Tomsen Reflects On Current U.S. Foreign Policy In The Middle East
Published: Monday, April 30, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01
“How things turn out in Afghanistan will have an effect on the multi-decade process of transformation that is going on throughout the Muslim world,” U.S. Ambassador Peter Tomsen said. “The course of the competition will be decided by the many millions of Muslims in their own countries influenced by their own cultures, histories, and aspirations. America and the West should lend support to the majority moderates, but it is, in the end, a struggle in which only they can prevail.”
A former Foreign Service Officer, Tomsen served as the Special Envoy to Afghanistan between 1989 and 1992, in a time when there was no embassy in Kabul. Invited by the Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies Students Association and the Islamic Civilizations and Societies, he came to Boston College Thursday evening to speak about the wars in Afghanistan and the way forward for the U.S.
Based on his 2011 book, The Wars of Afghanistan: Messianic Terrorism, Tribal Conflicts, and the Failures of Great Powers, Tomsen’s lecture focused on history of the U.S.-Afghan conflict, the current situation in Afghanistan, and the way forward for the U.S. and Afghanistan. In addition, he addressed what he saw as the many mistakes that America has made in dealing with Afghanistan in the last two decades.
In looking at the present situation in Afghanistan, Tomsen emphasized the importance of the role of Pakistan, both in understanding the current and historical problems faced by Afghanistan and in developing a plan for the way forward.
“The Abbottabad raid on Osama bin Laden’s protected sanctuary in Pakistan last May has drawn in questions on Pakistan’s claim that it is an ally in the struggle against terrorism,” Tomsen said. “What they are doing is a threat to our national interests and the national interest of other countries. We need to call for a change in Pakistan’s policy.”
When speaking about Pakistan, Tomsen questioned whether or not Pakistan actually acted as an ally to the U.S. He pointed to the several terrorist groups that functioned in conjunction with the Muslim religious structure in Pakistan and the actions they undertook in Afghanistan and other Middle Eastern countries.
However, he also said that things were beginning to change, as some of the jihadist outfits have been turning on the state and attacking Muslim targets within the country.
Furthermore, he cited economic struggles resulting from a lack of globalization as changing the situation within Pakistan.
“I argue that we have to get tougher with Pakistan,” Tomsen said. “[We need to] mix disincentives with incentives, condition U.S. assistance, threaten to place Pakistan on the list of states sponsoring terrorism. They are an adversary. [We must] persuade them that [this] is a liability.”
Speaking about Afghanistan proper, Tomsen gave a brief overview of the history of violence and warfare there in the past century. He stressed its geostrategic importance, as well as the natural resources within the country, as underlying reasons for the internal and external strife faced by the Afghanis.
At the same time, he also emphasized the inability of foreign powers to completely control the country, due to “the dispersal of the population of Afghanistan into some 40,000 rural communities.”
Reviewing some of the American military decisions in the course of the war, Tomsen pointed out some of the key mistakes that the U.S. made and explained how those mistakes made the situation in Afghanistan worse. He primarily focused on the choice of the U.S. not to help the Afghani government establish an army in the years immediately after the invasion.
“In 2005, when the Taliban hordes began returning, there really wasn’t any Afghan army to resist them,” Tomsen said. “The reason was Iraq. The focus of the Bush administration was Iraq. When the Taliban began to come back in 2005, they went through the Southern and Eastern provinces like a knife through butter.”
Looking forward, Tomsen offered some advice on how the U.S. ought to deal with the conflict there. He highlighted the opinions of the Afghani people as one of the forces that should shape the American policy.
“We need to implement a draw down of U.S. combat troops,” Tomsen said. “We need to undertake a number of anti-corruption steps. We must invest heavily in enabling the government to have good elections in 2014. There needs to be an accord to respect the territorial integrity [of Afghanistan]. The United States needs to use its weight to restore Afghanistan’s traditional buffer role.”