Vali Nasr har skrevet et langt essay i Foreign Policy om sitt arbeid i Afpak-kontoret til Richard Holbrooke i State Department. Det er en historie som sier mye om måte Barack Obama fører utenrikspolitikk på. Virkeligheten er noe helt annet enn bildet media gjengir.

Nasr tegner bildet av en sirkel av rådgivere rundt Obama som mistror State Department og forsøker å tilrive seg så mye makt som mulig. Diplomati nedgraderes. Den faglige, tekniske kunnskapen i CIA og Pentagon foretrekkes. Den intervenerer mindre politisk. Arbeidsdelingen er gunstig for Det hvite hus: De tar seg av politikken, CIA og Pentagon av sikkerheten.

Men dermed lider utenrikspolitikken, for man kan ikke styre en utenrikspolitikk uten diplomater. Langt på vei er det det Det hvite hus under Obama har gjort: de vet best.

Resultatet er blitt deretter. Afghanistan var en gang den gode rettferdige krig. Nå er det et desillusjonert USA som trekker seg tilbake.

Det hadde ikke behøvd vært slik, skriver Nasr. Han kom inn som rådgiver for Richard Holbrooke i februar 2009, da Holbrooke fikk stillingen som spesialutsending. Han var påtenkt som viseutenriksminister, men folkene  i Det hvite hus kunne ikke tilgi at han drev valgkamp for Hillary Clinton.

For dem var Holbrooke alt de ikke likte: han tok mye plass, han var uforutsigbar, spontan, individualist,  og brød seg ikke om regler. Disse egenskapene var grunnen til hans suksess på Balkan, men det passet dårlig med de flinke guttene og jentene rundt Obama. Heller ikke sjefen selv likte Holbrooke og sørget for å holde ham på avstand.

Slik kan man ikke drive utenrikspolitikk og kriger, bemerker Nasr.

Det ble mye turf wars, revirkriger under Obama.

Nasr setter bildet av drone-krigeren inn i et større perspektiv: Obamas måte å styre på favoriserer droner og utplukking av mål. Det er effektivt. At denne taktikken ikke kan erstatte en strategi, hvor diplomati inngår, synes ikke å bekymre Obama-administrasjonen.

Nasr sier det gjør at Obama heller ikke forstår de nye truslene. Angrepet i Benghazi kom helt overraskende.

By September 2012, when violent anti-American protests swept the Muslim world, claiming the lives of four members of the U.S. diplomatic mission in Libya and dozens of demonstrators, it became clear that we had gotten the broader Middle East badly wrong.

Dette er alarmerende: Obama-administrasjonen forstår ikke konsekvensene av sine egne valg og handlinger.

OBAMA HAS EARNED plaudits for his foreign-policy performance. On his watch, the United States has wound down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it finally killed Osama bin Laden. In tune with the public mood, he has largely kept America out of costly overseas adventures.

But my time in the Obama administration turned out to be a deeply disillusioning experience. The truth is that his administration made it extremely difficult for its own foreign-policy experts to be heard. Both Clinton and Holbrooke, two incredibly dedicated and talented people, had to fight to have their voices count on major foreign-policy initiatives.

Holbrooke never succeeded. Clinton did — but it was often a battle. It usually happened only when it finally became clear to a White House that jealously guarded all foreign policymaking — and then relied heavily on the military and intelligence agencies to guide its decisions — that these agencies’ solutions were no substitute for the type of patient, credible diplomacy that garners the respect and support of allies. Time and again, when things seemed to be falling apart, the administration finally turned to Clinton because it knew she was the only person who could save the situation.

One could argue that in most administrations, an inevitable imbalance exists between the military-intelligence complex, with its offerings of swift, dynamic, camera-ready action, and the foreign-policy establishment, with its seemingly ponderous, deliberative style. But this administration advertised itself as something different. On the campaign trail, Obama repeatedly stressed that he wanted to get things right in the broader Middle East, reversing the damage that had resulted from the previous administration’s reliance on faulty intelligence and its willingness to apply military solutions to problems it barely understood.

Not only did that not happen, but the president had a truly disturbing habit of funneling major foreign-policy decisions through a small cabal of relatively inexperienced White House advisors whose turf was strictly politics. Their primary concern was how any action in Afghanistan or the Middle East would play on the nightly news, or which talking point it would give the Republicans. The Obama administration’s reputation for competence on foreign policy has less to do with its accomplishments in Afghanistan or the Middle East than with how U.S. actions in that region have been reshaped to accommodate partisan political concerns.

