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August 28, 2014

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Q&A: MICHAEL O’HANLON:

Expert to discuss ‘toughing it out in Afghanistan’

Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution think tank in Washington, will deliver a public lecture on “Toughing it Out in Afghanistan” at 5:30 p.m. today at UNLV’s Greenspun Hall auditorium.

O’Hanlon, who specializes in the study of U.S. defense strategy, use of military force, homeland security and American foreign policy, has written extensively on the war in Afghanistan. A member of both the International Institute for Strategic Studies and the Council on Foreign Relations, O’Hanlon also served as an informal adviser to Army Gen. David Petraeus during the general’s review of Mideast security strategy.

With most Americans focused on the economy and other domestic issues, why should the public continue to care about what goes on in Afghanistan?

We have 100,000 of our fellow Americans there risking life and limb. Al-Qaida is right next door and would presumably welcome a chance to return to its spiritual heartland and the early planning locale for the 9/11 attacks. Even those who don’t agree with the latter argument tend to agree with the former one — that any place our troops are in harm’s way, we owe them at a minimum a degree of national attentiveness.

Much of what is written about Afghanistan centers on alleged corruption in the administration of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Why should the U.S. continue to support his administration?

We shouldn’t, per se. We should support building up an Afghan state that holds together, because the alternative is the Taliban and most likely al-Qaida. For now, Karzai is the elected president of a sovereign government, but he is not exactly the same thing as Afghanistan or its government or its future. Thankfully, many of his ministers are extraordinary people doing good things, by the way, so his Cabinet is better behaved and more competent than many of his cronies and family members.

What should the U.S. do to promote more stable governance in Afghanistan?

Work with those competent ministers and governors as much as possible, as well as local structures and the Afghan people directly.

What can the U.S. do to help eradicate Afghanistan’s opium trade and replace it with other options that could grow that nation’s economy?

The economy is already growing, but we have to tread lightly on opium for another year or two. If you deprive a peasant farmer his poppy crop when there isn’t enough water or fertilizer or safe roadway to grow food crops, you may drive him into insurgency.

With regard to U.S. troop withdrawals from Afghanistan, what timetable makes the most sense?

If the current strategy works, as evidenced by declining violence levels and related indicators next spring when the fighting season resumes, we should be willing to go slowly in the drawdown. Either way, troop drawdowns should be under way in a significant way by the time of our next presidential race here.

What are the biggest obstacles that remain in beefing up Afghan security forces to fend for themselves?

Frankly, time is the main constraint. It’ll take two to three more years to recruit and train and mentor enough forces. The process itself is starting to work pretty well.

What new approaches can we take with Pakistan to persuade that country to help pursue Taliban forces with more vigor?

We need to clarify that we aren’t leaving come 2011. We also should consider a conditional offer — help us win the war, and if or when we do win the war, we help you with your civilian nuclear power industry.

To what extent has the war in Afghanistan drained American resources in the quest to capture or kill al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden?

At this point it doesn’t drain them because we are operating about as close to bin Laden’s presumed location as we can realistically be.

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  1. We need to get out of Afghanistan now. It is a quagmire. We were attacked on 9/11 by Saudi Arabians, not Iraqis. Granted, Al Queda, used Afghanistan as a staging area/training base, but that could have been done in any number of other countries. Witness the recent attacks/attempted attacks coming out of Yemen. Are we going to invade them next? Spending in Iraq is projected over 1 trillion. We've been in Afghanistan for 10 years now, with no real discernable progress. Our fiscal 2009 defense budget was 23% of the total federal budget, greater than any other single category of spending. We spend 6 times on defense as does China. How in the world are we going to compete with the likes of China, India and other countries if we are maintaining this level of military spending, engaged in two wars, etc. with so many needs that are not addressed here at home.

  2. The Canadian government has just decided not to withdraw fully from Afghanistan in 2011 as they had promised. No public discussion took place, even though the war is loathed by a vast majority of Canadians.
    My own view is that we can best support our troops and their families by bringing them home for good in 2011.
    The war in Afghanistan is hopeless. Our cultures and philosophies are quite incompatible. The west cannot hope to build a stable society there, no matter how much money they waste trying.
    In case nobody has noticed, the economies of both Canada and America are suffering greatly, and the war money could be so much better spent domestically.