By Major Michael L. Burgoyne, U.S. Army
Best Defense guest columnist
In this time of fiscal austerity, continued support for Colombia is both a necessity to allow Colombia to secure its country and an investment in a valuable partner.
Given recent positive trends, it is easy for some to erroneously assume that U.S. support to Colombia is no longer required. On October 18, 2012, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Colombian government initiated formal peace talks in the hope of ending a five decade internal conflict. Unlike previous efforts however, the FARC finds itself in a difficult negotiating position. During the last attempted negotiation, the FARC boasted some 20,000 fighters and was threatening the capital. After a decade of successful security policies, the FARC's numbers have been cut in half and the group has been reduced to guerrilla activities. Colombia's focus on "democratic security" has facilitated healthy growth in the Colombian economy and direct foreign investment. Colombian GDP has averaged 4.45 percent growth, resulting in an increase of $233 billion over the last decade. In addition, the government has signed free trade agreements with the United States, the European Union, and Canada. Perhaps most importantly, virtually every measure of citizen security has improved: kidnappings have declined 89 percent, homicides have been reduced by 49 percent, and there has been a 66 percent reduction in terrorist attacks.
Since the inception of Plan Colombia in 2000, the United States has supported Colombia with training, equipment, and security assistance. To date some $9 billion has been focused on supporting Colombian counter-drug and internal security efforts. Although this support seems costly, in fact, it is a very small price tag compared to large-scale deployments to conduct security force assistance and foreign internal defense in Iraq and Afghanistan. The consistent support for Colombia, however, is now beginning to dissipate. The 2013 budget from the White House lays out a 15 percent reduction in military and narcotics aid to Colombia.
When evaluating security cooperation with Colombia, it is imperative to remember the following key points:
1. The war is not over. Despite the deserved praise of Colombian and U.S. efforts, the Colombians are still in the fight. Last year, 243 Colombian soldiers were killed and 821 were wounded. The FARC has been cut in half but still numbers 8,000 combatants. The FARC is also not the only threat facing Colombia. The National Liberation Army (ELN), another insurgent group, maintains some 2,000 guerrillas. Most importantly, the lucrative cocaine trade will not disappear with the FARC. A dedicated effort to control the growth of criminal bands (BACRIM) will be necessary to prevent Zeta-like groups from rising from the ashes of Colombian political insurgency.
2. The Colombians initiated an innovative new counterinsurgency strategy, creating joint task forces specifically designed to destroy the FARC system. The design methodology and outcomes of this initiative may prove critical as an example for other partner nations facing criminal groups. This is a worthwhile effort that the United States is trying to support, but it is very challenging given current Colombian resources.
3. The U.S. effort through Plan Colombia and the Colombian Strategic Development Initiative has not necessarily created lasting institutions that can sustain organizations once U.S. support is removed. For decades, the Colombian military has been understandably focused on current combat operations, often at the expense of building institutions. The Colombian Army's doctrine and education systems, as well as its personnel and logistics systems, require substantial improvement to ensure that, when budgets shrink due to continued success against the FARC, the military will retain its hard-won institutional knowledge.
4. Colombia has been a reliable and extremely valuable regional security partner. Most recently, Colombia (for the second time) participated in the multinational operational exercise PANAMAX as the Combined Forces Land Component Command. They performed exceptionally well, leading a joint multinational staff and working with their U.S. counterparts. The Colombian Army is composed of battle hardened veterans with a strong understanding of U.S. doctrine and systems. Their leaders and soldiers have an unsurpassed knowledge of counterinsurgency and transnational organized crime groups. They are arguably the most capable army in the region. Once the Colombian internal threat is under control it can be expected that the Colombian role as a regional and global security exporter will increase.
The United States has made a very wise investment in Colombia. Continued U.S. support will enable Colombia to consolidate control of the country in the coming years and allow them to take on a broader regional security role. If the United States drastically cuts support to Colombian security efforts, this would be akin to spiking the ball on the one yard line and could delay Colombian consolidation for several years.
Colombia, in many ways, is a test of the light-footprint, long-duration approach to counterinsurgency. David Galula warns that in the final phase of a counterinsurgency "the main difficulty is a psychological one and it originates in the counterinsurgent's own camp. Responsible people will question why it is necessary to make such an effort at this stage, when everything seems to be going so well." It remains to be seen if the United States can display strategic patience and follow through on its investment in Colombia.
Major Michael L. Burgoyne, a U.S. Army Foreign Area Officer, currently serves as the Andean Ridge Desk Officer at U.S. Army South. He holds an M.A. in Security Studies from Georgetown University and co-authored The Defense of Jisr al-Doreaa. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.
