Argument

5 Ways to Win the War in Afghanistan

Here's how Obama can reverse the dangerous deterioration of conditions in America's longest war.

As President Barack Obama delivers an assessment of the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, and an update on his own year-old strategy for winning the war, the strategic outlook in the country remains bleak. Although the United States and its allies have scored important tactical gains over the past 12 months -- decimating insurgent networks and securing once-violent districts in southern Afghanistan -- they have no clear plan to either defeat insurgent sanctuaries in Pakistan or address the corruption and predatory behavior of Afghanistan's political class, which threatens to undermine U.S. and allied military successes.

I fought in Afghanistan in 2002 and 2004 and returned to serve on Gen. Stanley McChrystal's initial assessment team in 2009. Over the past two weeks, I have been traveling around Afghanistan interviewing U.S., NATO and Afghan commanders, Afghan police and politicians, NGO workers and journalists, and local Afghans.

While the daily tactical battles in Afghanistan might seem distant, and the strategic challenges daunting, policymakers in Washington are not helpless. In fact, they can support the efforts of Gen. David Petraeus and his troops in Afghanistan in five key ways.

1. Cut Funding for the War

This may seem a bit counterintuitive, to say the least. But right now, the massive amount of money flowing into Kabul is fueling the conflict. In a bizarre way, both the Taliban and the Afghan government currently have an interest in perpetuating this conflict: Both parties are making millions of dollars from the aid and development money saturating the country. These funds are distorting incentives and presenting ample opportunities for kickbacks, bribes, and other forms of corruption. It is little wonder Transparency International rates Afghanistan the world's third most corrupt nation.

The United States and its allies should only spend the money in Afghanistan they can properly manage and oversee. They should also focus on developing ways to spend resources more wisely in Afghanistan. One way to do so -- and here any congressional aides reading this should grab a notebook and pen -- would be to allow aid and development funds not spent in one fiscal year to roll over to the next. Well-constructed aid programs, such as Afghanistan's National Solidarity Program, have trusts established that allow funds not spend in one year to be spent later. But within the U.S. government, that's not the case: Money not spent is lost from year to year.

Military officers, for example, are familiar with the concept of the "SPENDEX," where all ammunition not used in the course of the year is fired -- sometimes wildly -- at the end of a fiscal year, so ammunition allotted for the next year is not cut. The same principle applies to aid -- but instead of wasting bullets, the organizations waste dollars. Rather than face the prospect of reduced development funds in the future, development and military officers are under pressure to spend every penny they are given. But doing so simply feeds the Afghanistan's distorted economy, which only benefits the insurgency and corrupt Afghan officials. We must first fix the perverse incentives in our own system in order to fix those in Afghanistan.

2. Compromise on Combat Enablers

Every day, the president is faced with the difficult task of determining how many resources should be expended on foreign engagements when compared with competing domestic priorities. Obama has decided to implement a soft "cap" on troop numbers in Afghanistan, limiting troops deployed to the number he and the Department of Defense agreed upon in the fall of 2009.

At the same time, however, the president and his team should be flexible enough to support the commanders in eastern and southern Afghanistan with the critical "enablers" they need to be successful tactically. More than anything else, our field commanders need more heavy-lift rotary-wing assets in Afghanistan. With a limited supply of helicopters, it is incredible difficult to operate in the mountainous terrain of Afghanistan. The president should commit more CH-47 helicopters to Afghanistan immediately, even if he has to "trade" David Petraeus an infantry battalion in order to keep the overall number of troops more or less the same. The military also needs more intelligence platforms, including drones and observation blimps. Finally, the development of local security programs like the Afghan Local Police could be sped up if more Special Forces A-Teams were committed to the effort.

3. Reinvent, Don't Replace, the Special Envoy

Trying to replace a diplomatic giant like the late Ambassador Richard Holbrooke is a fool's errand. The president should not even try. But he will still need officials responsible for coordinating U.S. policy between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The comparatively low-key acting Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Frank Ruggiero, should keep Holbrooke's team in place to do just that.

As far as the regional "super envoy" job that Holbrooke attempted to fill (with mixed success, it must be said), it might be best left to a respected United Nations diplomat -- such as Lakhdar Brahimi, who had earlier successes enlisting the support of Afghanistan's neighbors. State Department officials and CENTCOM commander James Mattis, along with envoys in Kabul and Islamabad, could then be used to properly allocate diplomatic and military resources between the two countries.

In Afghanistan, Ambassador Karl Eikenberry is likely headed home soon. The president and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should spend more time searching for his replacement than trying to replace Holbrooke. I'm sure Gen. Petraeus would appreciate an attempt to lure former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker out of semi-retirement and back to the region.

4. Find and Pressure Dual Citizens

Analysts regularly note how difficult it is to apply pressure to corrupt Afghan officials and local power brokers. However, many of these officials possess citizenship in countries other than Afghanistan or have children residing in other countries. To my knowledge, no effort has been made to compile a list of these individuals and use the laws of the United States and other Western countries to prosecute corrupt officials outside Afghanistan. U.S. intelligence agencies should busy themselves compiling this list immediately.

There is a precedent for this approach. Mahmood Karzai, brother of the Afghan president and an American citizen, is currently the subject of a federal corruption probe in New York. Western governments can surely build cases against other Afghan political actors judged to be involved with illicit activity -- or at least use the threat of investigations as a source of leverage over them. For many Afghan power brokers and their families, a Western passport is their escape plan from Afghanistan should the country descend into a chaotic civil war. U.S. intelligence services should pressure these power brokers to act responsibly today by endangering their plans for tomorrow.

