The Common Good

New Tools for Peace in Afghanistan

When all you have is a hammer everything seems like a nail. No famous line more aptly applies to the president's current dilemma of seeking the best solution for Afghanistan. When it comes to foreign policy, if all you have are military options, then every situation becomes an argument for a troop escalation. For Afghanistan, President Obama has been presented with four options -- all hammers -- ranging in size from 10,000 to 40,000 more troops. Fortunately, he has sent his advisors back to the drawing board to come up with some new options.

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The Times of London reported that President Obama also spoke with Karl Eikenberry yesterday, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, who has raised concerns about increasing U.S. troop presence without clear progress from President Karzai in cleaning up corruption and mismanagement. Without a dependable and reliable partner in Afghanistan, our ambassador to the country is raising fundamental concerns about adding more forces. As a former general himself, Mr. Eikenberry is well aware of the military issues at stake in the country, having commanded the U.S. troops in Afghanistan from 2006-2007. But that experience has also increased his concern that the U.S. is failing when it comes to a strategy vital to our success in that deeply battered country: development. The Washington Post reports:

Eikenberry also has expressed frustration with the relative paucity of funds set aside for spending on development and reconstruction this year in Afghanistan, a country wrecked by three decades of war. Earlier this summer, he asked for $2.5 billion in nonmilitary spending for 2010, a 60 percent increase over what Obama had requested from Congress, but the request has languished even as the administration has debated spending billions of dollars on new troops.

The Japanese government, directly preceding President Obama's visit, has announced a 5 billion dollar investment in aid for Afghanistan over the next five years. This is part of Japan's "New Strategy to Counter the Threat of Terrorism." It recognizes the need for security forces but focuses primarily on humanitarian assistance and development aid:

... to improve Afghanistan's security, political measures will also be required. Among the insurgents, some moderate groups seem to be willing to put their arms down in exchange for security assurance and economic independence.

For the Government of Afghanistan to obtain confidence from its own people and to lay the grounds for long term political reconciliation, it is essential to stabilize people's lives and establish economic foundations. Tangible outcomes recognized by the people will be critical in areas of agriculture and rural development, infrastructure development, and education, health and other basic human needs.

The very candid and insightful statements by Ambassador Eikenberry are already changing the conversation here in Washington. And the clear signals from the president that he is unhappy with the narrow range of options he has been given clearly presents us with a real opportunity -- to offer a better way. I would call it a humanitarian and development surge in Afghanistan; we laid out the elements of it in a recent blog post. Since then, several leaders from both faith and development community organizations, some of whom are working on the ground in Afghanistan, have shown great interest in a new direction for Afghanistan and in offering some new options for the president.

Development and humanitarian assistance can no longer be an afterthought; they must be central to any strategy the U.S. government puts forward. It is time to stop arguing about the size of the hammer needed and begin looking at what other tools we might have in our belts.

In the meantime, pray for the president not to succumb to the logic of the hammers, but with patience and perseverance, to wait until we can find the better solutions we need for Afghanistan.

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