Earlier this month American President Barak Obama announced a surge of 30,000 American troops into Afghanistan, many of whom will be deployed to Kandahar Province, which is the focal point for the new strategy to defeat the Taliban. At the same time that the President was speaking, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul announced the opening of its first consulate in Afghanistan, in Mazar-e Sharif!
The Americans should be surging into Kandahar with overwhelming military force and a companion civilian surge centered around a new U.S. consulate in the heart of the city. It should be challenging the Taliban. Alas, General Stanley McChrystal has given the order to charge south into Kandahar and the U.S. Embassy is instead heading north.
This is reminiscent of the popular American television show called “F-Troop.” The F stands for “foul-up.” It is the story of a military unit stationed at an isolated fort in America’s Old West. “F-Troop” retreats when ordered to advance and it is repeatedly firing its cannon at the wrong targets, usually resulting in its own buildings being destroyed. The U.S. Embassy in Kabul, commanded by Ambassador Karl “Wilton Parmenter” Eikenberry, is America’s “F-Troop.”
“F-Troop” has an Assistant Ambassador named Joseph A. Mussomeli. On August 31, 2009, he gave an interview to Afghanistan’s Radio Azadi. When asked why the Americans were opening up a consulate in Mazar-e Sharif, with the next one to be in Herat, he responded: “all of our development assistance, hundreds of millions of dollars are going all to the South and East” so America is opening up its first two consulates in the North and West to balance things out. Mussomeli went on to say: “This is our way of showing that we are concerned about the entire country.” First of all, the Americans are not spending all their development dollars in the South and East. Second, one does not open a consulate simply to balance out for the lack of foreign aid. Both of these statements are nonsense. Mussomeli then denied Radio Azadi’s information that Afghans have a harder time securing an American visa that people of other countries. His denial was unconvincing. Mussomeli’s performance was less than stellar, as was Ambassador Parmenter-Eikenberry’s October 27, 2009, interview where he managed to avoid answering most of the questions posed by reporters from Radio Azadi. U.S. ambassadors seem to have difficulty with the truth. Ambassador Mussomeli’s refusal to discuss the true reasons for the opening of the Mazar-e Sharif consulate merits inquiry.
First, the U.S. Embassy apparently chose Mazar-e Sharif because it is one of the safest areas of Afghanistan. To those familiar with the U.S. Department of State, its primary goal in Afghanistan is to protect its diplomats at all costs. While American military casualties are inevitable during wartime, Diplomats are too important to place in harm’s way. In implementing this policy, most U.S. Embassy employees spend their whole one-year tour inside fortified embassy compounds, isolated from any contact with ordinary Afghan citizens. To any outside observers, this is a counter-productive strategy, but not to U.S. Embassy officials, who view their personal safety as more important than combating the Taliban.
Canada already has a consulate of sorts in Afghanistan’s second largest city (Kandahar). It is overseen by the RoCK (Representative of Canada in Kandahar). There is also a significant Pakistani presence in the city. They are not afraid of the Taliban. Perhaps the U.S. Department of State should contract with the Canadian Government to represent it in Afghanistan.
Second, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul is simply dysfunctional. It has been at the center of constant scandals involving its private security guards, its support of local brothels (see the 11/15/09 Kabul Press report), its refusal to ban alcohol, its mismanagement of Afghan aid funds and its refusal to deploy a professional corps of diplomats who speak Dari and/or Pashto and are deployed for three-year tours. It is “F-Troop.”
Abraham Lincoln, on June 16, 1858, (before he became President of the United States) said: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Unfortunately, the American house is divided and uncoordinated. The U.S. Embassy should abandon any consulate other than in Kandahar and should focus all its resources in accordance with NATO objectives.
General McChrystal may be able to battle the Taliban, but he cannot battle the U.S. State Department and Pentagon bureaucracies. As a former U.S. Air Force Captain and former U.S. State Department Official, I have experience with both organizations. What the Americans need is a “Dual Assistant Secretary” (DAS). One person who is both the Assistant Secretary of State for Afghanistan and the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Afghanistan. One person with a joint office and an intermixed staff to truly merge all the disparate American efforts in Afghanistan.
The ideal candidate to be America’s first DAS would be former U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel, a Vietnam War veteran and former member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He has the knowledge and character to push both organizations into working together in a policy of unify or fail. This proposal will of course never be adopted because, to some in Washington, D.C., winning the war in Afghanistan is less important than politics and protecting their own bureaucratic fiefdoms.
If America ultimately fails in Afghanistan, as did the Russians, English, Indians, Persians and others before them, it will be because of their countless mistakes, their refusal to admit those mistakes, their refusal to learn from those mistakes, and their inability to promptly adjust and innovate accordingly.