Monday, May 16, 2011

Bin Laden's death and chances for a more peaceful US foreign policy

There have been some interesting reporting and analyses about the possibility that the killing of Bin Laden may open up new opportunities for the Obama Administration to pursue a more restrained, less warlike foreign policy.

Rajiv Chandrasekaran, who was one of the best reporters on the Iraq War, wrote in With bin Laden’s death, U.S. sees a chance to hasten the end of the Afghan war Washington Post 05/03/2011:

Administration officials think it could now be easier for the reclusive leader of the largest Taliban faction, Mohammad Omar, to break his group’s alliance with al-Qaeda, a key U.S. requirement for any peace deal. They also think that bin Laden’s death could make peace talks a more palatable outcome for Americans and insulate President Obama from criticism that his administration would be negotiating with terrorists.

“Bin Laden’s death is the beginning of the endgame in Afghanistan,” said a senior administration official who, like others interviewed for this article, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal policy deliberations. "It changes everything."
But is this a serious signal of a policy change? Or a tease to head off domestic pressure for a rapid withdrawal? Or to discourage people from looking too closely at details of the operation that got Bin Laden?

Some in the Pentagon don't see the need for negotiations because we're winning victory after victory. (Aren't we always?)

Top military officials have expressed concern in internal discussions that calling for negotiations too soon could jeopardize hard-fought gains on the battlefield. They contend that their aggressive campaign is weakening the insurgency, and that if they are left to pursue their strategy without a significant reduction in troops, the Taliban will be forced into a weaker deal, getting no more than a minority role within a U.S.-friendly, democratic government.
Pakistan, of course, presents its own complications into the picture:

Pakistani officials have long seen a contradiction in Washington’s effort to target those with whom it wishes to negotiate, and they fear that the U.S. goal is an Afghan government more allied with India, Pakistan’s historical adversary. The Pakistani government believes that Taliban insurgents are the only card it has to play in the game for long-term strategic influence in the region. [my emphasis]
This is one of the problematic aspect of the current targeted assassination policy. If we want to achieve a peace deal, we will need to have leaders on the other side who are credible enough to their followers to negotiate such a deal and make it stick.

I certainly hope the Administration takes this opportunity. But the positive indications so far are hard to square with their decision to enter the Libya War, a commitment that risks another long, inconclusive counterinsurgency war in an Arab Muslim country of limited importance in US foreign policy. And Sam Stein reports a seemingly very different White House spin in Jay Carney: Afghan Policy 'Remains Unchanged' Following Bin Laden's Death Huffington Post 05/06/2011.

Ray McGovern looks at this question in What Has Bin Laden's Killing Wrought? Consortium News 05/05/2011:

Yet, despite the future risks for the United States and the Muslim world – and the fact that the U.S. assault was a fairly clear violation of international law – the killing of bin Laden paradoxically does offer a possible route back from the institutionalization of American lawlessness.

Since bin Laden and his actions on 9/11 created the shock that allowed the Bush administration to lead the United States into the “dark side” of “enhanced interrogations,” “preemptive wars” and a wholesale assault on civil liberties, it could follow that the death of bin Laden will permit a retracing of those steps.

The first step in that journey would be a serious attempt to negotiate a political settlement in Afghanistan and the withdrawal of American and NATO troops. If enough public pressure is brought to bear, there could even be a full-scale reassessment of U.S. priorities, pulling back from the expensive garrison state that bin Laden helped create.

David Rothkopf speculates with a bit of optimism for a more peaceful foreign policy in Will Obama's most Bush-like moment free the true Obama? Foreign Policy 05/05/2011:

The Bush-Obama paradox manifests itself again when considering just what kind of a dividing line in history this might be. On the one hand, it is celebrated as the culminating moment to date in the War on Terror, the realization of the express initial mission undertaken in the moments after the 9/11 attacks. But this event should also be seen as what it probably is, a pivot point enabling the ultimate reversal of Bush's heavy engagement in the Middle East. Obama has never seemed comfortable with America's large-scale military involvement in the region, promising an exit even as he added troops in Afghanistan. He and key aides have sought a satisfactory exit for most of our troops and the ability to move to different models of international involvement: more multilateral, a greater emphasis on diplomacy, more positive engagement with the Muslim world in particular ... and frankly, a search for more approaches that allow us to address growing critical needs at home. Thus, on the foreign policy front, Obama's most-Bush-like moment may be his last such moment... unless the moment and its headiness changes him as a president more than he or his allies might currently anticipate. [ellipses in original]
My pessimism about the more hopeful course is heavily influenced by the Libya War. If the Obama Administration were really seeking to reduce US participation in conflicts in the Muslim world, why would they agree to enter the Libya War?

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