By Daniel Dombey
Published: June 28 2010 23:21 | Last updated: June 28 2010 23:21
Dr Henry Kissinger, US Secretary of State under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford and informal adviser to subsequent occupants of the White House, spoke to the Financial Times on June 25 about the war in the Afghanistan in the wake of Barack Obama’s decision to accept the resignation of Gen Stanley McChrystal as commander of the Nato and US-led forces.
Dr Kissinger supports Mr Obama’s goals in Afghanistan, but says current plans to begin handing over responsibility to Afghan forces in July 2011 – and to begin drawing down US troops at that time – are unrealistic.
While he calls for Gen David Petraeus, Gen McChrystal’s prospective replacement in the field, to look at that strategy anew, he says the Afghan commander should do so discreetly, rather than initiating a protracted high profile review of the sort that President Obama chaired last year.
FT: Can, in any conventional sense of the word, Petraeus win this war in Afghanistan?
Dr Kissinger: In the traditional sense of fighting against an adversary with whom it is possible to make an enforceable agreement, no. In the sense of gradually defeating the insurgency and reducing it to impotence, theoretically yes, but it would take more time than the American political system would permit.
FT: So what are the prospects?
Dr Kissinger: To announce a terminal date when the attrition of the opponent is one of the elements of the strategy lets the adversary regulate his own intensity of combat and gives him a deadline. It seems to me an unwise procedure.
FT: So is there an urgent need for Obama to rethink the strategy?
Dr Kissinger: There’s a need for him to rethink the deadline and there is a need to rethink the way it has been designed. It has been designed to turn over the responsibility for security to an Afghan government on a national basis. That, I think, would be very difficult, at least within the stated time limits.
FT: So you’re saying that you need less ambitious, less centralised goals and more time?
Dr Kissinger: Right, but I don’t want my views to be considered an attack on the president’s general view. I agree with the objective he has stated both in his West Point speech [announcing a 30,000 troop surge to Afghanistan last December] and when he dismissed Gen McChrystal.
FT: But the manner in which it is being implemented, the strategy, is something that is imminent need of being rethought?
Dr Kissinger: It needs adaptation to realities.
FT: The plan is to look at this all in December. Is that waiting too long?
Dr Kissinger: I think the underlying strategy would be best reviewed as Gen Petraeus is taking over.
If you leave the strategy in place and you want to gauge how effective it is or how much progress has been made, December is reasonable. If you want to take another look at the strategy without a great announcement, a review with Gen Petraeus might be appropriate. But I would not make a big public announcement about that.
FT: What is at stake if the US does keep to this unrealistic timetable and these unrealistic goals?
Dr Kissinger: The basic issue is that the diplomatic and military elements of the current strategy are not compatible with each other. The military strategy cannot be accomplished within the deadlines and the deadline encourages the adversaries to wait us out.
FT: But do you also argue that a precipitate withdrawal projects weakness?
Dr Kissinger: Rather than weakness, it projects above all ambivalence.
FT: Does Obama need to take a firm hand to the civilian hand of this effort, with the article revealing the difficult relations between McChrystal and people like US Ambassador Karl Eikenberry and special envoy Richard Holbrooke?
Dr Kissinger: It’s essential that there is a strategy that is carried out by the civilian and military elements together. Holbrooke is being unfairly attacked. I don’t think he’s ever had any significant authority with respect to Afghanistan. He is a somewhat challenging personality but he has performed admirably in every previous job, so I think he is not, in terms of his abilities, an obstacle.
FT: And Eikenberry, whose memo doubting some of the fundamentals of the strategy has become so public?
Dr Kissinger: It would be essential that the ambassador and the theatre commander have parallel views. You can’t throw the execution of policy open to permanent debate at that level. It should be debated before the policy is established, but the execution of it cannot be subject to a monthly debate.
FT: There are people who say give this more time.
Dr Kissinger: I agree we need time and patience and having been involved in a war with some similar characteristics, the last thing the administration needs is to be harassed by people pressuring them from the outside.
So my basic attitude is to be supportive of the overall effort administration and to support the objectives that the president stated in his relief of General McChrystal.
But I do think that the basic premise that you can work towards a national government that can replace the American security effort in a deadline of 12 months provides a mechanism for failure. On the other hand, if we are willing to pursue the stated objective the public must be prepared for a long struggle. This is a choice that needs to be made explicitly or else we should look for intermediate objectives.
FUENTE: FINANCIAL TIMES.