National Security

Coll: What If We Fail in Afghanistan?

Last week, I found myself at yet another think tank-type meeting about Afghan policy choices. Toward the end, one of the participants, who had long experience in government, asked a deceptively simple question: What would happen if we failed?...

Coll: “Decoding the New Taliban”

Antonio Giustozzi, a fellow at the London School of Economics, is the editor of a new volume of research essays about the Taliban entitled “Decoding the New Taliban,” which is being published here by Columbia University Press. It is an outstanding and important collection—just the sort of locally specific, openly debatable, scholarly analysis about the diverse structures and leaders of the Taliban that will be required more and more if the international community is ever to understand the insurgents and divine how to prevent a second Taliban revolution...

Coll: Let It Snowe

Sorry for the long silence. Too much Afghanistan makes Jack a dull boy. I’m afraid to report, however, that I have been jolted back to typing by the subject of…health-care reform. Nobody said this was TMZ.

Coll: Gorbachev Was Right

We’re all prisoners of our own experiences. Richard Holbrooke, the Obama Administration’s diplomatic point man on Afghanistan, and the subject of my colleague George Packer’s terrific Profile last week, arrives at the current dilemmas influenced by Vietnam and Bosnia. General David Petraeus, Obama’s commander for the Middle East and Central Asian region, and General Stan McChrystal, his commander in Afghanistan, arrive at this intersection with the recent lessons of counterinsurgency in Iraq ringing in their ears. In some respects the debate over what strategy Obama should now adopt in Afghanistan has become a debilitating contest of historical analogies and comparative case studies...

Coll: Legitimacy and the Afghan Army

When Margaret Warner interviewed Hillary Clinton on Newshour on Monday, Clinton said that no matter what the Obama Administration decided about its Afghan strategy or the numbers of troops required, it would not send new troops until the disputed Afghan presidential election is on a clear path to resolution.

The logic here is easy to understand. American strategy until now has been rooted mainly in counterinsurgency doctrine. That doctrine is premised on strengthening the effectiveness of a legitimate Afghan government. The allegations of electoral fraud against President Karzai, as well as the continuing uncertainty about whether there will be a runoff vote, and how the opposition leader, Abdullah, will play his hand, mean that it is unclear what sort of government American counterinsurgency doctrine can attempt to support...

Coll: Thinking About Afghanistan

At the risk of trying the patience of those who seek from Afghan wonks a short yes-or-no opinion about General McChrystal’s assessment of the war and his argument for more U.S. troops pronto, I thought I would try a series of posts this week that seek some distance from the political heat surrounding President Obama’s first (but presumably not his only) excruciating decision as commander-in-chief. I’ll circle around to the yes-or-no, but gradually.

I have been scratching my head about the President’s Afghan dilemma since mid-summer. My progress with this puzzle has been limited. The decisions he now faces are so complex that the first difficulty is to define the problem correctly. The President made clear during his weekend TV blitz that he understands this. One place to start is with a basic question: What vital U.S. national security interests are at issue in the Afghan war?...

Coll: 3b or Not 3b

The Obama Administration’s draft metrics for progress in Afghanistan and Pakistan, which circulated publicly this week, offer the most precise articulation of the Administration’s goals and thinking about the war since its Afghan strategy was formally announced in the spring. The purpose of the metrics is “to highlight both positive and negative trends and issues that may call for policy adjustments over time.” Rather than troops-or-no-troops, stay-or-leave, the metrics provide the nuanced vernacular in which policy will actually be debated, decided, and funded...

Coll: Lisa Jackson

…is the first African-American administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. She graduated from Tulane University, earned an advanced degree at Princeton, and worked at the E.P.A. for sixteen years. She served as New Jersey Governor John Corzine’s chief of staff and as that state’s environment commissioner before President Obama appointed her to her current post. This afternoon I stopped by the Atlantic’s Green Intelligence Forum in Washington to hear her speak...

Coll: Health Reform’s Hidden Consensus

At a staff meeting this morning at my think tank, New America Foundation, we had an interesting talk about health-care policy. New America has been examining the health-care-reform debate for a long while, and some of its scholars and economists began to argue for using regulated market mechanisms to achieve universal coverage—the “mandate” approach—very early on, when there seemed little realistic chance that such a reform would be possible politically. Some of the colleagues who remember those days in the policy wilderness observed that today, for all of the noise and discord surrounding President Obama’s speech tonight, it is remarkable what is no longer controversial. The big change from the Clinton era, they noted, is that the insurance industry has agreed to “guaranteed issue,” that is, to stop withholding insurance from people because they have a preëxisting condition, or because they are sick, or because their blood work suggests they might soon fall sick...

Coll: The Maine Point

Senator Olympia Snowe’s official biography page has a big picture of a moose on it. The narrative beneath that moose reveals that the senator’s Greek ancestors on her mother’s side came to America from Sparta. They were not big on government services and universal health care in Sparta, as I remember it. Never mind; this is another time and place, and Snowe, the senior senator from Maine, is now at the center of the Obama Administration’s teetering effort to rewrite the American social contract...

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