V.P. Biden To Travel To Western Balkans

Vice President Biden heads to the Western Balkans on Tuesday for three days of meetings with the leaders of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia and Kosovo.    The goal, according to a White House press briefing is "intensified U.S. engagement in the region" with the hopes that it will lead to "a Europe whole and free".

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The Thinking of Bruce Reidel

Bruce Reidel was the chair of the Afghanistan Strategic Policy Review. The President in his remarks today lauded his efforts and praised him for influencing his thinking. So what does Bruce Reidel think?

Perhaps the most succinct encapsulation comes from an op-ed published in the New York Times on January 26th, 2009. The op-ed is entitled How Not to Lose Afghanistan and it forms part of the Times' Room for Debate series where the editorial board of the nation's paper of record queries noted analysts for their thoughts. In this case, the Times asked "Barack Obama has said that his priority in the war on terrorism is Afghanistan, and is poised to increase troop levels there, perhaps by as many as 30,000. How should the United States deal with growing strength of the Taliban? Is increasing troop levels enough?" Mr. Reidel in his portion responded:

President Barack Obama is rightly sending thousands more American troops to Afghanistan to reverse the downward spiral in the country where the 9/11 plot was hatched. Seven years of a half-hearted effort by the Bush administration has left the country in a perilous state. Much of the country is now threatened by the resurgent Taliban. The Taliban's leader, Mullah Omar, is confidently predicting the NATO forces will leave defeated within a few years, like the Soviets in 1989, and is even offering them "safe passage" out of the country.

The most immediate needs are near Kabul and in the south around Kandahar. The Taliban has staged increasingly bold attacks into the capital in the last year, almost killing President Hamid Karzai, and the surrounding provinces have seen mounting Taliban operations. If trends continue the capital could be increasingly cut off from the rest of the country.

The south is in even worse shape. For the last two years, British, Canadian and Dutch troops have been fighting desperately to stabilize Kandahar, Helmand and Urzugan provinces against a determined Taliban based across the border in Pakistan. This is the Taliban's traditional heartland where Omar first created the Taliban in the mid-1990s.

We should seek more troops from our NATO allies but also from Muslim allies like Morocco and Indonesia that have a common interest in defeating Al Qaeda. It can be done; already the United Arab Emirates has a few hundred troops in Afghanistan.

More troops must be accompanied by rapid economic development, especially road construction. Since 2001, 2,000 miles of road have been built or repaired but the Kabul government projects a need to build 11,000 miles more to bring security and modest prosperity to the country. Again it can be done; India has just finished a model $1 billion road project in the southwest opening a highway to link landlocked Afghanistan to the Indian Ocean via Iran.

The additional troops also need to train and build a stronger Afghan military. In the 1980s, Afghanistan had an army three times larger and an air force 10 times larger than what seven years of erratic Bush effort has produced. An open-ended large foreign military presence in Afghanistan is a mistake in a country with a history of defeating foreign invaders. Our goal should be a rapid reversal of the Taliban's fortunes followed by turning responsibility over to a trained and equipped Afghan security force.

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In Af-Pak Debate, The Counter-Insurgency Side Prevails

Marc Ambinder provides a first look at the results of the Afghanistan Strategic Review. On the plus side at least the US doesn't seem to picking winners and losers in either Afghanistan or Pakistan. And it is also clear that Administration views the problem as a co-joined one. Solving Afghanistan, in their view, means solving Pakistan.

Obama plans to emphasize results-driven cooperation with both countries. He will endorse a Senate bill, authored by Sens. John Kerry and Richard Lugar, that would condition a significant increase in aid to Pakistan on measurable improvements in Pakistan's internal efforts to combat terrorism.

In seeking to reassure Americans that help to Pakistan is contingent on internal reforms, he plans to stress that Americans will work with those in both countries who demonstratively seek peace and reconciliation.

This will be interpreted as a warning to both President Asif Ali Zardari in Pakistan and President Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan. Pointedly, the new Afpak policy does not express a preference for specific leaders, another difference from the previous administration, which had been accused of coddling and courting Karzai and former Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf at the expense of rooting out corruption and terrorism. Afghanistan holds elections later this year, and the U.S. hasn't found a candidate it likes.

It's also clear that there was a vigorous internal debate within the Administration over strategy and approach.

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Biden's Munich Declaration Heralds A New Era of Cooperation

While the attention this past fortnight has been largely focused on domestic issues and in particular on the fiscal stimulus, Vice President Biden outlined US foreign policy goals under an Obama Administration signaling a determination "to set a new tone" noting that Washington intends to "work in a partnership" and "seek ideas and input" from all US allies. Speaking before a number of European leaders including German Chancellor Merkel and French President Sarkozy at 45th annual Munich Conference on Security Policy, the Vice President touched on foreign policy issues ranging from Afghanistan and Pakistan to Russia and Iran as well as emphatically declaring that the US will not torture and will uphold the rights of those brought to justice. And for good measure, Biden repeated the Administration's intention close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.

Importantly, the Vice President declared that the United States does not believe, that the Obama administration does not believe, in a clash of civilizations. It is the clearest rejection of neo-conservative Huntingtonesque view of the world yet.

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Number Two

In his first interview since becoming Vice President, Joseph Biden told CBS News' Bob Schieffer on Face the Nation that he does not see his role to be "deputy president." Rather, the Vice President said he hopes to be a "confidant, advisor and essentially the last guy in the room when [President Obama] makes critical decisions."

Perhaps the Vice President should have read today's New York Times and the profile of Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel:

Mr. Emanuel initially resisted taking the job. He came around after Mr. Obama insisted, saying these were momentous times and that the awesome tasks he faced required Mr. Emanuel's help. The president-elect also assured Mr. Emanuel that the position would be the functional equivalent of "a No. 2" or "right-hand man," according to a person familiar with their exchanges.

So who is number two in the Obama Administration? My money is on Emanuel at the least in the short term though Biden may prove the more long-lived. Though, in truth, I sense that the Obama Administration will be much more broad based in its thinking and take a consensus building approach to decision-making. There seems to be a whole team of number twos.

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