LUIS ROBAYO/AFP/Getty Images
By Major Chris Heatherly
Best Defense guest columnist
"...and she loved a boy very, very much -- even more than she loved herself." -- Shel Silverstein, The Giving Tree
Many Americans read The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein while growing up. Summarized, the story is about the relationship between a young boy and a tree whose self-sacrifice to please the boy is a recurrent theme. By book's end, the tree is reduced to little more than a lonely stump with nothing left to give. Although The Giving Tree is nearly 50 years old, the book's warning on the dangers of self-sacrifice are particularly apt when describing the current state of U.S.-Israeli-Palestinian relations. If the United States does not address the manner and tone of this relationship to determine our irreducible interests, it risks sacrificing international influence and our own national priorities.
Fact: The United States provided nearly $3.1 billion to Israel in 2012.
Fact: The United States has provided $115 billion to Israel since its foundation in 1949.
Fact: The United States has provided over $4 billion to the Palestinians since they began limited self-governance in the 1990s.
Question: What, if anything, has this goodwill bought the United States and how have our own interests been furthered?
Israeli forces attacked the USS Liberty in 1967, killing 34 and wounding 171 U.S. sailors. Israel has conducted numerous espionage operations against the United States, gravely damaging U.S. national security. Amongst the known spying incidents, the case of Jonathan Pollard is particularly egregious. A U.S. Navy intelligence analyst, Pollard passed tens of thousands of highly classified documents to Israel before his capture in 1985. Pollard received a life sentence for espionage in 1987. Former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger considered Pollard's actions so damaging that "It is difficult for me, even in the so-called ‘year of the spy,' to conceive of a greater harm to national security than that caused by the defendant in the view of the breadth, the critical importance to the U.S., and the high sensitivity of the information he sold to Israel." Since his conviction, Israel's government admitted to running Pollard as an agent, granted him Israeli citizenship, and has continually lobbied for his release.
Palestinian behavior towards the United States is no better. The Palestinian Liberation Front hijacked the cruise ship Achille Lauro in 1985, killing U.S. passenger Leon Klinghoffer. On 9/11, CNN and other media sources showed video of Palestinians dancing in the streets in celebration of al Qaeda's terrorist attacks. Hamas, a U.S. and European Union designated terrorist organization, enjoys widespread political support from the Palestinian people and election to parliamentary seats.
American government support for Israel goes far beyond simple financial donations. The United States has employed its veto authority to block United Nations Security Council resolutions against Israel over 40 times. (By comparison, China has used the veto authority just 8 times while Russia/Soviet Union together tallied 13.) In most of these instances, the United States has cast the sole vote of opposition. Additionally, the United States has deployed military assets and personnel to protect Israel against its neighbors. Such one-sided support has not gone unnoticed, especially in the Arab world. It generates widespread suspicion of American motives, interests, and actions in the Middle East and the greater Muslim street -- a trend that has occurred for decades.
Neither Israel nor the Palestinians appear to be truly interested in a lasting, peaceful solution to their decades-long struggle for territorial control. Israeli "settlers" build illegal settlements in Palestinian areas in violation of U.N. resolutions. Hamas fires rockets from schools, mosques, and other protected locations against civilian targets. Israel conducts drone and air strikes in retaliation. A Palestinian suicide bomber kills numerous Israeli citizens...and Israel's military forces destroy the bomber's family home with resultant collateral damage. Both sides clamor to play the victim on the world stage. It's a modern day version of the Hatfield and McCoy feud with religious extremism added to the equation.
In my opinion, there is no compelling or logical reason for the United States to retain the status quo relationship with either Israel or the Palestinians. Some may see this view as either anti-Semitic or Islamaphobic. In reality, it is neither. I am an alumnus of a Jewish national collegiate fraternity and proud to have several Jewish and Muslim friends. I believe, however, that America should withhold all foreign aid to both parties, reframe the situation in the Middle East, and develop a fresh, balanced approach to Israelis and Palestinians alike. First and foremost, this approach should be built to achieve American national interests, be they a peaceful Middle East, greater global influence, continued access to oil resources, a non-nuclear Iran, or the spread of democracy. My recommendation aspires to follow President George Washington's cautious advice on foreign entanglements. It is time to stop being the proverbial giving tree, and instead to begin acting in our own national interests.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of the United States Government, the Department of Defense, or the United States Army. Major Heatherly enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1994 and earned his commission via Officer Candidate School in 1997. He has held a variety of assignments in special operations, Special Forces, armored, and cavalry units. His operational experience includes deployments to Afghanistan, Iraq, South Korea, Kuwait, Mali, and Nigeria. He holds master's degrees from the University of Oklahoma and the School of Advanced Military Studies.
