An Alternative Strategy for Afghanistan

Bernard Finel, a senior fellow at the American Security Project, has an excellent piece on forging an alternative strategy in Afghanistan.

I believe the United States should begin a relative rapid withdrawal of combat forces from Afghanistan.  It is not that I don’t think they can be locally effective.  It is just that I question the cost/benefit calculus of extending the commitment.  I think that many supporters of escalation fail to consider the potential consequences if we do fail to achieve our goal of largely defeating the Taliban and pacifying Afghanistan. [Emphasis mine]

Finel brings up a critical point. From former national security adviser Henry Kissinger to Council on Foreign Relations scholar Stephen Biddle, many prominent opinion leaders concede that the war in Afghanistan will be long, expensive, and risky, yet claim it is ultimately worth waging because a withdrawal would boost jihadism globally and make America look weak. But what happens if what we’ve invested in falls apart whether we withdraw tomorrow or 20 years from now? And wouldn’t trying to stay indefinitely — while accomplishing little — appear even worse? Trying to pacify all of Afghanistan, much less hoping to do so on a permanent basis, is a losing strategy.

afghanistan-malou innocentMr. Finel goes on to say further down, “we should recommit to doing everything in our power to revolve tensions between India and Pakistan.  Pakistan has legitimate security concerns regarding its neighbor and that gives Pakistan mixed motives in dealing with Islamist radicals.”

This too is a crucial recommendation. People in the Beltway have neglected the extent to which leaders in Islamabad fear the rise of an India-leaning government coming to power in Kabul, and thus, their leaders (principally their military) have little incentive to stop allowing their territory to be used as a de facto safe haven for the original Afghan Taliban. Thus, the question must be asked, can Washington offer any number of incentives for their leaders to relinquish support for extremists with whom they have associated for the past 30 years? This question gets lost when people discuss the possibility of talks with the Taliban. The question for U.S. policymakers is not whether the Taliban militants we talk to are “moderate” enough, but whether they will simply lie in wait and reemerge from their cross-border sanctuary after the eventual withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces.

Unless Washington addresses Pakistan’s existential fear of India, and their military leadership’s continued support for the Taliban in order to counter India’s influence in Afghanistan, U.S. and NATO troops could fight for decades, win every discrete battle, and never come close to eradicating the militancy.

State and Local Government Employment Up Since Recession’s Start

Yesterday, the Rockefeller Institute released a report on state and local government employment since the beginning of the recession.  It found:

Private sector employment for the nation as a whole has fallen by 6.9 million jobs between the December 2007 start of the recession and July 2009. Over the same period, state and local government employment has risen by 110 thousand jobs or 0.6 percent, with increases in both state governments and local governments.

With a prolonged recession now forcing state and local governments to actually cut or furlough some employees, it’s important to remember that they were adding government jobs at a time when it was clear to the rest of the country that the air was out of the economic bubble.  In other words, taxpayers should have no sympathy for posturing politicians and their apologists warning of Armageddon should taxes not be increased to facilitate the continuance of bloated state and local governments.  Also, expect to hear claims that getting rid of government employees will somehow hinder an economic recovery.  In fact, getting rid of government employees — and the programs they support — would be good for the long-run health of the economy.

A government employee is inherently parasitic because without the “host” — i.e., taxpayers — their job would not exist.  One can debate the degree to which a government employee’s work benefits society, but the fact remains that any benefit comes at a cost to the economy given that productive individuals and businesses are taxed to pay for government jobs.  This should be obvious.  Unfortunately, it is not uncommon these days to hear intelligent people embrace increasing government employment during a recession to “make up” for job losses in the private sector.  One need only spend some time working in government, as I have, to recognize that an economic resurgence will not be fueled by increasing the government employee-to-host ratio.

Will Uribe Betray Liberal Democracy in Colombia?

After months of speculation, the Colombian Senate approved a constitutional amendment that would allow President Alvaro Uribe to run for a second reelection next year. Obstacles remain, however, and the amendment still has to be voted on in the House of Representatives, pass a review process by the Constitutional Court, and be put to a popular referendum — where it’s likely to be approved given Uribe’s high popularity among Colombian voters.

None of these required steps are certain: the final vote in the House of Representatives is not assured; the Constitutional Court might find irregularities during the discussion of the bill in Congress; and time is running out for organizing a national referendum before next year’s election. However, these last-minute efforts to change Colombia’s constitution and Uribe’s blatant interest in running again are troublesome.

