Foreign Policy Blogs

US-Afghanistan Policy: A Realist Turn?

It is being reported that the US Joint Chiefs of Staff will issue a report recommending that the Obama administration lower its expectations for a democratic Afghanistan and instead concentrate on regional stability and defeating Al Qaeda and the Taliban. I have not seen the report myself, but Politico's David Cloud asserts that the report by the JCS has come to the conclusion that the Bush administration's emphasis on creating a free, open Afghan society and governance may be too difficult to obtain in a timely manner and should be looked at as a ‘vision for the future’ and not as a ‘goal.’

090203_afganistan2_cloud297.jpgThe report calls for ‘narrowing’ the US/NATO goals to ‘just’ defeating the Taliban and Al Qaeda, uprooting their sanctuaries in Pakistan, and ‘ensuring’ regional stability. The thought that these are ‘narrow’ goals is laughable considering how challenging they have and will continue to be. Nevertheless, this is definitely a more realist outlook than trying to obtain a democratic and liberal style governance and society in the Afghan state.

This report, which should be out in the open and on the president's desk soon, comes at a crucial time as the Obama administration is preparing to send around 12,000 more troops into the conflict.  Obama, who seems like he has realist, pragmatic leanings, may be sympathetic to this plan and will accordingly direct these incoming troops to these newly-focused goals.   It is also well-known that Obama staked much of his campaign rhetoric on changing US-Afghan War policy and putting the conflict to the forefront of American foreign policy.  We’ll have to see how Obama, Petraeus, Bob Gates all see this plan in the next few weeks.

The war in Afghanistan has been going on for nearly 8 years now, (for the people of Afghanistan, a lot longer), and though I don't see the American people wavering too much in support of the effort, there is definitely those who feel like some progress needs to be shown. Will a concentration of forces, resources, and strategy centered on the specific goals of stopping Al Qaeda and Taliban's refuge in Pakistan and a lessening of talk and efforts for state building bring some tangible results to show the American people and the world. And maybe this will allow more breathing space and time for the Afghan government to grow in strength. Can the US have its cake (regional security) and eat it too (Afghan/Pakistan democracy)?

What goals should the US emphasis in Afghanistan? Would the JCS recommendations undermine the democratic gains already made in the country and possible in the surrounding region?

(Photo Source: AP)



Patrick Frost

Patrick Frost recently graduated from New York University's Masters Program in Political Science - International Relations. His MA thesis analyzed the capabilities and objectives of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Central Asia and beyond and explored how these affected U.S. interests and policy.

Areas of Focus:
Eurasia, American Foreign Policy, Ideology, SCO

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