in the Washington Post on Monday, answers those questions. The assessment does not provide an estimate of the forces actually required, which were to be submitted in a later document. The American people need to have a detailed explanation as soon as possible of what forces are needed, how they might be used, and why there is no alternative to pursuing the counterinsurgency strategy that General McChrystal proposes if we are to achieve the fundamental objectives President Obama announced in his March 27 speech, “. . . to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future.”

Reforming the Afghan National Police
Foreign Policy Research Institute
September 2009
E Note

Afghanistan represents one of the biggest attempts by the international community at state-building since the end of the Cold War. Large resources have been devoted to the rehabilitation of the country and progress has undoubtedly been achieved. Afghanistan is unrecognizable from the Taliban-run state at the beginning of this decade. Nevertheless, even by the Afghan government’s own admission, much work remains to be done.
As the United States and its allies debate the next steps, the role of the Afghan National Police (ANP) looms large. Some progress has been made, from infrastructure built to the numbers of officers trained. But institutional and individual competence to tackle crime remains low, while corruption, police criminality and abuses of power are pervasive. Failing to provide sufficient civil security, the police are unable to fulfill their potential role as a key appendage to the reconstruction effort. Moreover, the lack of security and justice confronting Afghan communities severely threatens the current post-Taliban system. Lawlessness is frequently cited as a primary reason for citizen disillusionment with the central government and growing sympathy for insurgent forces.

Al-Qaeda and Taliban Status Check: A Resurgent Threat?
Featuring Richard Barrett
Washington Institute for Near East Policy
September 29, 2009

Despite recent reports of a wounded al-Qaeda core, the terrorist organization’s affiliates in Yemen, Somalia, and elsewhere appear to be gaining strength. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Taliban — al-Qaeda’s close ally — also continue to pose a growing challenge. The Washington Institute’s Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence invited Richard Barrett to discuss these issues at a special Policy Forum. This event is part of the Institute’s ongoing lecture series with senior counterterrorism officials.
Listen to audio

Why We Can’t Go Small In Afghanistan
By Bruce Riedel
Saban Center for Middle East Policy
September 24, 2009

As the Afghanistan mission has encountered growing troubles this summer, the debate about whether to lower U.S. goals and focus more narrowly on counterterrorism has again re-emerged. Such a shift sounds appealing. If advocates are right, we could protect the United States against terrorism while lowering costs, casualties and commitment in Afghanistan – a war that by some measures is about to become the longest in U.S. history. Those who favor the counterterrorism option – as opposed to deeper engagement – imply that we can destroy al-Qaeda’s core with a few U.S. special forces teams, modern intelligence fusion centers, cruise-missile-carrying ships and unmanned aerial vehicles of the type that recently killed Pakistani extremist leader Baitullah Mehsud. Some advocates of this kind of plan would continue our intense efforts to train Afghan security forces. Others would not. But all envision a dramatically reduced U.S. role. Pretty good – if it would work. Alas, it would not. In fact, we have seen this movie before. In the early years after the Taliban fell in 2001, the main American presence in Afghanistan consisted precisely of the above kinds of assets and attempted precisely what counterterrorism advocates now favor as though they are coming up with something new. That was Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s “light footprint” strategy.

Obama’s Announcement About Iran’s Secret Enrichment Facility
By Suzanne Maloney
Saban Center for Middle East Policy
September 25, 2009

Friday’s announcement by President Barack Obama and his French and British counterparts about Iran’s covert nuclear activities had all the ingredients of a blockbuster – three heads of state, the international press corps, a dramatic revelation, and stark warnings about the consequences facing Tehran. Indeed, the President’s disclosure that Iran has constructed a covert uranium enrichment facility represented a dramatic effort to increase the pressure on Iranian leaders on the eve of highly anticipated talks between the Islamic state and major world powers on the nuclear issue. But where Iran is concerned, actions often have an equally thorny reaction. While the Presidential press briefing succeeded in gaining headlines, it is hardly certain that it will have the intended impact on next week’s talks between Iran and the P5+1 in Geneva. Rather than unnervering Tehran and inducing a more cooperative approach to the nuclear negotiations, today’s blockbuster may only further entrench the regime’s recalcitrance – and leave Washington with no more viable alternatives for curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Iran’s New Secret & Long Live the Revolution
JINSA Report 927
Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs
September 25, 2009

So, Iran’s “secret” second uranium enrichment plant isn’t secret any more and the United States, Britain and France “demand” that Iran allow IAEA inspectors to visit. President Obama said, “It is time for Iran to act immediately to restore the confidence of the international community by fulfilling its international obligations.” He, Prime Minister Brown and President Sarkozy threatened “further and more stringent sanctions.” Really.
On the assumption that each revelation of additional Iranian nuclear-related capability hides another secret; and on the assumption that the “confidence of the international community” cannot be restored; and on the assumption that Iran is already taking care of its future refined petroleum needs in cooperation with Venezuela, Russia and China; and in the sure knowledge that future sanctions will fall far more heavily on the people of Iran than on its corrupt and venal government; and finally in the sure knowledge that military action has at least as many drawbacks as benefits, we have a better idea.

‘The Right’ to Question Iran
Interview of Joseph Nye
Council on Foreign Relations
September 30, 2009

The conventional wisdom, which is partly correct and partly wrong, is that sanctions don’t work. There’s been a careful study of this by [Gary Clyde] Hufbauer, [Jeffrey J.] Schott, and [Kimberly Ann] Elliott, which concludes they work about one-third of the time. More to the point, sanctions have to be posed as a question: compared to what? Sometimes they are the only instrument that is readily available. Putting it another way, the question should not be if they are effective, but if they are cost-effective. You have to pose it comparatively. It might be that a military invasion would be effective, but it might not be cost-effective. There could be a higher level of cost than you want to pay. Sanctions may, in fact, not be fully effective but might come at a much lower level of cost. Most of the discussion of sanctions has used a double standard: They’ve assumed a relatively effective and cost-free military comparison. The proper assessment is to ask about the cost-effectiveness in comparison to other policy instruments.

An Afghan Path Toward Stability
Interview of Clare Lockhart
Council on Foreign Relations
September 29, 2009

What we’re talking about is a specific type of counterinsurgency strategy for the Afghan context. What’s important, and absolutely right about General McChrystal’s new strategy, is its key emphasis first on protecting the population, and second on building up the Afghan national security forces; the means of COIN are much more easily obtained if there is a legitimate government in place. If we look at Afghanistan today, it’s clear that there are enormous problems of weak governance. The approach [going forward] has to recognize that the essential challenge is to find a process of establishing good governance, and that’s very much part of the strategy and needs to be the central focus.