I’ve praised Alvaro Uribe’s record before in tackling crime and guiding Colombia out of the abysm it was in at the start of the decade. However, democracy must transcend the virtues of any leader. Just as it is ominous for Venezuela’s democracy that Hugo Chávez plans to perpetuate himself in office, it would be unhealthy for Colombia’s democratic institutions for Uribe to run for a third consecutive term.

The ultimate decision will likely be Alvaro Uribe’s. This is his chance to show the world whether he’s loyal to liberal democracy or to the power he has become accustomed to.

David Frum Analyzes Why ‘The Crazies’ Are Running the GOP

In a discussion on Bloggingheads, David Frum offers his thoughts on the sad state of the GOP these days:

He blames the predicament, in part, on the “conservative entertainment-industrial complex,” a term coined by Andrew Sullivan.  In Frum’s telling, this complex has “distorted conservative dialogue to suit the wishes of the Fox audience.”  He says that drawing on such a group, “you can get seriously rich out of that, but you can’t govern a country with that kind of voter base, it’s a tiny minority-within-a-minority.”

This is an interesting thesis.  Frum was the coauthor of a seemingly successful, widely discussed foreign-policy book titled An End to Evil, which posited that terrorism posed a “threat to the survival of our nation,” and in foreign policy, “there is no middle way for Americans.  It is victory or Holocaust.”  Are these the sorts of carefully considered judgments on which the GOP is going to ride back into office?

It’s probably true that pushing the American nationalist button over and over from 2002 forward contributed to getting Bush reelected in 2004, but the results after then have been rather less encouraging.  John Boehner colorfully remarked recently that the GOP “took it in the shorts with Bush-Cheney, the Iraq War, and by sacrificing fiscal responsibility to hold power.”  I’m not sure that my preferred foreign policy is the key to political success, but I’m pretty sure that the zany world view that Frum has traded on isn’t the way forward either.

American People to Government: Don’t Mess Up the Economy

The American people get it.  The government is likely to go too far in “fixing” the economy. 

Explains Rasmussen Reports:

Fifty-four percent (54%) of U.S. voters worry more that the federal government will try to do too much to fix the economy rather than not enough. That’s up three points from a month ago and the highest level of concern found on this question since Barack Obama was elected president.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that just 37% are more worried that the federal government will not do enough in reacting to the nation’s current economic problems. That’s little changed from last month and down from a high of 44% in January.

Last October, as the meltdown of Wall Street dominated the front pages, 63% worried that the government would do too much. By the first week of November, that number had fallen to 46% and it stayed below the 50% level for several months.

Among the nation’s Political Class, (70%) worry that the government will not do enough. As for those who hold populist or Mainstream views, an identical percentage (70%) fear the government will do too much.

Notable is the contrary thinking of the political class.  The vast majority worries that the government won’t do enough.  Unfortunately, this group has far more influence over what government is likely to do than does the general public.

Tom Ridge on the Bush Administration’s War on Terror

Former congressman, governor, and secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Tom Ridge is a long-time GOP loyalist.  But he apparently doesn’t have good things to say about the Bush administration on its vaunted war on terrorism.

A new report on his upcoming book warns:

Tom Ridge, the first head of the 9/11-inspired Department of Homeland Security, wasn’t keen on writing a tell-all. But in The Test of Our Times: America Under Siege…and How We Can Be Safe Again, out September 1, Ridge says he wants to shake “public complacency” over security.

And to do that, well, he needs to tell all. Especially about the infighting he saw that frustrated his attempts to build a smooth-running department. Among the headlines promoted by publisher Thomas Dunne Books: Ridge was never invited to sit in on National Security Council meetings; was “blindsided” by the FBI in morning Oval Office meetings because the agency withheld critical information from him; found his urgings to block Michael Brown from being named head of the emergency agency blamed for the Hurricane Katrina disaster ignored; and was pushed to raise the security alert on the eve of President Bush’s re-election, something he saw as politically motivated and worth resigning over.

This confirms widespread suspicion that the Bush administration’s terrorism initiatives were highly political.  It also undercuts the claim that we should trust government to protect us by sacrificing our liberties and giving trustworthy public servants greater discretion.