Looking Ahead in a New World, Page 2

Global Warnings What’s next for U.S policy in Central Asia?
by Michael Doyle ’78

In identifying policy experts on Central Asia these past months, U.S. officials and the media turned to an Oberlin cohort from the early 1970s. Based in Washington, D.C., but globe-trotting ceaselessly, Richard Haass ’73, Steven Mann ’73, and Paula Newberg ’74 have come to play different roles in the discordant region. Haass and Mann hold the rank of ambassador and, in their respective State Department posts, champion U.S. policy—Haass as the State Department’s temporary point man on Afghanistan and Mann as the top U.S. adviser on Caspian Basin energy. Newberg has served as an adviser to the United Nations in Afghanistan and Central Asia and understands well the calamitous politics and humanitarian catastrophes that mark the territory.

The three have known each other in varying degrees over the years. Each brings a unique perspective to the world revealed by September 11; each is shaping the world that comes next. Ambassador Richard Haass sought the tough problems. He’s got them now, in triplicate. As chief of the State Department’s storied policy planning staff, Haass handles responsibilities unimagined when he was sworn in last year. The fitful Northern Ireland peace process seemed then to be among his biggest concerns; the Irish Times covered his appointment extensively. Then terror struck at home.

“I had paid some attention to Afghanistan,” Haass says, “but to be frank, it wasn’t much before September 11. I spent a lot of time in South Asia, although my focus was on India and Pakistan.”

It's been a quickly evolving cascade of events, with the rapid collapse of the Taliban throughout most of Afghanistan in November. In October, Secretary of State Colin Powell tapped Haass as an emissary for Afghanistan. Talk about intractable. Working in many environments, Haass has had to handhold, cajole, calculate, and in all ways move the diplomatic levers to advance diverse U.S. interests. Then the State Department added another envoy, James Dobbins, as its representative to various Afghan opposition groups, and Haass turned his focus to work within the United States and United Nations on Afghanistan issues.

The former Rhodes Scholar, who earned his PhD at Oxford, says the United States is “clearly looking to the U.N. to play a central role in molding Afghanistan’s postwar future.” The U.S., though, must lead. This centrality of U.S. leadership has marked Haass’ thinking both in and out of government. His book The Reluctant Sheriff: The United States after the Cold War—one of 11 he’s written or edited—pinned the star of international leadership squarely on Uncle Sam.

“I think it’s incumbent upon our country to take the lead and, in many cases, organize coalitions of those parties able and willing to work with us toward common goals,” Haass told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last April. “That is where the notion of the sheriff comes. At times we have to overcome our own reluctance to do that, to lead.”
Thus, in October, Haass met in Italy with the octogenarian former king of Afghanistan, Mohammad Zahir Shah. The king had ruled for 40 years before being deposed in 1973. The aged king may seem an unlikely ruler now, but a tribal council—a loya jirga —under his aegis and designed to shape a new leadership coalition, has become a popular idea.

“It’s our goal to try to encourage the emergence of a broad-based Afghan government that reflects the composition of the population, that enjoys support and legitimacy, and that has workable relations with its neighbors,” Haass says. “The goal is to bring it about, using Afghans both inside and outside of the country. It's going to have to be representative. Is the potential there? The answer is yes.”

Questions nonetheless abound. In 1989, a previous tribal council without the king’s involvement failed to establish a lasting coalition among seven major Afghan factions. It is unclear whether members of the Taliban could be part of a new ruling coalition. Pakistan, whose fearsome Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate helped spawn the Taliban in the mid-1990s, has envisioned an enduring role for moderate Taliban leaders. But other countries, including Russia, India, and Tajikistan, aren’t keen on the idea.
Holding together an anti-terror alliance poses other dilemmas as well.

“Often the most important decisions in foreign policy involve trade-offs,” Haass says, “so obviously we're going to make some difficult decisions, but that’s always the case in foreign policy.”

