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Obama Should Read WikiLeaks on Afghanistan

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--Minor premise: "Pakistani army chief Kayani, who as Pakistan's army chief has more direct say over the country's security strategy than its president or prime minister, has resisted personal appeals from President Obama"is unlikely to change his mind anytime soon"and is hedging his bets in case the American strategy for Afghanistan fails."

--Conclusion: If the U.S. must get Pakistan's help in eliminating the Taliban's safe havens to and if that cooperation won't be forthcoming from Pakistan, the prospects of U.S. "success" are close to zero.

Yet, however obvious this conclusion may be, it goes begging in the arch-Establishment Washington Post.

What really rubs across the grain is the apparent naïvete that reigns among policy makers in Washington -- reflected in the oft-expressed hope by Secretary Clinton, Mullen and others that the U.S. can somehow change the strategic vision of Pakistan with a mix of flattery, threats, money and gifts (usually in the form of sophisticated military hardware).

It was particularly painful to hear Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, Michele Flournoy, tell a rapt audience at Harvard's Kennedy School several weeks ago that she expects the Pakistanis to come around, once we are able to "shift their strategic calculus."

But Kayani and his colleagues are not naïve. The Washington Post article quotes Kayani as complaining that he is "always asking [Gen. David] Petraeus what is the strategic objective in Afghanistan." As well he might.

I suppose, though, it doesn't much matter whether or not the likes of Flournoy, Mullen and Clinton really believe they can get more help from the Pakistanis.

My guess is that -- given the U.S.'s actual strategic vision as opposed to its stated objectives -- senior U.S. policy makers feel stuck in Afghanistan and may realize by now that it is a forlorn hope that they can buy more cooperation from Islamabad, no matter how much money or weaponry they bring to the table.

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As Kayani and the Pakistanis are well aware, the actual U.S. objectives have much more to do with the traditional Western interests in the region " strategic geography and natural resources combined with more recent worries over what might happen with Pakistan's nuclear weapons.

The Pakistani nukes are, in fact, the baleful byproduct of a myopic, Cold-War-conditioned U.S. obsession with Afghanistan in the 1980s. President Ronald Reagan wanted to checkmate the Soviet Union by arming Islamic fundamentalists, both Afghan and Arabs, to battle Soviet troops that had been sent in by Moscow to protect a secular leftist regime in Kabul.

Part of the price for securing Pakistan's cooperation was Washington's willingness to look the other way while Pakistan circumvented non-proliferation protocols to secretly build a nuclear arsenal. [For details, see's " Reagan's Bargain/Charlie Wilson's War ."]

A Long-Term Approach

Given the variety of U.S. strategic interests in Central Asia, today's bedrock American policy appears to be the creation of an enduring U.S. presence in Afghanistan. That's right; think longer term than even 2014.

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The Post's Walter Pincus reported on Dec. 21 that Bagram airfield in Afghanistan continues to grow. In mid-December, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers put out a "pre-solicitation notice" for a contractor to build the eighth of nine planned increments for troop housing at Bagram "to replace expeditionary housing facilities." Pincus adds that 18 months ago there were already 20,000 American military and civilian personnel housed there.

In 2008, the Army explained the need for supplemental funding for an ammunition storage facility at Bagram, where 12 "igloos" were planned to support Army and Air Force needs. The Army wrote, "As a forward operating site, Bagram must be able to provide for a long-term, steady state presence which is able to surge to meet theater contingency requirements." Read: The U.S. military is in Afghanistan for the long haul.

A year earlier, CENTCOM commander Adm. William Fallon, in testimony to Congress, described Bagram as "the centerpiece for the CENTCOM Master Plan for future access to and operations in Central Asia."

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Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He was an Army infantry/intelligence officer and then a CIA analyst for 27 years, and is now on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS). His (more...)

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