Afghanistan & The War On Terror

Dr. Richard Haass (left), president of the Council of Foreign Relations, discusses U.S. foreign policy priorities with Richard Siegel, of National Public Radio, at the October 2009 Maxwell School/ Public Agenda Policy Breakfast Series in New York.

Is Afghanistan a war of necessity or a war of choice? That's the frame that Dr. Richard Haass, president of the Council of Foreign Relations, suggests be used in thinking about U.S. foreign policy decisions to be made in that region.

Speaking at the Oct. 8, 2009, Maxwell School/Public Agenda Policy Breakfast in New York, Haass took issue with President Obama's characterization of Afghanistan as "a war of necessity." Haass, who was a foreign policy adviser in both Bush presidencies, argues that in order to be a war of necessity, two conditions must be met: is the war of vital national interest, and is there no viable alternative?

"I don't believe either condition is met in Afghanistan today," said Haass, making the case that the country of Afghanistan is not necessarily central to the global war against terrorism, as terrorist groups can and have set up shop in many different countries including Pakistan. And that, he notes, is a country in which the U.S. has "one of the scratchiest relationships," with very limited influence.

Haass - who's out with a book on this view of foreign policy decisions "War of Necessity, War of Choice: a memoir of Two Iraq Wars" – also talked about the war to win hearts and minds of potential terror trainees. "How do we break the recruiting train?" he asked. "How do we persuade young men to make a much different career choice?"

You can check out Haass' comments and the discussion for yourself: video of the event is on the Policy Breakfast web site. Another good resource on this subject: our Confidence in Foreign Policy Index, which last year showed 77 percent of Americans surveyed saying that they believed doing more to help Muslims develop economically would enhance our national security either "somewhat" or "a great deal."