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Afghanistan, the Yuan, Cap and Trade April 4, 2010

Posted by Afflatus in Environment, World Affairs.
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This article explains the extent to which both India and Pakistan are vying for influence in Afghanistan, and they’re essentially fighting a proxy war there. The article also makes clear that India’s interests don’t align with ours, and their presence there is increasing instability despite their philanthropy ($1.3 billion invested in irrigation, schools, hospitals).  Though obvious, it’s crucial to keep in mind that regional interests are extremely important. An uncritical reader of US media coverage of Afghanistan could easily lose sight of this fact. Though I do expect to see the US actively engaged in the region for many years, India and Pakistan’s interests will outlast ours.

I also thought Obama’s recent decision to delay this “Chinese currency manipulating Treasury report” was a great move. The way they handled it seems truly creative and I’m becoming optimistic the issue will be resolved diplomatically later this year. The genius of it is that the US will be in a relatively stronger negotiating position vis a vis China in June. They’re also getting fantastic talking points and sound bites into the media.I’m in favor of anything multilateral and diplomatic, AND they whipped the unions and labor leaders into support.

The EU’s cap and trade system seems to have been implemented horribly! A surplus of permits not sold but handed out for free, and a overall emissions cap which was set too high has created serious problems. The silver lining in the article is that businesses were able to reduce emissions for cheaper than everyone expected! What should the EU’s policy be going forward? Lower the overall cap, tell businesses to stop whining, and devalue the permits.

Thoughts on Afghanistan November 19, 2009

Posted by Afflatus in World Affairs.
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President Obama has said he is “very close to a decision” on whether to increase troop levels in Afghanistan. Sadly, however, reducing the troop levels is off the table and not an option. The White House has leaked various numbers and strategies as they have deliberated this crucial decision. 30,000-40,000 is a likely number for the troop escalation. One good piece of news is that Obama want’s to ensure his plan has an exit strategy. Hopefully it will be a good one.

Today, November 19, the dubiously elected president Hamid Karzai will deliver his inaugural address. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived yesterday on a surprise visit to Afghanistan to pressure Karzai and ensure he says all the right things in his inaugural address. Whatever he says must be followed up by serious action to reduce corruption, and improve governance and security.

Whether Obama’s strategy is counterinsurgency or counterterrorism, we will need a reliable governing partner in Afghanistan. Transparency International just released their Corruption Perception Index which rated Afghanistan as second to last in the world (FYI, the US ranks 19th). This horribly low corruption index translates like this:

According to Reuters, “Senior officers and Interior Ministry officials are renowned for taking a cut of the salaries of policemen, who then exact bribes from the populace to make up their pay. Public confidence in the force is undermined and the Taliban gain support.”

The New York Times said “the state built on the ruins of the Taliban government seven years ago now often seems to exist for little more than the enrichment of those who run it.” And that “Everything seems to be for sale: public offices, access to government services, even a person’s freedom.”

While the Afghan government dithers, the US military is slowly approaching 1,000 dead soldiers in the war in Afghanistan, a war which is the second longest war in US history at over 9 years. This war is costly! Now, more than ever, we need to be spending this money in American instead – as Thomas Friedman says, nation-building at home.

Afghanistan is officially called Operation Enduring Freedom. This operation’s area of responsibility encompasses fifteen nations: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Cuba (Guantanamo Bay Naval Base), Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Jordan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, the Philippines, the Seychelles, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Uzbekistan and Yemen.

Two HUGE problems with the war in Afghanistan is that nobody has clearly defined “victory.” Worse still, even if we achieve victory in Afghanistan, Al-Qaeda will merely relocate its operations to other failed states such as Yemen or Somalia. The government in Yemen is crumbling with secessionists in the South and ethnic rebels in the north. Meanwhile, the Al-Qaeda in Yemen are provoking these dissenters as the terrorists become increasingly more organized, having merged with those in Saudi Arabia to form AQAP – Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

A majority of Americans do not support the war in Afghanistan, and I’m one of them.

Not to Forget the War in Afghanistan July 4, 2009

Posted by Afflatus in World Affairs.
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Since President Obama’s escalation of troop levels in Afghanistan in March, much discussion has ensued around the world and around this blog, especially in this post: Underestimating Our Afghan Summer

And many developments in Afghanistan have ensued. Here is what I do know:

– Since his inauguration, President Obama has authorized 21,000 more troops to be sent to Afghanistan.

– The president correctly believes that the troops deserve a straightforward answer to the question: “What is our purpose in Afghanistan?” And his response was this:

“So I want the American people to understand that we have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future.”

– In relation to the increased troop levels, the number of “security incidents” has also increased sharply, rising over 1,000 for the first time in May, 2009. This is a 43% increase over the same period in 2008. The bottom line: it has been the most intense fighting season so far experienced, according to the UN Security Council. This has been an expected development.

– “The first major operation launched with the additional troops ordered to Afghanistan by President Obama is devised to clear Taliban havens across a strategic southern province — and then, in a marked departure from past practice, to leave clusters of Marines in small bases close to the villagers they were sent to guard and aid, according to senior military officers.” From this article.