Denne beskrivelsen minner om Bill Clintons måte å styre på: hans ene øye var konstant på meningsmålinger og presse – hvordan et utspill ble motatt av mediene bestemte hans måte å handle på. Men det blir wag the dog-politikk. Clinton greide aldri møte eller forstå Al Qaida, selv etter flere angrep.

Han greide heller ikke forstå krigen på Balkan og ble tvunget til å handle.

Amerikanerne er krigstrette, men tilbaketrekningen fra Afghanistan og Irak betyr ikke at truslene er borte. USA lar dronene og spesialsoldatene bli igjen. Tror USA at det dermed er ute av «ligningen»?

The American people are tired of war — rightly so — and they welcome talk of leaving the region. The president has marketed the U.S. exit from Afghanistan as a foreign-policy coup, one that will not only unburden America from the region’s problems but also give the country the freedom it needs to pursue other, more pressing national security concerns.

This is an illusion. Ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention the broader, ill-defined «war on terror,» is a very good idea, provided it is done properly and without damage to U.S. interests or the region’s stability. But we should not kid ourselves that the rhetoric of departure is anything more than rhetoric; the United States is taking home its troops and winding down diplomatic and economic engagement — but leaving behind its Predators and Special Forces. We should not expect that the region will look more kindly on drone attacks and secret raids than it did on invasion and occupation.

Dronene og spesialsoldatene erstatter policy, det bekymrer Nasr. På kort sikt virker dronene, de tar ut de de skal og noen flere. Men de virker innenfor et større felt, og hva er virkningene på lenger sikt? Man må ha noe mer å gå etter enn droner. De kan ikke erstatte strategi.

Holbrooke, Clinton og deres medarbeider skriver memo på memo til Det hvite hus. Obama ber om stadig flere fra alle agencies. Man vil helst tro det beste om presidenten, at han søker etter det rette svar, ikke at han ber om nye svar bare for å trå vannet, for ikke å ta noe valg.

Holbrooke thought that Obama was not deciding because he disliked the options before him, and that the National Security Council (NSC) was failing the president by not giving him the right options. What Holbrooke omitted from his assessment was that Obama was failing to press the NSC to give him other options.

Obama valgte CIA og Pentagon i synet på Afghanistan og Pakistan. Han ville ikke fremstå som svak i mediene, og det ville han hvis ham gikk imot de militære og etterretningen.

Holbrooke mente at the surge i Afghanistan kun hadde mening hvis det ble fulgt av et diplomatisk utspill overfor Taliban: det er i styrkeposisjon man skal forhandle. I stedet gikk Obama ut og varslet at USA ville trekke seg ut innen 2014. Da var det bare for Taliban å vente.

Holbrooke and Clinton had a tight partnership. They were friends. Clinton trusted Holbrooke’s judgment and valued his counsel. They conferred often (not just on Afghanistan and Pakistan), and Clinton protected Holbrooke from an obdurate White House. The White House kept a dossier on Holbrooke’s misdeeds, and Clinton kept a folder on churlish attempts by the White House’s AfPak office to undermine Holbrooke, which she eventually gave to Tom Donilon, Obama’s national security advisor. The White House tried to blame Holbrooke for leaks to the media. Clinton called out the White House on its own leaks. She sharply rebuked the White House after journalist Steve Coll wrote in the New Yorker about a highly secret meeting with the Taliban that he was told about by a senior White House official.

Whenever possible, Clinton went to the president directly, around the so-called Berlin Wall of staffers who shielded Obama from any option or idea they did not want him to consider. Clinton had regular weekly private meetings with the president. She had asked for the «one-on-ones» as a condition for accepting the job in hopes of ensuring that the White House would not conveniently marginalize her and the State Department.

Even then, however, she had a tough time getting the administration to bite. Obama was sympathetic in principle but not keen on showing daylight between the White House and the military. Talking to enemies was a good campaign sound bite, but once in power Obama was too skittish to try it.

Det hvite hus utestengte Holbrooke fra møter og reiser hvor hans uteblivelse måtte bli oppfattet som en degradering av andre. Det hvite hus synes å ha som motto: alle andre enn Holbrooke.

The White House campaign against the State Department, and especially Holbrooke, was at times a theater of the absurd. Holbrooke was not included in Obama’s videoconferences with Karzai, and he was cut out of the presidential retinue when Obama went to Afghanistan. At times it looked as if White House officials were baiting Karzai to complain about Holbrooke so they could get him fired.

