Sunday, May 30, 2010

Assuring Victory in Afghanistan

The failed Mayday bombing incident in Times Square exposed the involvement of the Pakistan Taliban in a jihadist plot against the United States. Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad, a naturalized American citizen, was apparently distraught over collateral damage caused by Predator drones along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Increasingly in the past year, disgruntled Pakistani-Americans have made various attempts to avenge for stepped-up drone attacks in the critical AfPak border area. This latest effort – another foiled attack on the homeland – brings a new sense of urgency to our overall mission in the Afghan theater of operations.

A recent New York Times editorial lamented that
“Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top commander in Afghanistan, has a clear military strategy. We are less certain about the administration’s political strategy.”
It should be pretty obvious to anyone that if these two strategies are not in sync, failure is no longer an option, but becomes almost certain. We were experiencing a similar situation in Iraq until late 2006, when Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was fired and the current Defense Secretary Robert Gates took charge. Secretary Gates quickly aligned the Bush Administration’s political strategy namely, to defeat the insurgency and stabilize Iraq, with its military strategy, which was to surge forces with a clear, hold and build objective – and, thus ensured success. Today, the U.S. is on target to withdraw most of its combat troops from Iraq by late summer.

More curiously, the Times editorial appeared to have analyzed the Karzai problem strictly within the confines of Afghanistan, ignoring its larger geopolitical context. Pakistan’s influence on the outcome in Afghanistan is as much, if not more relevant than, what Iran’s influence would have been to the outcome in Iraq without the surge. President Karzai’s weakness is, in part, due to the Pakistani military’s ongoing covert relationship with the Afghan Taliban.

The Obama administration’s political strategy in Afghanistan is thus compounded by the “what do we do about Pakistan” factor? Gen. McChrystal will not be able to effectively clear, hold and build in Afghanistan until President Obama delivers an enforceable ultimatum to the Pakistan military’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency. President Obama should warn the ISI in no uncertain terms to cease and desist from further meddling in Afghanistan – a good start would be to give the Pakistan military a deadline to begin its much-delayed operations in North Waziristan to flush out all of the Al Qaeda and Taliban leadership. Only then, can President Obama seriously expect to achieve his own goal of starting to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan by mid-2011.

Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani journalist, wrote recently in the Washington Post about the selfsame Pakistan factor. Mr. Rashid’s analysis of the dilemma facing the United States boiled down to “Karzai vs. the ISI.” Even he acknowledged that Pakistan is trying to influence the outcome in Afghanistan to its advantage. The ISI is again hedging dangerously with respect to the Taliban – turning against them at home to satisfy the U.S., but coddling them in Afghanistan to counter the Indians.

The bottom line is just as the “Sunni Awakening” preceded the Iraqi surge, the U.S. needs to feverishly work with Karzai on a “Taliban Awakening” in Afghanistan to guarantee the success of the surge there. The United States cannot let the ISI dictate the terms of its Afghan policy; else it is bound to fail. Pakistan must focus its energies internally to rid itself of a compounding “Jihadi” menace; else it will continue to degenerate into chaos akin to a Somalia of the subcontinent – a situation that would not be beneficial to the world at large. Pakistan must accept the role of the Predator drone in today’s war against Al Qaeda and the Taliban leadership as it did the role of the Stinger missile launcher in yesteryear’s war against the Soviets – as a necessary instrument to drive out foreign fighters from Afghanistan. Only then can Afghanistan achieve a lasting peace with a stable government.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Eight in ’08 – Crude Summer, Black Fall!

I have been unable to post a new blog in the past couple of months due to various commitments. Nonetheless, I discovered eight wonderful commentaries that I had written back in 2008 and posted on the “Syndicated News” web site. They were penned during a sizzling summer, shortly after the price of crude oil hit a record high of $147.27 in July 2008 and during a black fall, when in a single week the Dow Jones Industrial Average plummeted 1,874 points, or 18%, in its worst weekly decline ever on both a point and percentage basis.

Some of these essays on our fragile political, economic and foreign policy landscape at that time, now seem quite prescient, if I might say so myself. I wish mainstream pundits would review their writings from a couple of years ago to see if they had the requisite foresight on some of the pressing issues of the day. As the saying goes, hindsight is 20/20, but it’s foresight that really qualifies you as a pundit. So here are the links to my syndicated efforts from that turbulent period in 2008:

In the War on Terrorism: A Passage Through India (8/14/2008)

Can a new, expanded NATO avert Cold War II? (8/21/2008)

Obama-Biden his time, as McCain-Palin to irrelevance! (9/3/2008)

Victory in Iraq (9/8/2008)

The Great Regression (9/30/2008)

For U.S. Foreign Policy: A "New Clear" Passage Through India (10/20/2008)

The Political Pendulum: Swinging To Liberalism (10/27/2008)

Too Much, Too Little, Too Late From The Fed: We Are All Keynesians Now! (10/30/2008)

So do I qualify as a pundit?

