All war represents a failure of diplomacy. -Benn
THE most relevant and universally proffered justification for our 'enduring', seemingly endless military aggression in Afghanistan is rooted in our nation's response to the 9-11 killings in our homeland. The specter of al-Qaeda (the accused) is manifested in the fugitives - suspected perpetrators and accomplices of the attacks alike - who were driven across the border by our invasion over seven years ago into the mountains of Pakistan.
The specter of al-Qaeda is also rooted in the individuals who were influenced in their resistance to our invasion of their homeland (and by the subsequent invasion and overthrow in Iraq) to provide a buffer, or safe haven of support and assistance to the once meager band of 9-11 thugs.
From that initial commitment (which Rumsfeld told troops at the Bagram air base would consist of a "relatively small force of 3,000 to 5,000 troops and would not include Americans) the U.S. mission in Afghanistan has mushroomed away from the hunt for bin-Laden and his associates on the ground and is developing into a full-force defense of the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan against the resistant effects of our country's bungling, flailing militarism.
The swelling ranks of individuals in Afghanistan and Pakistan who identify and ally with al-Qaeda and their Taliban supporters (still a relative minority) have allowed the U.S. to represent the defense of the two precarious governments against them as a defense akin to the original response to 9-11. The effort, however, is a tragic, self-perpetuating battle against the ghosts of resistance to our own opportunistic military advance on the Afghan and Pakistani homeland.
"The outcome will not be decided militarily but politically, by the people who live in Afghanistan," he counseled. "I want to get to what I call the tipping point, where the lead for security is in Afghan units, police and army, and we increasingly are more in a training and mentoring role . . . I think you can have too many foreign forces in Afghanistan," he said.
President Obama acknowledged the limits of that military force as he announced a 'new era' of diplomacy in the Middle East. "In words and deeds, we are showing the world that a new era of engagement has begun," Obama told a joint session of Congress this week. That call for diplomacy, however, was tempered with a nod by Mr. Obama to the escalating militarism of the last administration.
"We know that America cannot meet the threats of this century alone, but the world cannot meet them without America," he said. "We cannot shun the negotiating table, nor ignore the foes or forces that could do us harm."
"With our friends and allies, we will forge a new and comprehensive strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan to defeat Al-Qaeda and combat extremism," Obama said. "I will not allow terrorists to plot against the American people from safe havens half a world away."
That 'comprehensive strategy' is the subject of review by an 'Afghanistan-Pakistan Policy Task Force' which is tasked to report back to the president by the NATO summit in April. Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer and Brookings fellow, is co-chairing the review along with special envoy Richard Holbrooke and Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, Michele Flournoy.
If the president's 'era of engagement' is to take root in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the State Dept. will have to emerge as more than the afterthought and support to military action that it had become in the last administration. From the actions of Sec. of State Clinton today, it appears that the agency is moving to make that diplomatic 'era' a reality.
In the wake of a cordial meeting between the leaders of Pakistan and Afghanistan, Sec. Clinton announced the intention to hold regular, trilateral meetings between the countries as she met with Afghan Foreign Minister Rangeen Dadfar Spanta and Pakistan's Shah Mahmood Qureshi.
Talks over the past three days "would have been valuable even if they had simply been bilateral," Clinton said. The meetings were "especially meaningful" because "we have all been working together," she told reporters.
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