Friday, April 18, 2014

President Obama’s New Strategy – what’s new, will it work?

Afghanistan Mission—On April 21, H.E. Ambassador Zahir Tanin, Permanent Representative of Afghanistan to the United Nations, participated in a panel discussion held at the Woodrow Wilson School of Princeton University, entitled “President Obama’s new strategy – What’s new? Will it work?” Ambassador Tanin delivered the keynote address, which focused on the fact that President Obama’s strategy is very open to interpretation, and will need to include follow-through and sustained commitment in order for it to be successful. He warned that if the Taliban thought the international commitment had an end-date they would feel they could out-wait the West the same way the Mujahideen out-lasted the Soviet Union. He also emphasized that success will require patience, but that Afghanistan and the region will be central in the geopolitics of the future, and cannot be ignored. You can read the full text of his address here.
Ambassador Francesc Vendrell, who served as European Union Special Representative in Afghanistan from 2002-2008, and has remained very involved in the region, said he was concerned about the approach that the Obama Administration seemed to be taking. He said he felt there was a division within the Administration between those who wanted to minimize objectives and take a quick exit strategy and those who recognized the necessity of being invested for a longer period. He also is concerned that the “new” strategy does not in fact offer much that is new, and focuses on a military surge rather than the more essential civilian involvement. Ambassador Vendrell also said that the core strategy described by President Obama, to “defeat” al-Qaeda, was extremely vague, and wondered who would get to determine when al-Qaeda had been defeated.
Professor Wolfgang Danspeckgruber, founder and director of the Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination and Professor at the Woodrow Wilson School, expressed his view that we are facing a critical time in Afghanistan because the region is under more scrutiny than ever before, we are headed into two critical elections – presidential elections this year and parliamentary elections next year – and the region is full of important and growing powers who will need to be taken into account. He mentioned that China is becoming increasingly involved in Afghanistan – through investments in infrastructure and mining particularly – and that if the United States and NATO fail in Afghanistan, there will be substantial repercussions for the future of international politics. Finally, he pointed out what he said was the 1,100lb gorilla in the room, the economic crisis currently facing the world, and said that there would be inevitable effects on Afghanistan as a result. He predicted that governments who currently give substantial aid to Afghanistan would begin to face more and more pressure from their constituencies to spend that money at home.
The panel also responded to questions from the audience on topics including reconciliation, Iran, governance and rule of law, and the Afghanistan-India relationship.
The Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination, along with the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University, have hosted a wide variety of conferences, colloquia, seminars and events on Afghanistan and the region which serve as a valuable source of academic analysis and offer an exchange of ideas between all levels of society in the United States, in Europe, and in Afghanistan and the region. LISD held a review conference on Afghanistan in September 2008 which took place in Bonn, Germany, and a number of related events will occur in the coming months, including a seminar on Afghanistan that will take place in Liechtenstein.