Noteworthy News – 9.15.09

This weekly posting includes key news stories and opinion pieces related to foreign assistance reform and the larger development community.

What we’re reading this week:  Afghanistan, Afghanistan, Afghanistan. And the fall congressional outlook on foreign assistance.

  • Afghanistan: Going long or going home (ForeignPolicy.com-Ian Bremmer, September 10) – Within the Obama foreign-policy team, there looks to be a growing divergence of opinion on what to do next. There appears to be an internal consensus that the current strategy isn’t working. But senior officials appear more divided on whether to “go long” or “go home.” In the go long group, those who want more troops and more resources because “failure isn’t an option,” we see Secretary Clinton, envoy Richard Holbrooke, most of the generals on the ground, and most Republicans in Congress. In the go home camp, those who want to pull troops out before things get much worse, are Vice President Biden, most of Obama’s political team, and a growing number of senior Democrats. Even Defense Secretary Robert Gates appears to have grown much more skeptical.
  • It’s the corruption, stupid! (The Washington Times-Rep. Jane Harman, September 10) – But electoral fraud is merely a symptom of a much graver problem plaguing the country — the failure to establish good governance. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal appears to understand this. His emphasis on joint civilian-military efforts to improve governance is much needed, but the American people deserve some accountability. Congress should not even be asked about more troops without first being shown evidence that some anti-corruption metrics have been achieved, not just announced.
  • Afghanistan’s ‘civilian surge’ fizzles (The Christian Science Monitor-Gordon Lubold, September 13) – But when it comes to Afghanistan, the problem is that a “civilian surge” probably won’t happen. “We don’t have any more capacity now than we did,” says one former aide on the Pentagon’s Joint Staff who didn’t want to speak publicly on a politically sensitive matter. In Afghanistan, the former aide predicts, “They will make the same commitment and have the same lack of follow-through.”  There are some reasons to be optimistic about the future, with the State Department developing an expeditionary ” civilian response corps” ready to deploy quickly to hot spots around the world. But that effort will take time. For now, America’s apparent inability to deliver a robust civilian surge threatens to undermine any military progress.
  • Senate Foreign Relations Committee sneak peek (ForeignPolicy.com-The Cable, September 8 ) – From there, Jones expects the “blistering pace” of hearings to slow slightly as Senator Kerry focuses on two issues: Afghanistan and climate change.  “[The chairman] is very concerned [about Afghanistan],” Jones said, “on whether America is finding the most effective solutions to the challenges there and whether they are pursuant to our national-security interests.” Also a high priority, Jones said, is passing of an aid bill for Pakistan — of which there are currently House (sponsored by Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA)) and Senate versions (sponsored by Senator Kerry and Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.)

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