By Chris Taylor
Best Defense guest columnist
After eleven years of combat that ultimately will culminate with a troop withdrawal in 2014, Afghanistan is neither settled nor solved. Long-term success in the region demands more nuanced approaches and gives cause to reimagine not a legacy, but a new engagement with smart investment in other levers of influence.
Eminent Harvard professor Joe Nye, who coined the phrase "soft power," recently said, "soft power is the ability to get outcomes through attraction rather than through force or payment, and education has always been an important resource to achieve that."
Education has already proven to be a powerful attraction in Kabul. Enrollment at the American University of Afghanistan rose from 56 students in 2006 to 1,800 in 2012, and continues to grow. Founded in 2004 by Afghan business and civic leaders, and modeled after the successful American Universities of Beirut and Cairo, the AUAF is a non-sectarian, co-educational institution with undergraduate, graduate, and professional development curricula.
In May 2011, the AUAF graduated its first class of 32; nine women and 23 men with two Fulbright Scholarships awarded. In 2012, 52 graduated with six more Fulbright Scholars named.
The university attracts Pashtuns, Hazaras, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Nuristanis, Turkmen, Aimaks, and many others. In doing so, it creates an intercultural environment where young Afghan minds interact, leveraging many tribal narratives into one sense of Afghan unity and progress.
But by far, the fastest growing demographic at AUAF is women. With an average enrollment of 25 percent in undergraduate and professional development curricula (11 percent in the newly minted MBA curriculum), Afghan women are defying archaic norms and risking their lives to educate themselves so they can lead in their communities, in business, and in the national government. These are the same women who have been disfigured by acid attacks and mutilation, raped by relatives, married against their will, and received death threats from the Taliban -- yet they still come to the AUAF because they believe they can change their future, and that of their nation.
AUAF graduate Wasima Muhammadi said, "I want to be a deputy in the Ministry of Finance, because currently I do not see enough women participation in the government. I think that a mixture of both male and female leaders in this country would have a positive impact on the progress of Afghanistan."
In a hearing before the House Armed Services Committee, General John Allen, commander of the International Security Assistance Force, testified that, "Throughout history, insurgencies have seldom been defeated by foreign forces, instead, they have been ultimately beaten by indigenous forces."
The case, then, is made: an educated citizenry can redefine its country's narrative, drive change from within, and break free from tyranny.
While education is a strong soft power tool, it affects national security, too. Afghanistan's low literacy rate poses significant challenges to strategic training programs for its army, police forces, and government agencies, potentially impairing its ability to fully take responsibility for its own security in 2014.
Initially funded by a grant from USAID with support from first lady Laura Bush, AUAF has grown substantially beyond that support. The university has an aggressive campaign to raise $80 million over five years -- a fraction of the $108 billion budgeted for operations in Afghanistan in 2012.
It seems education is quite the deal these days.
Contractors have made substantial profits in Afghanistan. The Federal Procurement Data System lists over $50 billion in contracts for companies who have supported combat and stabilization operations. Imputing an estimated profit of 10 percent leaves $5 billion -- a small amount of which CEOs should invest in the education of some of the tens of thousands of Afghans they employ. As the CEO of my former company, I instituted an AUAF scholarship program for top performing Afghan employees, or children of Afghan employees killed while serving the company and the military. Today, six bright students, three of whom are women, are studying accounting and finance, public administration, and information technology on these funds.
The wealthy Afghan diaspora should be first in line to support the AUAF's mission. Many have benefited from Western education, and sharing their experiences and financial assistance would give others still trapped by war and extremism a view to a better future.
As the United States now weighs its strategic options, investing in the American University of Afghanistan makes sense. The extremist narrative lures disenchanted youth every day, but that's because there is not a stronger, positive message for them to embrace. Without funding for education, young Afghans will flee the country in search of other opportunities; most never to return -- or worse, stay home and simply endure whatever may come. That need not be so.
A commitment to the American University of Afghanistan brings with it a new generation of Afghan leaders who will catapult forward fresh ideas that counter extremism, reject corruption, and embrace equality for women, all while creating necessary long-term regional relationships and giving voice to young Afghans who are the future of their country and dedicated to a moderate and free society.
We should make that commitment today.
Chris Taylor is a member of the Board of Trustees at the American University of Afghanistan and the Chairman and CEO of Novitas Group. He is a former enlisted infantryman and Force Recon Marine. A member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Atlantic Council, he holds an MBA from the College of William & Mary and an MPA in political economy and international security from the Harvard Kennedy School, where he co-authored, "Transforming the National Security Culture" for the Defense Leadership Project at Harvard's Center for Public Leadership.
American University of Afghanistan
Haitians need our help. Consider donating to a reputable organization today, or, if you know a Haitian-American, offer some cash to help with family expenses, from funerals to plane fares.
Frederic Dupoux/Getty Images
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.