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Friday, May 22, 2009

Sachs: Obama's Military Conundrum

The people who need to hear this advice from Jeff Sachs don't seem to be interested in listening:

Obama's military conundrum, by Jeffrey Sachs, Project Syndicate: American foreign policy has failed in recent years mainly because the US has relied on military force to address problems that demand development assistance and diplomacy. Young men become fighters in places such as Sudan, Somalia, Pakistan and Afghanistan because they lack gainful employment. Extreme ideologies influence people when they can't feed their families, and when lack of access to family planning leads to an unwanted population explosion. President Barack Obama has raised hopes for a new strategy, but so far the forces of continuity in US policy are dominating the forces of change. ...

The policy decisions of recent months offer little ... hope for a fundamental change in US foreign policy direction. While the US has signed an agreement with Iraq to leave by the end of 2011, there is talk in the Pentagon that US "non-combat" troops will remain in the country for years or decades to come. ...

Some opponents of the Iraq war, including me, believe that a fundamental – and deeply misguided – objective of the war from the outset has been to create a long-term military base (or bases) in Iraq, ostensibly to protect oil routes and oil concessions. As the examples of Iran and Saudi Arabia show, however, such a long-term ­presence sooner or later creates an explosive backlash.

The worries are even worse in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Nato's war with the Taliban in Afghanistan is going badly, so much so that the commanding US ­general was sacked this month. The Taliban is also extending its reach into Pakistan.

Both Afghanistan and the neighbouring provinces of Pakistan are impoverished regions, with vast unemployment, bulging youth populations, prolonged droughts, widespread hunger and pervasive ­economic deprivation. It is easy for the Taliban and al-Qaida to mobilise fighters under such conditions.

The problem is that a US military response is essentially useless under these conditions, and can easily exacerbate the situation rather than resolve it. Among other problems, the US relies heavily on drones and bombers, leading to a high civilian death toll, which is inflaming public attitudes against the US. ...

Obama is doubling down in Afghanistan, by raising the number of US troops... There are also risks that the US will get involved much more heavily in the fighting in Pakistan. ... If so, the results could prove catastrophic, leading to a spreading war in an unstable country of 180 million people.

What is disconcerting, however, is ... the lack of an alternative US strategy. Obama and his top advisers have spoken regularly about the need to address the underlying sources of conflict, including poverty and unemployment. A few billion dollars has been recommended to fund economic aid for Afghanistan and Pakistan. But this remains a small amount compared to military outlays...

Before investing hundreds of billions of dollars more in failing military operations, the Obama administration should rethink its policy... It's high time for a strategy of peace through ... investments in health, education, livelihoods, water and sanitation and irrigation – in today's hotspots, starting with Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Such a strategy cannot simply emerge as a byproduct of US military campaigns. Rather, it will have to be developed ­proactively, with a sense of urgency and in close partnership with the affected countries and the communities within them. A shift in focus to economic development will save a vast number of lives and convert the unthinkably large economic costs of war into economic benefits through development. Obama must act before today's crisis explodes into an even larger disaster.

    Posted by on Friday, May 22, 2009 at 01:45 PM in Economics, Iraq and Afghanistan, Terrorism | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (41)


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