Consider human rights. Tajikistan can help the U.S. effort in neighboring Afghanistan. Tajikistan is also ruled by an authoritarian regime whose security forces “frequently tortured, beat, and abused detainees,” according to the State Department’s 2000 human rights report. Uzbekistan is allowing use of its territory for the U.S. effort. Uzbekistan’s security forces also “arbitrarily arrested or detained pious Muslims and other citizens on false charges, frequently planting narcotics, weapons, or forbidden literature on them,” the State Department reported.

“One of the challenges facing the U.S. government is tending to the various aspects of post-September 11 policy without losing sight of other U.S. foreign policy goals,” Haass says. He mentioned specifically U.S. policies toward al-Qaeda and Afghanistan, terrorism more broadly, the promotion of open trade, stopping the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and promoting civil society and democracy.

Pakistan in particular poses dilemmas. Led by a general, it is a country in which the constitution and parliament have been suspended and which teeters periodically on the brink of war with India. But Pakistan also shares a porous 1,500-mile border with Afghanistan and is essential to the United States.

“This is a leadership that faces tremendous challenges,” Haass says of Pakistan. “It has major interests in Afghanistan. It also faces a difficult relationship with India, and internally it has significant economic problems and political divisions. It appears to be moving to reach out, and, obviously, the United States is prepared to help to the extent that we can.”

Haass previously puzzled over Pakistan while in the first Bush administration, in which he was senior director for Near East and South Asian affairs at the National Security Council. He worked with Powell during the Persian Gulf War, the one Iraqi President Saddam Hussein proclaimed, with perhaps more prescience than he was given credit for, would be “the mother of all battles.”

This time around, Powell chose Haass to head the State Department’s own internal think-tank, though the policy planning staff lacks the luxurious remove of an ivory tower.

“It’s my job to provide the secretary of state with medium- and long-term advice,” Haass says, adding ruefully that he spends “an awful lot of time in meetings.”

From which, history shows, come ideas that change the world. The policy planning staff first convened in 1947, as post-war Europe was economically disintegrating and Stalinist Russia was expanding. Secretary of State George Marshall summoned diplomat Chester Bowles to create the staff so that the State Department could play offense as well as defense.

“Marshall had only one bit of advice for me,” Bowles recounted in his autobiography. “Avoid trivia.”

The ambitious Marshall Plan for the recovery of Europe soon resulted. Now it’s Haass’ turn to help concoct plans whose names and consequences history will grade.

Oil in a Tough Neighborhood

Someday, Afghanistan may calm. When it does, Ambassador Steven Mann would like to see the larger region thrive and the United States be well positioned. “We need to do everything we can now so that when this war is over, the states of Central Asia and the Caucasus will have a real basis for prosperity,” he says.

A two-time German major, Mann began keeping his fingers on the region’s pulse long before taking his current job as Caspian Basin energy adviser. He served as U.S. ambassador to Turkmenistan for two-and-a-half years and knows how dicey things can get for this frontline state. Turkmenistan shares a 461-mile border with Afghanistan, a 615-mile border with Iran, and a significant coastal piece of the oil-rich Caspian Sea. “The Turkmen know they live in a rough neighborhood,” he says.

Some neighbors, notably Uzbekistan, enlisted publicly in the U.S. campaign against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. The role of Turkmenistan in the post-September 11 campaign is delicate, although in late October it agreed to allow U.N. aid workers to operate on its Afghan border. Its role in the region’s future is likewise a work in progress.

“Turkmenistan in the past always had cordial relations with the Taliban,” Mann noted. “Turkmenistan tries to have businesslike relations with all of its neighbors—with Afghanistan, with Iran, with Uzbekistan.”

Businesslike is not bad; it is, after a fashion, Mann’s own approach now. As Secretary of State Powell’s senior advisor for Caspian Basin energy diplomacy, Mann considers the region’s big picture. One very big goal is construction of a 1,075-mile pipeline to carry oil from the Caspian seaport of Baku to the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan.