Today, the NYT reported that Russia has agreed to let American troops and weapons bound for Afghanistan fly over Russian territory. Though the New York Times considers this an “achievement,” it’s hard to know whether this development is good or bad; it may be good for US – Russian relations, but bad for US – Afghani relations, and certainly bad for the Afghans and Americans dying by our prolonged and heightened involvement there.

– On a similar note, Kyrgyzstan’s Parliament ratified an agreement recently to allow the US to maintain operations at an airport that has become a key support base and transit hub for the troops in Afghanistan. (Hard to tell if this is good or bad?)

– The Department of Defense has identified 707 American service members who have died as a part of the Afghan war and related operations. It confirmed the death of the following American on Tuesday: Terry J. Lynch, 22, Sgt., Army; Shepherd, Mont.; 10th Mountain Division. (FYI, 4,308 have died in Iraq.)

Probably more than 20,000 Afghan civilians have died as a result of the war between the US and the Afghan insurgents. A good NYT article on this note…

– Afghanistan has an upcoming election on August 20th. Current president Hamid Karzai is likely to be reelected.

So that’s what I know. There is way more that I don’t know. And I have one question: At what point do US casualties like Terry Lynch, and increasingly frequent Afghan casualties, convince policy-makers that fighting a guerrilla-style war in Afghanistan’s Helmand province is not keeping the US and the world safer, but rather is resulting in greater insecurity?

Annnd, If you only follow one link in this blog post, it should be this one: http://www.cfr.org/publication/19738/security_council_meeting_on_complex_situation_in_afghanistan_june_2009.html

Underestimating Our Afghan Summer? April 30, 2009

Posted by presto21 in Politics, World Affairs.
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Hey guys,

Most of you are aware that in what will probably go down as the most important foreign policy decision of his first term, President Obama ordered the doubling of our troop presence in Afghanistan. As one who is generally skeptical of an interventionist foreign policy, I’ll admit that I find the rationale behind this “doubling down” far more compelling than many of our other military misadventures (Iraq?). A couple major arguments for increased involvement in Afghanistan:

1. The guys who attacked us on 9/11, while not born and raised in Afghanistan, relied heavily on the safe haven the Taliban provided for fundraising, training, planning, and organizing.

2. The Taliban is, by any humane standards, a brutally repressive regime; especially so with regards to women. The other day a video leaked out of a young Pakistani woman being publicly whipped for the crime of having a man to her home who was not part of her family. Those who prosecuted her under Sharia law said that she could have been executed and claimed that, if anything, they were being lenient. Here’s a link to the video: Taliban Video Shows Teen Girl Beaten for ‘Adultery’

3. The Taliban is back on the rise in Afghanistan and the Karzai government is widely seen as ineffectual outside of Kabul.

4. The number of troops we have there now is universally seen as insufficient. Our military’s movements in most key areas are limited to the extent that soldiers rarely go far from their bases.

5. The terrorism and extremism in Afghanistan has overflown into large swaths of Pakistan’s tribal region, destabilizing it greatly and ruining the tourism driven economy the SWAT valley used to enjoy. Worst of all, Pakistan’s own military has proven either unwilling or unable to staunch the bleeding. Everyday the Taliban’s influence creeps closer to Islamabad.

6. Pakistan has a nuclear arsenal.

Comparing such imperative threats to the thread of bad intelligence our government used to link 9/11 to Iraq and launch a massive invasion, makes it clear that, for once, we may have a war of necessity on our hands. Maybe war is never justified, but some wars are certainly more justified than others.

Such has been my thinking on the prospect of a renewed campaign in Afghanistan: It’s going to be tough, it’s going to be expensive, and there’s no guarantee of success. But at least we have some solid reasons to be there. At least an honest debate on the merits of more or less involvement seems warranted.

Well, a couple days ago I read an excellent article which contained firsthand account of a firefight in the region as well as some eye-opening specifics on what we can expect from Afghanistan as the fighting ramps up this summer. While it does an excellent job of highlighting the huge strides that could be made if the massive poppy industry (which bankrolls the Taliban) can be shutdown, it is also a sobering reminder of the worst-case scenario: a protracted and bloody, conflict with heavy U.S. and civilian casualties.

Please read the article here: Poppy Fields of Afghanistan

Two eye-opening articles… April 21, 2009

Posted by Afflatus in Politics, World Affairs.
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The first details what was for me a new, humanistic perspective of why the US should stay in Afghanistan. Though Obama decided long ago to send 17,000 more troops there, I still have been frequently debating the merits of this decision. It’s an interesting article.

The second argues for a dramatic restructuring of our local government institutions. Inefficiency is ubiquitous, and vast improvements can be made in almost every state. Definitely check out this short article.

The first makes many undeniable arguments in favor of remaining in Afghanistan. A classmate of mine told me that we will probably have long-term bases there to protect our national interest, and to help stability and democracy in the region. I’m beginning to think this is not a bad idea.  Thoughts? On either article?