“Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan need to be top foreign policy priorities for President Barack Obama,” says Thomas Schweich, former ambassador for counternarcotics and justice reform in Afghanistan and visiting professor of law at Washington University in St. Louis.
Schweich, the Special Representative for Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, is available to discuss foreign policy issues facing the next president. His current comments follow:
Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran:
“During the election, Obama spoke of the need for more troops because he wanted to make the point that we had too many troops in Iraq and, as a result, inadequate forces in Afghanistan,” Schweich says. “But the election is over. More troops are only a small part of the solution, and any troop surge carries its own risks. For example, one of the biggest problems we have now is civilian casualties caused by NATO operations in Afghanistan, which could be made worse with more troops.
“The real solution in Afghanistan involves a more coherent policy with respect to Pakistan such as:
• Providing more financial assistance to its collapsed economy in exchange for more access to the tribal areas and withdrawal of support for the Taliban by the Pakistani Intelligence Service;
• Engagement with Iran — a Shiite state that could easily be enlisted in opposing the Afghan Sunni Taliban insurgency and which suffers from a huge problem of its youth using Afghan opium — the same opium that is funding the insurgency;
• Better delivery of development assistance to the Afghans by bypassing the corrupt central Afghan government and going directly to local community councils with thousands of quick impact projects — schools, bridges, roads; and
• Careful evaluation of the possibility of negotiating with insurgent groups, but only after ascertaining that we negotiate with someone who truly speaks for the key insurgent groups, and only after the Karzai government, the U.S. and its allies determine in a unified manner what, if any, role it is willing to give these groups in any future Afghan government.”
Russia and China:
“With oil prices soaring and its invasion of Georgia a success, Russia was feeling very powerful only a few months ago,” Schweich says. “But the Russian stock market has collapsed far worse than ours, oil prices have collapsed, and the world regards Russia as untrustworthy as a result of the Georgia invasion. This vulnerability is an opening for President Obama to re-establish a partnership with a now weaker Russia.
“China too was feeling good after the Olympics, but it has had a stock market collapse, also worse than ours, and is showing signs that it too will act more moderately — recently declining, for example, to accede to a request from its friend Sudan to interfere with efforts to prosecute Sudanese leaders at the International Criminal Court. So the economic downturn, as serious as it is, gives the new president an opening for better multilateral relations.”
Central America, South America, and the Caribbean:
“The Bush administration was very supportive of Colombia and Mexico, and these countries are worried about anti-free trade statements made by Obama during the campaign,” Schweich says. “They are also concerned that the new efforts at cooperation between the United States and its neighbors to the South in the area of anti-corruption, counternarcotics, and anti-gang activity are at risk.
“If we alienate friends like Mexico and Colombia, it will increase the influence of anti-American countries like Venezuela and Bolivia, who are increasingly allying with Russia, Cuba, and China. Unless we support our friends in the region and reach out to those sitting on the fence, we run the risk of left-leaning countries like Ecuador and Nicaragua becoming increasingly anti-American. We cannot afford to have a bad relationship with our regional neighbors.”
“Crime and corruption are more rampant in Africa than ever and the world economic downturn will only hurt the situation,” Schweich says. “Moreover, drug traffickers from South America are now transiting the cocaine from South America through Africa to Europe in order to avoid traditional interdiction efforts by American and European authorities.
“Afghan drug traffickers are transiting heroin from their country through Africa and into Europe as well. This is creating a huge new crime and corruption problem in Africa that is decimating such countries as Nigeria, Guinea Bissau, and Senegal. This serious issue has been largely ignored and needs attention.
“Africa will not meet the Millennium Development Goals set by the international community if the crime and corruption caused by the drug trade continues to undermine the integrity of African governments.”
Editor’s note: Schweich is available for phone, e-mail and broadcast interviews using Washington University’s free VYVX or ISDN lines. Please contact Jessica Martin at (314) 935-5251 for assistance.