“With Central Asia and the Caucasus, we have tried to do something that doesn’t come naturally to Americans, which is to play the long game,” Mann says. “This war places a spotlight on Central Asia, and it’s even more important to press ahead with Caspian energy development because we’re looking for long-term stability.”

Mann insists the so-called Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline will be entirely secure, notwithstanding the region’s turmoil. All of the countries involved, he says, “have an interest in having the pipeline built…it’s hard for me to see (the terrorism crisis) spilling over” to hinder the project.

“The Caspian nations’ needs are pretty consistent,” he added. “They must export their energy. Our policy is consistent, too; we want to help them do that. The pipelines we’re building are going to be secure. There’s not a security threat out there that’s not manageable.”

Construction of the $2.5-billion oil pipeline begins early next summer. By connecting Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey—bypassing cheaper but more politically troublesome routes through Iran—the pipeline would serve multiple interests. The diplomatic theory is that the United States wins by binding countries closer to the West. The related economic theory is that the rising tide from a million barrels of Caspian Sea crude oil conveyed daily will lift all of the impoverished countries.

“The countries of Central Asia and the Caucuses can use the revenues from this oil and gas to build their societies and strengthen their independence,” Mann says. “That is an important strategic goal for the United States, so there are good reasons for us to work together. We’ve been doing it for years, and the Bush administration wants to push ahead.”

Turkmenistan is not a direct party to the big oil pipeline, but other forms of energy development are still crucial to the largely desert country. It’s the old story: rich in resources, poor in fact. The country of 4.6 million residents claims the fifth-largest natural gas reserve in the world. And yet nearly 60 percent of the residents in this country the size of California live below the poverty line.

“The economy, year by year, crumbles a little bit more,” Mann says. “They’re concerned about schooling their kids. They’re concerned about social services and infrastructure. Politics are very low on their list of daily concerns. Their number one concern is making a living.”

A Foreign Service officer since 1976, Mann first toured the tree-shaded streets of Turkmenistan’s capital in July 1980. The country was still suffocating in the Soviet Union’s bear hug. Across the border in Afghanistan, Soviet troops were in the first year of a bloody and futile venture. Turkmenistan achieved its independence when the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991 and, according to Mann, it is a “very stable country.” The stability comes at a high price. President Saparmurat Niyazov, according to the CIA’s World Factbook, “retains absolute control over the country,” and opposition is not tolerated.

“He is the president for life and has an enormous cult of personality,” Mann says.
In 1992, Niyazov won re-election with a Stalinist-era margin of 99.5 percent of all votes cast. There is no free press, and the country’s overall human rights record is characterized as “extremely poor” by the State Department.

“An argument I have often heard is that the Turkmen have an ‘Asian mentality,’ and so they are not comfortable with democracy as we understand it,” Mann said in his farewell remarks as ambassador last May. “I reject this idea. I have never heard a single average Turkmen citizen, in my two-and-a-half years here, say that he or she did not want to see honest newspapers and television and read honest facts about the nation’s progress.”

Back in the United States, working in State Department headquarters tightly wrapped in wartime security, Mann now casts his mind beyond the travails of President Niyazov’s Turkmenistan. But, following a mid-October interview, preparing to meet with U.S. oil company executives waiting in his outer office, he paused to give a pitch for a service well suited to the Oberlin ethos.

“As a result of the war, we’re seeing in the Foreign Service an even greater sense of pride in what we do and what we represent,” Mann says. “We’ve got admirable leadership in the State Department, and regardless of the area we’re working in, there’s a sense of mission.”

This Foreign Service veteran says something else. “Talk to Paula Newberg,” he urged. “You’ve got to talk to Paula.”

Anarchy Is Always Worse

Paula Newberg has her doubts. And, working outside of government, she can openly express them. Long active in human-rights and humanitarian issues, Newberg questions the U.S. military strategy initiated last fall with cruise missiles and laser-guided bombs.
“I don’t happen to think that bombing the guts out of Afghanistan is the best way to fight global terrorism,” Newberg said in October. Briefly a Peace Corps country director in Central Asia and a long-time commentator on international politics (she and Haass were both at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in the mid-1990s), Newberg questions the trade-offs now made as the United States rallies an anti-terror coalition.

