I am not an expert on Afghanistan, so if that is required for anyone to make a suggestion about how to deal with that conundrum, then read no further. However, with all the experts out there, we still do not seem to have figured out what to do to reverse the country's free fall into violence and decline of government control. We know that the Taliban is in aggressive resurgence, that the problems are intimately linked to the existence of a safe haven in Western Pakistan and to the failure of the Karzai government to fully and effectively govern its own country.
An excellent and critical study of the problem of Afghanistan has just been off erred by the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP), a prestigious independent think tank that is, however, funded by the U.S. Congress. USIP does excellent work on full range of issues related to war and peace, conflict prevention and management and post conflict-reconciliation. There is little need for me to try to come up with any better set of recommendations that those of the USIP study, which is available in its entirely at: http://www.usip.org/peaceops/afghanistan/book.html
The problem with these or any recommendations is who is going to implement them? Resolving a very difficult problem like that of Afghanistan of extreme poverty, the narcotics industry, war lordism, corruption and government incompetence requires a persistent and strong effort. It requires leadership. Although we see the importance of a multilateral approach to Afghanistan and most problems, that approach and all other efforts cannot be forged without the strong and forceful hand of the United States.
It looks like the Obama Administration is going to provide that leadership. Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke has been widely said to be the Obama administration's Special Envoy for the problem of Afghanistan and Pakistan (there is a competing version that his portfolio would be India - Pakistan, focusing on that conflict area). That is very good news. Amb. Holbrooke, whom I have met, is the toughest, most persistent and driven diplomat that we have and one of a rare breed of diplomats who know how to knock heads and charm the pants off of foreign leaders. His skills were amply demonstrated by the success of his negotiations leading to the Dayton Accords over Bosnia. His skill was also demonstrated during his tenure as the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations. However, I would suggest that for the problem in Afghanistan of military leadership is also vital, not just for military purposes, but also for the complex set of objectives involved in what today are called stability operations.
So here is the simple solution for Afghanistan: General David Petraeus, Commander of U.S. Central Command in Tampa, responsible for the area of the Middle East and Central Asia, should move his headquarters to Kabul and assume full responsibility for working with the Karzai government to take full control of Afghanistan and to defeat the Taliban. Petraeus is already in charge of the region for the U.S., but the movement of his headquarters "to the front" would send a clear message that the United States considers this issue of utmost priority and move Petreuas himself in closer control of his forces in country. He should also be named as the Commander of all NATO forces in Aghanistan, although being dual hatted as both CENTCOM Commander and NATO forces commander would be unconventional, with all US and NATO forces unified. This would be totally consistent with the views expressed by President-elect and former candidate Obama.
The importance of leadership cannot be stressed enough. General Petraeus is our most distinguished and accomplished military commander. His success in Iraq has made him clearly the most popular military leader the U.S. has to offer, a leader of heroic dimensions. And he is really smart. As a model, Gen. Petraeus should use Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, who moved his headquarters first to the United Kingdom and then to France with the advance of Allied Forces in Europe. A major war requires hands on leadership and I for one would like it to be in the hands of Gen. Petraeus.
Nothing in this proposal would pit Petreaus against Holbrooke. Rather there would be clear division of labor between the diplomatic efforts of coordination between Afghanistan and Pakistan and the military and related Counter-Insurgency efforts within Afghanistan itself. Gen. Petraeus has already demonstrated how well he can work with State Department senior representatives in Iraq. He and Holbrooke would make up the key team, with US Ambassadors in both countries and senior military commanders in Afghanistan the second tier of leadership under their lead. Holbrooke should operate out of Washington, but have offices in our Embassies in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
I am quite sure that this arrangement would lead to a very quick turn around in the situation in Afghanistan and help resolve related problems in Pakistan and in the Pak-India relationship.