Saturday, March 27, 2010

New START be damned, it’s the beginning of the END… an END to Armageddon!

In its March 27th editorial, “A worthy U.S.-Russia arms control treaty,” the Washington Post calls the new arms control agreement “a solid diplomatic achievement” for President Obama. While it is great to hear that the U.S. and Russia have agreed to slash their nuclear arsenals to the lowest levels in half a century, the reality is that the original START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) was signed in 1991 towards the end of the Cold War!

Five years earlier, President Reagan had remarked privately to his Secretary of State, George Schultz, “Why wait until the end of the century for a world free of nuclear weapons?” Ten years into the new millennium and we are nowhere close to what President Obama more recently called as “a world without nuclear weapons." Nonetheless, the current accord is being dubbed a “New START” and the White House emphasized that this new treaty does not in any way restrict U.S. missile defense plans.

Meanwhile Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, at a White House Press Briefing on March 26th, made it clear that
“I don’t think anybody expects us to come anywhere close to zero nuclear weapons anytime soon.”
So I have a symbolic gesture that could go a long way to show the world that we are indeed serious about a nuclear weapons-free world. Given that over the past two decades, we have had a successful START I, followed by an un-ratified START II, and now another New START – I would imagine we should be way beyond the starting gate at this point. I therefore humbly suggest to President Obama that the new treaty be called END as in Eliminating the Nuclear Deterrent.

Symbolism plays a big role in the politics of the Middle East and Asia, where we face the biggest threat of nuclear proliferation. In fact, the Post concludes its March 27th editorial by lamenting that “it’s hard to see how new treaties will bring about the disarmament of North Korea or stop Tehran’s centrifuges.” If the U.S. and Russia were to sign an END Treaty, as opposed to a New START Treaty, we might just signal to the world that the end game is actually in sight. Also, in the age of the Internet and social media that demands remarkable content with catchy headlines, an “END to Armageddon” makes for one memorable tweet! But seriously, the END treaty will likely gain more popular acceptance because as the old adage goes “well begun is half done.” So, Mr. President, please let’s make it the END.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Life, Liberty and the pursuit of “Universal Healthcare”

It was barely a week ago that the Wall Street Journal published my letter, “Stock Markets Reflect Nation's Monetary And Fiscal Policies,” in which I had posited that
“if the Dow has gained 62% since its March 9, 2009, low, I would expect that the markets have done this after digesting the realities of President Obama's $787 billion stimulus package, his pending $1 trillion health-care bill, his projected $1.6 trillion budget deficit for fiscal 2010, and the end of the Bush tax cuts in 2011, etc.”

A few days later on Sunday night, I was watching the House debate ObamaCare and I could literally see history repeating itself. The last time Republicans voted lock, stock and barrel against a signature Democratic initiative by a near identical margin was the Clinton Administration’s Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993. Back then, the GOP had predicted similar dire consequences of a deep recession, significant job losses and horrendous deficits – by the time the 1990s ended, we had actually achieved diametrically opposite results!

Nonetheless, it was with trepidation that I waited for the markets to react on Monday to the reality of ObamaCare. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) had closed at 10735 on Friday evening and when it dipped 40 points at Monday’s opening bell, my heart sank. But that initial dip was more related to overnight trends in overseas markets according to most analysts. By the end of the day on Monday, the DJIA eventually closed up 50 points at 10785. On Tuesday, President Obama signed ObamaCare, officially known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, into law. Lo and behold, the DJIA went up another 100 odd points and closed at 10889. In fact, all three major stock market indices –S&P 500, Nasdaq composite, and DJIA–are now at 18 to 19 month highs!

So after nearly a century of trying, Democrats finally made a new, bold declaration of independence that we are indeed endowed with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of “Universal Healthcare.” At the end of the day, the American people are going to realize that Democratic presidents have always delivered on the seminal issues of our times including Social Security, Civil Rights, Voting Rights, Medicare and now Healthcare Reform.

As President Obama gets ready to hit the road to enlighten the American people on the immediate benefits that will flow from ObamaCare, it is imperative that he links the economics of healthcare to the future health of our economy. Also, he can make a simple case to his skeptics – wider coverage, healthier people, more economic output, and hence more jobs. It’s a “trickle down” argument that even conservatives will appreciate.

Finally on a lighter note, the passage of ObamaCare comes with fringe benefits such as self-imposed exile to Costa Rica for some prominent naysayers, the repudiation of tea over coffee as the quintessential American beverage, and hopefully the defeat of fear-mongering as a political tactic by deep-pocketed interests groups! Republicans might want to think twice about running on a repeal platform because a brand new USA Today/Gallup poll out today shows that Americans by a 49%-40% margin already favor ObamaCare as “a good thing.” Once the people get used to a good thing, they are not likely to give it up and candidates promising to take it away could face voter backlash – to be forewarned is to be forearmed! Let the healing begin!