The White House worried that talking to the Taliban would give Holbrooke a greater role. For months, the White House plotted to either block reconciliation with the Taliban or find an alternative to Holbrooke for managing the talks. Lute, who ran AfPak at the White House, floated the idea of the distinguished U.N. diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi leading the talks. Clinton objected to outsourcing American diplomacy to the United Nations. Pakistan, too, was cool to the idea. The «stop Holbrooke» campaign was not only a distraction — it was influencing policy.

Obama bøyde seg for de militære og ga dem deres ekstra 30.000 soldater, bare for å snatch defeat from the mouth of victory:

But that did not happen. The president failed to launch diplomacy and then announced the troop withdrawal in a June 2011 speech, in effect snatching away the leverage that would be needed if diplomacy were to have a chance of success. «If you are leaving, why would the Taliban make a deal with you? How would you make the deal stick? The Taliban will talk to you, but just to get you out faster.» That comment we heard from an Arab diplomat was repeated across the region.

Obama-administrasjonen vil gjerne fremstå som the good guys, men skriver Nasr: de ville ut av Afghanistan og spørsmål som kvinners stilling ble skjøvet til side. De ble ikke definert som vitale interesser.

Yet it was exactly after announcing the U.S. departure that the administration warmed up to the idea of reconciliation. Talks with the Taliban were not about arranging their surrender, but about hastening America’s departure. Concerns about human rights, women’s rights, and education were shelved. These were not seen as matters of vital U.S. interest, just noble causes that were too costly and difficult to support — and definitely not worth fighting an insurgency over.

The White House seemed to see an actual benefit in not doing too much. It was happy with its narrative of modest success in Afghanistan and gradual withdrawal — building Afghan security forces to take over from departing U.S. troops. The goal was to spare the president the risks that necessarily come with playing the leadership role that America claims to play in this region.

Det vitner om en innsnevring av ambisjoner: spredning av universelle verdier er ikke lenger del av å være ledernasjon.

Nasr mener at Pentagon og CIA ved sin natur kom til å takle Pakistan på gal måte: USA kom til å satse på etterretning og droner, ikke forstå hva som foregikk.

Holbrooke understood that the White House, the Pentagon, and the CIA wanted Pakistan to cut ties with the Taliban and do more to fight terrorism. That would never happen, however, without at least some semblance of a normal relationship between Pakistan and the United States. Already in 2009, half the U.S. diplomatic mission in Pakistan worked on intelligence and counterterrorism rather than diplomacy or development. The U.S. Consulate in Peshawar was basically bricks shielding antennas. And it paid big dividends. The CIA collected critical intelligence in Pakistan that allowed for drone strikes against al Qaeda targets and on more than one occasion prevented a terrorist strike in the West. So the Obama administration began carrying out drone strikes in Pakistan on an industrial scale, decimating al Qaeda’s command-and-control structure and crippling the organization.


The White House, however, was not all that taken by the diplomatic effort, and the CIA and the Pentagon decided on America’s goals vis-à-vis Pakistan. These were predictably narrow in scope and all terrorism-focused. They set a pugilistic tone for America’s talks with Pakistan but then bore no responsibility for the outcome. I remember Holbrooke shaking his head and saying. «Watch them [the CIA] ruin this relationship. And when it is ruined, they are going to say, ‘We told you: You can’t work with Pakistan!’ We never learn.»

Det er et lite flatterende bilde Nasr tegner av presidenten: kun opinionsmålinger har diktert hans politikk, når krigen ble en byrde var det å kvitte seg med problemene og dra hjem. At dette oppfattes som faneflukt av andre land, ser ikke ut til å affisere.

It was to court public opinion that Obama first embraced the war in Afghanistan. And when public opinion changed, he was quick to declare victory and call the troops back home. His actions from start to finish were guided by politics, and they played well at home. Abroad, however, the stories the United States tells to justify its on-again, off-again approach do not ring true to friend or foe. They know the truth: America is leaving Afghanistan to its own fate. America is leaving even as the demons of regional chaos that first beckoned it there are once again rising to threaten its security.

America has not won this war on the battlefield, nor has the country ended it at the negotiating table. America is just washing its hands of this war. We may hope that the Afghan army the United States is building will hold out longer than the one that the Soviet Union built, but even that may not come to pass. Very likely, the Taliban will win Afghanistan again, and this long, costly war will have been for naught.

Skulle det skje og Taliban igjen kommer til makten vil det ha en desillusjonerende effekt, ikke bare i USA.