America’s Next Security Front

, Brittany Fortier, Leave a comment

As United States Marines begin Operation Eastern Resolve, an air and ground assault on Taliban strongholds in Afghanistan, the Center for American Progress (CAP) hosted an Interagency Team led by Ambassador Richard Holbrooke to discuss an “integrated approach” in dealing with the security challenges in the region.

Barnett Rubin, Senior Advisor to the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said that the United States should not be putting money solely into “rebuilding the government” of Afghanistan but also focus on “revitalizing” communities through an “agricultural strategy” and “other community development programs.”

Otto Gonzalez, Senior Agricultural Advisor to the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (USDA), argued that the United States has spent more on trying to “eradicate poppy” than trying to “promote agriculture.” Gonzalez praised the Interagency Team’s new policy initiatives toward Afghanistan, saying the team’s new strategy is bringing a new “coherency to our program that we didn’t have before.”

Ambassador Holbrooke, Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, echoed this concern, saying that the United States needs to begin “phasing out poppy crop eradication.”

“We are not at war with poppy farmers,” he said.

While Gonzalez assured the audience that the new initiatives are fully “resourced,” CAP’s panel discussion was light on specifics regarding how much this strategy will cost the American taxpayer.

Also notably absent from the discussion were any particulars as to how those funds and resources would be allocated.

Moreover, regarding an “exit strategy” Ambassador Holbrooke says Americans need to have “realistic” expectations. “Our assistance … is going to continue for a long time,” he said. “I can’t give you dates.” When the last administration made such claims about the war in Iraq, groups such as CAP would not give it a pass.

Vali Nasr, also a Senior Advisor to the Special Representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan, argued for emergency “assistance packages” for Pakistan. Likewise, on March 27, 2009, President Obama called for “$1.5 billion in direct support to the Pakistani people every year over the next five years” for the purposes of “build[ing] schools and roads and hospitals, and strengthen[ing] Pakistan’s democracy.”

Meanwhile, Afghan elections have been postponed until August 20, 2009, amid much controversy. “This election was called for under the [Afghan] Constitution,” Ambassador Holbrooke said. “It shouldn’t have been delayed.”

According to a poll taken by the International Republican Institute (IRI) between July 16-26, 2009, Afghans remain pragmatic about the situation. When asked about their confidence as to whether the upcoming elections would be free and fair, 48% of Afghans responded “extremely confident” and 44% responded “somewhat confident.”

Even still, CAP cannot bring itself to call successes in the region a victory.

Ambassador Holbrooke’s way of defining success in Afghanistan? “We’ll know it when we see it,” he said.

Bush Administration officials never attempted giving such an open-ended answer to similar questions about Iraq. Would CAP have granted them the indulgences it gave Holbrooke if they had?

Brittany Fortier is an intern at the American Journalism Center, a training program run by Accuracy in Media and Accuracy in Academia.