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Submitted by Robert Naiman on 23 December 2008 - 1:00am
President-elect Obama pledged he would engage with Iran without pre-conditions. As a recent "expert's statement" chaired by Ambassadors Pickering and Dobbins has argued, talking with Iran would lower tensions in the region; help stabilize Iraq; facilitate Iran’s cooperation in helping to stabilize Afghanistan; and facilitate peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians and between Israel and Syria. The experts say direct, unconditional and comprehensive negotiations are most likely to succeed, and that we should adopt policies to facilitate contacts between scholars, professionals, religious leaders, lawmakers and ordinary citizens.
The Obama Administration can take concrete steps immediately to facilitate these contacts. We can open a “U.S. interests section” - low-level diplomatic representation - in Tehran. For the first time in many years, the U.S. would have diplomatic representation in Iran. Even the outgoing Bush Administration indicated that it wanted to do this. The U.S. has an “interests section” in Cuba; Iran has an “interests section” in Washington. There is broad agreement in Washington that there should be more interaction between Iranians and Americans. If there were a “U.S. interests section” in Tehran, Iranian students would no longer have to travel outside Iran to apply for visas to study in the United States, making it easier for Iranians to study here. We can also allow direct passenger airline flights between Tehran and New York.
These steps would bring immediate benefits in making it easier for Iranian citizens to travel to the United States; they would also be first steps towards greater diplomatic engagement between Iran and the United States.
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 8 December 2008 - 12:53pm
USA Today reports that Gen. McKiernan - top U.S. commander in Afghanistan - “has asked the Pentagon for more than 20,000 soldiers, Marines and airmen” to augment U.S. forces. McKiernan says U.S. troop levels of 55,000 to 60,000 in Afghanistan will be needed for “at least three or four more years.” He added: “If we put these additional forces in here, it’s going to be for the next few years. It’s not a temporary increase of combat strength.”
We should have a vigorous national debate before embarking on this course. Contrary to what one might think from a quick scan of the newspapers, there are knowledgeable voices questioning whether increasing the deployment of U.S. troops to Afghanistan is in our interest, or is in the interest of the Afghan people.
Bestselling author and former longtime New York Times foreign correspondent Stephen Kinzer argues the opposite in this five minute video:
Kinzer argues that sending more U.S. troops is likely to be counterproductive. It’s likely to produce more anger in Afghanistan, and more anger is likely to produce more recruits for the Taliban. A better alternative would surge diplomacy instead, reaching out to people who are now supporting the Taliban.
Al Qaeda and the Taliban are very different forces, argues Kinzer. The Taliban has deep roots in Afghan society. Many of the warlords allied with the Taliban are not fanatic ideologues.