Friday, June 21, 2013


Last month I wrote about the CIA giving Afghan President Karzai large sums of cash on a regular basis for a long time.  Both the CIA and the Karzai government acknowledged these payments and the CIA said they would continue.  You may have thought that someone in the U.S. government, perhaps the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, would look into this.  Well, Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn), the ranking member, has sent three written requests (May 2, May 14 and June 13) to the White House seeking information about the payments.  The White House has not yet replied to any of his three written requests for information.

In his letters, Corker states “I write again to request an explanation of the incoherent United States policy in Afghanistan made evident by the claims of cash payments to President Karzai.  Regarding reducing corruption, he goes on to say “I am deeply concerned that these alleged cash payments undermine these efforts and enhance corruption in Afghanistan.  Even if these alleged payments may have short-term value for the United States from a national security or intelligence perspective, they may be severely counterproductive in the long run.”

Given the responsibilities and authority of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this seems like a reasonable request.  The problem could be that there is no “good” answer.


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Learning Disabled

While more than 60,000 American troops are still fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq falls further into sectarian chaos, President Obama has decided to  militarily involve the United States in a civil war in Syria.  His rationale rests on Syrian civilian casualties and refugees, his longstanding statements that Assad “must go,” and the use of chemical weapons by Assad.  He is also seeking to offset the support to Assad provided by Russia, Iran and Hezbollah and bring a balance to the battlefield.

 President Obama has just stepped onto a slippery slope with a military and diplomatic quagmire at its bottom.  There is no evidence that his decision is part of a regional grand strategy  or that we have identified the ways and means that will achieve an (as yet unidentified) end.  This is a civil war and both sides have contributed to the 90,000 deaths and Mr. Assad retains the support of a significant portion of the Syrian population.  Further U.S. involvement morphs this civil war into a proxy war between the U.S., Europe, and Saudi Arabia on one side and Iran, Russia and Hezbollah on the other.  The latter group has significantly greater national interests in Syria than the former.  Furthermore, this alignment makes Russian support of U.S. efforts to contain Iran’s nuclear program more unlikely and reduces Israel’s security.  Finally, arming the rebels has the effect of prolonging and  intensifying the fighting and makes a diplomatic or political solution less likely.

 President Obama and his advisors have stepped into this dark, slippery slope by ignoring both history and current reality.   Our history in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Egypt and Libya says that we have not been very successful bending outcomes to support our interests.  And the current reality is that we are a debtor nation reducing funding for Head Start and cancer research while now deciding to spend scarce dollars in support of an unstructured rebel force in Syria without any end state having been identified.  When reacting is substituted for strategic thinking learning suffers.