“It’s easy for me to say, (because) I’m out of government and I can operate on different set of principles. What we are doing right now is buying off seemingly pliant but habitually rights-violating governments with whom we believe we need to undertake an anti-terrorist campaign,” Newberg says. “That is not likely to stand us in good stead over the long term.

“These actions are understandable, given the tactics and strategies that have been adopted,” Newberg conceded, but “that doesn’t make it right for the long term. And it certainly doesn’t make it right for the people who live in these countries.”

As the U.N.’s former special advisor for Afghanistan from 1996 through 1998, Newberg has been skeptical of where the United States has been placing its bets. The Northern Alliance, for one. It sounds like a coherent partner, but is not.

“The Northern Alliance does not stand for anything in particular,” Newberg says. “It is a familiar gallery of rogues whose attitude toward the population of Afghanistan was and is less than beneficent. This was a group of commanders who until recently had been fighting one another as well as fighting the Taliban, and they continued fighting among each other while they were fighting the Taliban. It’s not the same thing as having a government and an organized opposition. Commanders have been reorganizing themselves to suit the circumstances.”

Newberg now advises the United Nations Foundation, a private group aiding U.N. causes through a $1-billion gift committed by CNN founder Ted Turner. A New Yorker—“I like large, complicated, gritty places”—Newberg says it was a bit of an accident that brought her face-to-face with Afghanistan for the first time. It was in March 1980, and she was attending a meeting of the United Nations in India after spending the winter as a member of the U.S. delegation to the U.N. Human Rights Commission. She traveled from New Delhi to Pakistan and then decided to check out the border where the first Afghan refugees were just arriving.

In the years that followed—during the anti-Soviet war and after the Soviet army left and the United States turned its back on Afghanistan—Newberg made countless trips to South and Southwest Asia, many on behalf of international human-rights organizations. Local experience became an important teacher. Her doctorate from the University of Chicago in comparative politics and social theory provided an outline, but not details. Her primary foreign languages had been French, German, and Czech, not Pukhto or Dari or South Asia’s varied vernaculars. After years in the region, however, she went on to author books and monographs about Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Kashmir and to teach at Columbia and Johns Hopkins.

While watching Pakistan’s governance decline in the mid-1990s, Newberg also saw firsthand the rise of the Taliban; she recognized, for all its militant rigidity, the Taliban’s appeal for a country accustomed to chaos.

“The Taliban did allow people to begin recapturing a stable home life,” Newberg says. “There are people who are actually sympathetic to the Taliban. They may not like the ideological stricture, although some do, but they did like the fact that anarchy was kept in lien.”

She saw, and was vexed by, U.S. foreign policy at the time.

“We’ve been patronizing all sorts of folks, including Osama bin Laden when it suited our convenience,” Newberg says. “It was our convenience to support Pakistan and the Taliban in 1994 and 1995, although it was clear even then, particularly to people living in the region, that it was not a good idea to have done so. We took a short-term, tactical move, and it was a bad idea—for Afghanistan, Pakistan, and many of their neighbors. We are now taking other, familiar, short-term moves.”

She believes now, as do others, that the United Nations could be crucial if Afghanistan is ever to rebuild itself. It is not necessarily, or appropriately, the United States’ job to build that ruling coalition, she says; it is, she believes, “highly arrogant for any state to try to put any government in place anywhere.”

“I think the U.N. can best act as an umpire or as a trustee, in the process of trying to determine how it can best help the Afghan people decide for themselves how they want to be governed,” she says. “There has to be a playing field established in which no one is patronized simply by having gained military ascendancy.”

She knows what awaits Afghanistan if all governance fails.

“Anarchy is always worse.”

Mike Doyle is a reporter for McClatchy Newspapers in Washington, DC.

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