President Obama has been of two minds toward Afghanistan since the outset of his presidency. In December 2009, en route to tripling the U.S. military presence there, he declared that U.S. military forces would begin to withdraw from that country in eighteen months. Now, two-and-a-half years later, he stated that U.S. military forces would continue to leave Afghanistan but that American soldiers would remain in the country until at least 2024.
The announcement of the U.S.-Afghan "Strategic Partnership Agreement" raises at least as many questions as it answers. How many U.S. troops will remain in country after 2014 and what will be their precise role? What will be the ultimate scale of Afghan army and police forces? How much will all this cost, and what will be the U.S. share? And what is the extent of the U.S. commitment to Afghanistan if, as is all too possible, this mix of Afghan and U.S. effort is not enough in the face of Taliban ruthlessness, Pakistani provision of a sanctuary for the Taliban, and Afghan corruption and divisions? FULL POST
By Richard N. Haass, Project Syndicate
A surprising number of elections and political transitions is scheduled to occur over the coming months. An incomplete list includes Russia, China, France, the United States, Egypt, Mexico, and South Korea.
At first glance, these countries have little in common. Some are well-established democracies; some are authoritarian systems; and others are somewhere in between. Yet, for all of their differences, these governments – and the individuals who will lead them – face many of the same challenges. Three stand out. FULL POST
North Korea's failed attempt to launch the unha-3, a new three-stage long-range ballistic missile, is for obvious reasons welcome. More than anything else it demonstrates limits to the DPRK's technical prowess. And it means that the United States and the world have more time before they must contend with the possibility that the world's most closed and militarized country has the capacity to launch missiles, conceivably with nuclear warheads, across great distances.
But any sigh of relief must be tempered. First, the fact that the test took place at all in the face of widespread international opposition demonstrates North Korea's ability to defy external pressure and isolation. It also means that China, the country with the most influence over North Korea, is still unwilling to use that influence in a decisive manner. FULL POST Editor's Note: Richard N. Haass, formerly Director of Policy Planning in the U.S. State Department, is President of The Council on Foreign Relations. For more from Haass, visit Project Syndicate or follow it on Facebook and Twitter.
By Richard N. Haass, Project Syndicate
Some 40 years ago, when I entered Oxford University as a graduate student, I declared my interest in the Middle East. I was told that this part of the world came under the rubric of “Oriental Studies,” and that I would be assigned an appropriate professor. But when I arrived for my first meeting at the professor’s office, his bookshelves were lined with volumes bearing Chinese characters. He was a specialist in what was, at least for me at the time, the wrong Orient.
Something akin to this mistake has befallen American foreign policy. The United States has become preoccupied with the Middle East – in certain ways, the wrong Orient – and has not paid adequate attention to East Asia and the Pacific, where much of the twenty-first century’s history will be written.
The good news is that this focus is shifting. Indeed, a quiet transformation is taking place in American foreign policy, one that is as significant as it is overdue. The U.S. has rediscovered Asia. FULL POST
More than four decades after he seized power, and more than seven months after the civil war began that led to his ouster, Moammar Gadhafi is apparently dead, forever removed from Libya's politics. Gadhafi's death alters but does not transform the situation in Libya. Fighting could still continue for some time, as forces loyal to the former leader may well continue to resist soldiers of Libya's transitional government.
More important, the struggle for Libya's future continues. It is one thing to oust a regime; it is something fundamentally different to install a viable entity in its place. History suggests there is a fair likelihood that those who joined to oppose Gadhafi will soon find themselves at odds over how best to organize and rule the country they have now inherited.
For just this reason, outsiders, and in particular those in Europe and the United States who have done so much militarily to help bring about political change in Libya, should not delude themselves that their task is in any way complete. Much needs to be done to help the new Libyan authorities work together, be it to impose and maintain order or to stand up a functioning economy and government. On-the-ground training and advice may be the most important assistance the West can now offer this oil-rich but developmentally stunted country.
Events in Libya will be viewed differently throughout the Middle East. Protesters will be encouraged by this latest demonstration of the potential for political change, although they are likely to underestimate how central a role was played by NATO airpower. For authoritarian leaders facing challenges from their streets, Libya will underscore the winner-take-all nature of Arab politics. This reality will lead regimes in Syria or Bahrain and possibly the transitional military-led council in Egypt as well-to continue to do all they can to remain in power and defeat those who pose a threat to their rule.
The views expressed in this article are solely those of Richard Haass.
Editor's Note: Richard N. Haass, formerly Director of Policy Planning in the U.S. State Department, is President of The Council on Foreign Relations. For more from Haass, visit Project Syndicate or follow it on Facebook and Twitter.
By Richard N. Haass, Project Syndicate
It was a decade ago that 19 terrorists took control of four planes, flew two into the twin towers of the World Trade Center, hit the Pentagon with a third and crashed the fourth in a field in Pennsylvania after passengers resisted and made it impossible for the terrorists to complete their malevolent mission. In a matter of hours, more than 3,000 innocent people, mostly Americans, but also people from 115 other countries, had their lives suddenly and violently taken from them.
September 11, 2001, was a terrible tragedy by any measure, but it was not a historical turning point. It did not herald a new era of international relations in which terrorists with a global agenda prevailed, or in which such spectacular terrorist attacks became commonplace. On the contrary, 9/11 has not been replicated. Despite the attention devoted to the “Global War on Terrorism,” the most important developments of the last ten years have been the introduction and spread of innovative information technologies, globalization, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the political upheavals in the Middle East. FULL POST
By Richard Haass
Reactions to President Obama's Afghan speech last night are all over the lot. This should not surprise.
The words emphasize the commitment over the next three and a half years to sharply scale back the level of U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan, but in the short run, there will be more continuity than change in U.S. policy.
Even after another fifteen months, U.S. force levels will be close to seventy thousand, approximately two times what they were when the president assumed office.
This pace of drawdown is unnecessarily slow.
Editor's Note: Richard N. Haass, formerly Director of Policy Planning in the U.S. State Department, is now President of The Council on Foreign Relations. For more from Haass, visit Project Syndicate's website, or check it out on Facebook and Twitter.
By Richard Haass
The killing of Osama bin Laden by United States special forces constitutes a significant victory over global terrorism. But it is a milestone, not a turning point, in what remains an ongoing struggle with no foreseeable end.
The significance of what was accomplished stems in part from bin Laden’s symbolic importance. He has been an icon, representing the ability to strike with success against the U.S. and the West. That icon has now been destroyed.
Another positive consequence is the demonstrated effect of counter-terrorism operations carried out by U.S. soldiers. As a result, some terrorists, one hopes, will decide to become former terrorists – and some young radicals might now think twice before deciding to become terrorists in the first place.
But any celebration needs to be tempered by certain realities. Bin Laden’s demise, as welcome as it is, should in no way be equated with the demise of terrorism.
By Richard Haass, Council on Foreign Relations
The killing of Osama bin Laden constitutes a significant victory over global terrorism. But it is a milestone, not a turning point, in what remains an ongoing struggle without a foreseeable end.
The significance of what was accomplished stems from Osama bin Laden's symbolic importance. He has been an icon, one representing the ability to strike with success against the United States and the West. That icon is now gone.
There is also the demonstration effect of what U.S. Special Forces are able to do. It sends a clear message to terrorists that they are at least as vulnerable as those they would seek to hurt.
But any celebration needs to be tempered by two realities. The first is that bin Laden's demise is in no way to be equated with the demise of terrorism. There is no time for a V-T Day–a Victory over Terrorism Day celebration.
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