This next week on Wednesday, 8 September at the New America Foundation a group of academics, business leaders, journalists, and other policy practitioners — organized as ‘The Afghanistan Study Group’ will formally release this new report titled “New Way Forward: Rethinking U.S. Strategy in Afghanistan.” The report can be downloaded here.
The Afghanistan Study Group is our effort at a Team B approach to thinking through an alternative policy strategy for Afghanistan given the problems undermining America’s current course.
But after reading the following article in the Washington Diplomat by Michael Coleman, it’s clear that former U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel — now co-chair with former Senator David Boren of the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board — makes a darn good “Team B” package all on his own, particularly when it comes to no-nonsense thinking about the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars.
Read the entire interview but this is the most potent section on wars which Hagel thinks have been major strategic errors and which, in the case of Afghanistan, he thinks we need to unwind:
“I think we’re in a mess in Afghanistan and I think we’re in a mess in Iraq,” said Hagel, who voted in support of the war in Iraq based on the intelligence assessments and later admitted he regretted his vote. “Our military has been more valiant and done a better job than we could have ever hoped. But we have put the military in an impossible situation.”
Hagel flatly rejects the notion — now conventional wisdom among many Americans — that the war in Iraq has been a success. “Did you see today’s paper?” he asked, holding up a front-page story in the Washington Post that described vast swaths of the country as being plagued by electricity outages.
“Look at the facts: No government, less electricity and people want us out,” Hagel pointed out. “Anyway you measure Iraq today I think you’re pretty hard pressed to find how people are better off than they were before we invaded. I think history is going to be very harsh in its judgment — very, very harsh. And I think we’re headed for a similar outcome in Afghanistan if we don’t do some things differently.”
He stands by his assessment, outlined in his 2008 book “America: Our Next Chapter,” that the invasion of Iraq is the worst American foreign policy blunder since Vietnam, and one of the five worst in U.S. history.
Hagel said the United States “made a terrible mistake taking our eye of the ball in Afghanistan when we invaded Iraq.” Now, he argues that the United States is doing in Afghanistan exactly what George W. Bush famously warned against during his 2000 presidential campaign: nation building.
“We are where we are today — going into our 10th year in Afghanistan, our longest war — because we did take our eye of the ball,” he said. “It’s becoming clearer and clearer. We really made some big mistakes during that time. I have never believed you can go into any country and nation build, and unfortunately I think that’s what we’ve gotten ourselves bogged down in.
“You can dance around that issue any way you like, but the fact is that there are billions and billions of dollars we’ve spent and are still spending, over 100,000 troops, and all the assistance we’ve got going in there,” Hagel continued. “It’s nation building. We should not nation build. It will always end in disaster.”
He argues that the original aim of defeating the Taliban in Afghanistan — a group that the United States essentially “invented” during the Soviet-Afghan conflict in the 1970s — has morphed into something more complex. The U.S. is now building roads and schools, working to establish an Afghan government, and trying to negotiate peace among political factions that have been warring for centuries.
“We became completely disoriented from our original focus,” Hagel charged. “That problem in Afghanistan isn’t going to be solved with 100,000 American troops.”
It’s no surprise then that the former Senator believes it’s time for the United States to aggressively “unwind” in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
This is the kind of thinking that Obama needs to hear more often — whether it is Team B or in Cabinet meetings or through National Security Council advisers.
It may be time for President Obama to make Chuck Hagel part of Team A.
– Steve Clemons