May 06, 2010

New CNAS Report Highlights Political Blind Spot in America's Afghanistan Strategy

May 6, 2010 - Politics is the blind spot in America’s counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan, according to a report released today by the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). Leverage: Designing a Political Campaign for Afghanistan, by CNAS fellow Andrew Exum, notes that America's counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan has focused more on waging war at the operational and tactical levels at the expense of the strategic and political levels.  

“In the end, by having so vocally and materially committed to the Karzai regime, the United States and its allies are tied to its successes and failures. The goal, then, should be to maximize the former and minimize the latter through focused application of U.S. leverage,” writes Exum.  “Designing a political campaign minimizes the role luck plays in whether the United States and its allies are successful."
By drawing on research conducted through hundreds of interviews with U.S. and NATO military officers and diplomats, policymakers and NGOs in Afghanistan, Exum offers recommendations to design an effective political strategy:

1. President Obama should convene another strategic review to assess the civilian strategy in Afghanistan. The President should ask his secretaries and envoys to answer some tough questions like he expected of General Stanley McChrystal in his fall 2009 review. What are the political ends the U.S. and its allies are fighting to realize? What are key points of U.S. and allied leverage? Is the U.S. effectively organized to carry out the president's strategic initiatives in Afghanistan?

2. Build a functioning relationship with Hamid Karzai and demonstrate to the Afghan president that he has an enduring partner in the United States and its allies.
3. Use U.S. and allied leverage to press the government of Afghanistan to either hold elections for district governors or appoint competent governors from Kabul. Effective local governance is a prerequisite for U.S. and allied forces to institute aid and development projects that are essential to addressing the factors driving conflict and violence at the local level. 

Download Leverage: Designing a Political Campaign for Afghanistan here.