It was no accident that former vice president Dick Cheney chose the American Enterprise Institute as the venue for his full-throated defense last month of the Bush administration's national security policies. In the Bush years, AEI wielded significant influence and helped develop major initiatives on national security, including the surge in Iraq.
In the era of Obama, however, the Center for a New American Security may emerge as Washington's go-to think tank on military affairs. Founded in 2007, CNAS has already filled key posts in the new administration (such as former CNAS president Michele Flournoy, who is now undersecretary of defense for policy), and its top people include John Nagl, who helped draft the Army's counterinsurgency manual, and David Kilcullen, a former adviser to Gen. David H. Petraeus. Now CNAS has completed a 31-page report on Afghanistan and Pakistan, advising Team Obama on how to best meet its goal to "disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaeda in its safe haven in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future."
In "Triage: The Next Twelve Months in Afghanistan and Pakistan," Andrew Exum, Nathaniel Fick, Ahmed Humayun and Kilcullen say Washington is losing the Af-Pak struggle, and identify four priorities that can help reverse the slide.
In Afghanistan, they say, there are two things the United States and its allies must start doing: protect the population above all else, even at the cost of increased U.S. casualties; and attack corruption in order to restore faith in government. In Pakistan, the authors emphasize two things to stop doing: The drone attacks create a "siege mentality" among civilians and should be scaled back; and funding for the India-obsessed Pakistani military and intelligence services is less useful than supporting the police force, which is "wholly dedicated to protecting the people."
CNAS has elicited some criticism for its heavy emphasis on counterinsurgency doctrine, but its growing clout is undeniable. When the center officially releases "Triage" in a conference on Thursday, the keynote speaker will be none other than Petraeus himself, who as head of Central Command, wields unique power over U.S. actions in the Af-Pak theater.