With US-Pakistan relations strained over the US mission that killed Osama Bin Laden and the push by many in Congress to accelerate withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan in the wake of Bin Laden’s death, Senator John Kerry (D-MA) finds himself at the nexus of these two vital issues. Recall that Kerry was one of a number of US elected officials who visited Pakistan during the Raymond Davis saga, claiming that he felt his visit would achieve Davis’ release “within the next few days” after his visit. Davis was eventually released four weeks after the Kerry trip. Today, we see Kerry featured prominently in the news for his plan to visit Pakistan again in an attempt to repair damage to US-Pakistan relations arising from the Bin Laden mission and for his statements suggesting that a new Afghanistan strategy is now needed.
Reuters describes the Kerry’s upcoming visit to Pakistan:
Senator John Kerry will travel to Pakistan in coming days to put relations “on the right track” after the killing of Osama bin Laden in a surprise Navy SEALs raid, but he is likely to face fury from the army over what it sees as a breach of trust.
Kerry, a Democrat who is close to the Obama administration, said he expected to see “all the main players” in Pakistan to discuss strains in bilateral ties following the May 2 operation that killed the al Qaeda leader in his Pakistani hideout.
“A number of people suggested it would be good to get a dialogue going about the aftermath and how we get on the right track,” Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters in Washington.
At the same time he is playing a leading role (and rightly so, as Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee) in repairing the relationship with Pakistan, Kerry is also the first politician quoted in Wednesday’s Washington Post article on calls to accelerate withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan:
The death of Osama bin Laden and growing pressure from Congress to shrink the U.S. footprint and expense in Afghanistan have given new impetus to those within the Obama administration who favor a swift reduction of U.S. forces, according to senior administration officials and leading lawmakers.
Current expenditures of $10 billion a month are “fundamentally unsustainable” and the administration urgently needs to clarify both its mission and exit plan, Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) said Tuesday.
Even though Kerry is described in the article as often a leading indicator for thinking from the Obama administration, it is clear that the administration has not reached consensus on a new Afghanistan strategy, as the article quotes an unnamed senior administration official that “there will be no re-litigation” of the strategy.
In my opinion, the most important point to make it into the Post story is that, at long last, there is finally a piercing of Petraeus’ training myth. The article notes that “many” now question the concept of training Afghan forces to take over when we leave and Kerry confronts the problem head-on:
Many have questioned the feasibility of plans to recruit and train as many as 400,000 Afghan security forces to take over once foreign troops depart.“Despite our best efforts, there are challenges — corruption, predatory behavior, incompetence — still evident within the Afghan army and police,” Kerry said. “On top of these problems, there is the question, ultimately, of money, resources.”
The fact that Kerry now sees that training so many Afghan troops is not feasible and will waste huge amounts of money is a huge development to make it into the pages of the Washington Post. Watch for the Petraeus propaganda machine to push back on this very hard, making over-inflated claims of progress that the press will accept at face value rather than subjecting to fact-checking. Petraeus owes much of the rapid rise in his career trajectory to his “Groundhog Day”-like reliance on always making strong progress toward troop training whether it is in Iraq or Afghanistan. And, just as in the movie, we always seem to be starting fresh on those training efforts. Why it has taken so long for Washington to figure out that we are stuck in an endless loop of re-starting training is beyond me. Perhaps Senator Kerry can help us to break out of the loop.