Former Afghan ambassador speaks to Air War College

by Carl Bergquist
Air University Public Affairs

10/29/2010 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- At Maxwell Air Force Base Tuesday, the former U.S. ambassador to the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan spoke to Air War College students and answered questions about his 37 years at the Department of State. Ronald E. Neumann was the keynote speaker at the AWC State Department Week.

Mr. Neumann, who is currently president of the American Academy of Diplomacy, also served as ambassador to Algeria in the late 1990s and Bahrain in the early 2000s. He served in Afghanistan from 2005 to 2007.

He said he recently went back to Afghanistan and while resources to fight the war are better, the conditions are worse, and the insurgents have gained strength.
"It's not that the insurgents are more popular, it's that they are more feared," Mr. Neumann said. "The immediate challenge is to have an Afghan military that can stand on its own feet."

He said the people of Afghanistan have been fighting for more than 30 years, and everyone knows the "foreigners" will leave eventually. But, if the U.S. leaves too quickly, the country will fall into civil war.

"I mention the military mission first not because the diplomatic piece isn't important, it is, but because the military piece is necessary," Mr. Neumann said. "A civil war could last as long as 10 years and would destabilize all of southwest Asia. Also, it would be a tremendous psychological victory for the insurgents who would say that in the end, they won."

He said in the long term, Afghanistan needs a government its people will support and defend against outsiders such as Iran, Pakistan and India. Mr. Neumann said he feels the U.S. is on the right track with resources and the force in Afghanistan, but needs to define where we are and where we are going.

"Other countries will take action on what they think we are going to do, so we need to clarify our timeline," he said. "And it is the job of our nation's leadership to do that."
Mr. Neumann said the discussion on whether the U.S. needs more people in the State Department to run department operations goes back to the Eisenhower administration, and right now, there aren't enough people in the right grades and in the right places. He said this is a critical time for southwest Asia, and he fears the needed personnel will not be provided.

"We have let our diplomatic and aid instruments rust and fall apart," Mr. Neumann said. "We need to learn from this, and the American people need to take a look at the condition of our diplomatic mission."

Dr. Evelyn A. Early, State Department senior advisor for Air University, said each year the Department of State brings to AWC more than 16 department employees for three days of discussion. She said State Department Week gives military officers and State Department officials a good chance to compare planning methods and understand how each group does the job, and that provides both sides with an understanding of each other's role in government.

"Another benefit derived from State Department Week is that the interaction between military members and State Department guests, especially during seminar discussions and informal meetings outside the seminars, has proven extremely fruitful in furthering the cooperation between the State Department and the Department of Defense," Dr. Early said.