Defense & National Security

Obama Needs a Diplomatic Miracle Abroad

Defeating jihadists in Afghanistan and preventing nuclear-armed Pakistan from falling into the hands of Islamic extremists may depend on whether President Obama can perform a miracle with either the Russians or Pakistanis.

And — gauged by the Russians’ apparent success in interrupting our logistical lines to the battlefield –Vladimir Putin has prohibited miracles in southwest Asia.

Pakistan appears to be imploding from an insurgency which threatens our supply routes into Afghanistan. There have been several damaging raids against American ground supply lines through Pakistan. One of the other routes on which we rely heavily is the Manas Air Base in Kyrgyzstan. Actually, thanks to Russian interference, the word “rely” in the preceding sentence should be replaced with “relied”: past tense.

During the presidential campaign, Obama committed to make the war in Afghanistan a top priority. Unfortunately, his emphasis on that war coincides with the deterioration of the situation in next door Pakistan, which coincidentally provides our lifeline to the land-locked war zone.

The vulnerability of our resupply routes through Pakistan, which jeopardizes our Afghanistan mission, makes finding alternative routes critical, but the options are few. Afghanistan can also be accessed from the west through Iran — an unlikely route for forces opposed to terrorism — or the north through Russia, the Caspian Sea and Moscow’s Central Asia allies: Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan.

But any resupply route through the north gives Moscow leverage over the Obama administration for a variety of geopolitical concessions. And granting significant concessions to the Russians so early in the Obama administration could make America the underdog in future American-Russian negotiations.

Unfortunately, the Afghan war is heating up, which makes America’s commanders anxious to increase our forces and creates the need for increased supplies. Thus the new commander-in-chief is being pressured to surge more troops now and simultaneously find a reliable alternative resupply route to sustain those forces even before he has announced his strategy to win the war.

Geographically, Pakistan provides the shortest resupply route to Afghanistan from the Indian Ocean. Currently, most of the supplies bound for the war zone are delivered to the port of Karachi, Pakistan and then trucked hundreds of miles through semi-hostile territory crossing at two points into Afghanistan. Those crossing points have become the focus of Taliban attacks.

Until recently, Pakistani insurgents have been confined to the border region. But Dennis Blair, the national intelligence director, told Congress that Pakistan is losing authority over its border areas and other areas were coming under the sway of Islamic radicalism. Fortunately, Pakistan’s military has a firm grip on most of the country but that, too, is changing. That’s why the U.S. is providing Pakistan with arms and training in hopes of blunting the insurgency before it destabilizes the entire country.

Unless Pakistan’s insurgency is contained, resupplying our troops using routes through that country will be a security nightmare. And Obama knows that expanding our ground war as promised will require even more bulk supplies like ammunition and petroleum that rely on ground transportation — mostly trucks threading their way through mountainous, insurgent plagued Pakistani roads.

Any supply route through the region would be vulnerable to local criminal elements and subject to sudden closure. The roads and railroads in Uzbekistan, for example, are reasonably good for a less developed country thanks to the former Soviet Union. But any deal to use these countries could be very expensive because of the long distances and the need for more engineer work, an army of logisticians and security forces.

Petraeus and other American officials have visited the Central Asian republics in their attempts to find suitable alternatives to flow huge quantities of supplies to our growing force in Afghanistan. No matter where they go, however, Moscow seems to have undermined their efforts.

Kyrgyzstan illustrates Moscow’s regional influence. That country’s Manas Air Base hosts U.S. cargo and refueling aircraft which support Afghan operations. In December, the U.S. offered to increase rent for the base from $64 to $150 million, but then the Russians countered with a $2 billion “loan” for Kyrgyzstan. Now, even though the U.S. counter-offered with another $64 million and a $25 million signing bonus, the Kyrgyz government issued an eviction notice.

Russia was quiet about U.S. operations at Manas and other Central Asian facilities until recently. Admi.William Fallon, the former head of the U.S. military’s Central Command, said he believes Moscow’s motivation for encouraging the closure of Manas and playing hard-ball with other regional governments is to reassert influence in Central Asia and remove a visible U.S. presence from former Soviet Republics.

Russia is being two-faced about America’s quest for a northern resupply route. Russian president Dmitri Medvedev said “The Russian Federation … [is] ready for full-fledged, comprehensive cooperation with the United States … in combating terrorism in the region.” He appeared to link that cooperation to American policy changes — the price for Russian cooperation.

Moscow hasn’t been shy about the changes it seeks. Some of Medvedev’s cabinet officials and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin have warned against America’s plans to place a radar facility in the Czech Republic and interceptor missiles in Poland. Other officials have expressed their opposition to NATO’s eastward expansion and want America to acknowledge the existence of Russia’s sphere of influence among its former satellites.

So how does Obama persuade the Russians to facilitate a northern resupply route without conceding too much to Moscow? That task was confused somewhat last weekend when vice president Joe Biden announced to a security conference in Munich, Germany, that it was “time to press the reset button” and revisit many of the areas where the U.S. and Russia can work together.

Biden’s statement was music to ears of Sergei Ivanov, Russia’s deputy prime minister. But Biden’s promise to “reset” relations seemed to explicitly exclude from compromise NATO expansion and ballistic missile defense, both hot button issues for Moscow.

Given Moscow’s interference, Iran’s influence in the area and the instability of Pakistan, the odds are enormous against Obama pulling off a diplomatic miracle in securing a reliable northern resupply route without compromising America’s security interests.


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