5. Go Long

Afghans live in fear that the international community will abandon them. Although the Taliban is unpopular, normal Afghans are just trying to survive, waiting to see how this conflict will turn out. Pakistan, meanwhile, is hedging its bets, supporting proxy actors like the Quetta Shura Taliban and Haqqani Network that might counter Indian interests in Kabul after the United States and its allies eventually withdraw. The insurgent sanctuaries in Pakistan are one of the two Achilles heels in the NATO strategy, the other being governance in Afghanistan.

One way the United States might counter both Afghan fears as well as Pakistani predictions is by signaling a long-term military commitment to Afghanistan. As the United States and its allies transition from a resource-intensive counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan, we should be prepared to leave behind 25,000 to 35,000 special operations forces and trainers beyond 2014. Afghan leaders, including President Hamid Karzai, have long desired a concrete U.S. security commitment to Afghanistan. Such a residual force will both protect U.S. interests in Afghanistan and Central Asia after the departure of the bulk of U.S. and NATO troops, and will also signal to Pakistan that their strategy of employing hard-to-control violent extremist groups poses a larger long-term threat to Pakistan's stability than it does to the government in Kabul.

Everything in Afghanistan is hard, and it is hard all the time. But 150,000 U.S. and NATO troops are scoring important tactical successes over there each day. Policymakers in Washington can help them by scoring some strategic successes back home.

MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images

Argument

The Palestinians Are the Real Obstacle to Peace

When will they finally accept the Jewish people's right to their historic homeland?

The Middle East peace process is once again stalled, while Palestinian leaders sadly continue to propagate the myth that Israeli construction impedes progress. Only last Friday, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said in Washington that "the Israeli government had a choice between settlements and peace, and they chose settlements."

Unfortunately, what stands between the Palestinians and eventual statehood is their insincerity when it comes to real peace. Israel has repeatedly proposed the independence that the Palestinians ostensibly desire. But instead of concluding a deal with Israel, they have demonstrated a total unwillingness to compromise, often favoring terrorism, as witnessed in the barrage of terrorist attacks that followed the Camp David negotiations of 2000. Is it any wonder Israelis find it ever more difficult to trust the Palestinians?

If there is to be a stable and lasting peace, Israel's recognition of the Palestinians' right to self-determination -- which successive Israeli governments have affirmed -- cannot go unreciprocated. The Jewish people are no less entitled to a state in their homeland, the land of Israel, or to their right to defend it.

The fundamental problem is that the Palestinians continue to reject these inherent rights of the Jewish people. That's indeed why we do not yet have two states for two peoples: The Palestinians remain steadfast in their refusal to accept that there even exists a Jewish nation that lays legitimate claim to its land. They reject the entire premise of a state for the Jewish people -- not only beyond the pre-1967 lines of the state of Israel, but even within its original 1948 boundaries. This, of course, explains why the Palestinians did not pursue independence prior to 1967, when Israel was within the 1949 Armistice lines.

This fact becomes perfectly clear when observing how Palestinian leaders educate their own people. The language of hate is the vernacular of choice for the official Palestinian media, which indoctrinates its audience with the narrative that Jews have usurped their land and have no business being here -- and not just in Hebron or Ariel, but even in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. Palestinian television is notorious for broadcasting what amounts to classic incitement -- parading about children who glorify the use of weapons to destroy Israel and accusing Jews of "stealing" cities such as Haifa, which even the U.N. Partition Plan of 1947 included as part of the Jewish state.

There is no chance that peace can come to the region as long as the Palestinians continue to spew this sort of vitriol. The only way forward must involve a bottom-up approach in which Palestinians develop the type of civil discourse that is a prerequisite to reconciliation. Schoolchildren in the Palestinian Authority must be taught to respect the human dignity of their Jewish neighbors, just as Israeli youths are instructed to be tolerant of others -- including Palestinians -- with whom they may not agree. And all Palestinians must come to terms, once and for all, with the fact that the Jewish people will continue to exercise their historical right to sovereignty in their homeland, a sovereignty that guarantees equal rights for all of Israel's citizens.

As for the Jewish communities over the 1967 lines, their fate should be decided in permanent status negotiations, as agreed in the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement of September 1995. In the meantime, Israel has committed not to authorize any construction outside these neighborhoods in the areas under its control since 1967. It's worth noting that in the past, Israel's presence in areas under dispute proved not to be an obstacle to the achievement of peace with Egypt.

The fanciful "virtual reality" in which the Palestinians operate -- and which they dispense for public consumption -- obscures their basic responsibility for the current predicament. And it illustrates why Israel must insist on its security requirements in any future peace agreement. Israel must be able to protect itself against not only physical attack, but also the political, cultural, and strategic assault on its very legitimacy. It would simply be impossible to have a fruitful discussion concerning borders without both addressing the issue of comprehensive security and recognizing Israel's right to exist as the nation-state of the Jewish people.

Israel remains committed to the cause of peace. We have no desire to govern the affairs of another people. But our acceptance of a viable Palestinian state awaits a similar Palestinian acceptance of the rights of the Jewish people in the land of Israel. Erekat, the Palestinian negotiator, recently wrote that such a step would require a modification of the Palestinian narrative. He's absolutely right. But until this happens, there can be no chance for peace.

MAHMUD HAMS/AFP/Getty Images