Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Beacon Hiatus

Dear Reader,

Due to what I expect will be an all-consuming work engagement, I'm putting Beacon on hiatus for about the next six months. I'll try to post if and when I can, but meanwhile please look at some of the excellent soft power, public diplomacy and foreign policy blogs in my sidebar.

Thanks for reading,

Paul Kretkowski

Friday, March 07, 2008

The Madrasa We DO Know


Andy Valvur forwards a story from the Financial Times on how a U.S. provincial reconstruction team is building madrasas in Afghanistan's Khost province.

So much for separation of church and state, you might think--is this where U.S. taxpayers' dollars are going?

But wait: The PRT is making a rational calculation that it's better to build a madrasa in Afghanistan, where the government at least has some say in the curriculum, than have Afghan parents send their kids to madrasas over the hill into Pakistan and spend all their time memorizing the Qur'an. And State is on board as well:

John Kael Weston, the State Department's political representative in the Khost reconstruction team, holds weekly meetings with madrassa students.

"Just look at it from their perspective - if we just talk about girls' education, for example, it just plays into the propaganda about the US. They think that the Americans will be opening up strip joints and restaurants selling alcohol on every corner."

Building madrasas dovetails nicely with something I wrote awhile ago about how U.S. policymakers must address the primacy of religion in many other cultures. Chalk one up for this PRT's pragmatism.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Terrorists Don't Even Have to Succeed Once


You can spend years developing counterinsurgency-warfare doctrine, deploy a fairly successful "surge" to tamp down violence, and train U.S.-born linguists until you're blue in the face, but if your own civilians stop supporting your efforts--if they lose the "will to fight"--you lose.

Charges that U.S. forces kill civilians in war zones--as happens unavoidably and usually by accident--enrage the people that counterinsurgents are trying to pacify.

Videos of U.S. forces killing or tormenting dogs in war zones create a whole different set of problems--on the home front. (I should note that the accompanying videos are graphic.)

These knuckleheads aren't Lt. William Calley, but they'll do until Calley comes out of retirement.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Looking Long in Pakistan


The BBC's Owen Bennett-Jones wrote a nice piece for the Stanley Foundation, Iowa's surprisingly prolific and well-funded foreign-policy think tank. In "US Policy Options Toward Pakistan: A Principled and Realistic Approach," Bennett-Jones argues that a long view is everything in American policy toward Pakistan--first because the U.S. left Pakistan to groan under the burden of millions of Afghan refugees during and after the Soviet war, and Pakistanis think the U.S. will shortly cut the country loose again; second, because a short-term focus on pressuring Pervez Musharraf to move against Taliban and al-Qa'ida elements in Pakistan has backfired; and third, because the only way out of Pakistan's consistent poverty, corruption and ineptitude is through a focus on education, which takes well over a decade to have any effect.

Bennett-Jones argues that the U.S. should grit its teeth and say less about perceived front-burner problems such as the Taliban, al-Qa'ida, and Pakistani internal politics and nuclear command-and-control, while increasing accountability for how Pakistan spends U.S. military funding and boosting the percentage of overall U.S. aid that goes to education.

I agree with Bennett-Jones' diagnosis and prescriptions but worry that it's unrealistic for the U.S. to do nothing when it has a wanted militant in some Predator's sights. However, he argues strongly that killing militants via missile attack is a short-term gain that only causes long-term harm in terms of Pakistani public opinion; the average Pakistani sees Islamic militancy as a lesser threat than day-to-day problems like inadequate medical care, and is outraged by perceived U.S. violations of Pakistan's sovereignty.

The problem with Pakistan for U.S. policymakers comes down, as it always seems to in counterinsurgency, to winning small today versus possibly, maybe, hopefully winning big sometime after you're out of office.

I could only advise them to think about Ronald Reagan, who was out of office by the time the Berlin Wall came down but is revered for taking a long view of facing down the Soviets, or Rep. Charlie Wilson, who only recently started to receive public recognition for aiding the Afghan rebels' decade-long war against the Soviets.
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