Obama's new AfPak diplomat: U.S. forces needed in Afghanistan 'well beyond' 2014 if peace talks fail

In 2011, James Dobbins, Barack Obama's newly appointed special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, published a 100-page analysis on the importance of a negotiated peace deal for the withdrawal of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. The document makes for an interesting read as Dobbins transitions from an uncensored private citizen to a lead diplomat confronting the rapid drawdown of America's military presence in the region.

In the report, titled "Afghan Peace Talks: A Primer," Dobbins expressed skepticism about Obama's ability to wind down the Afghan war, full stop, in 2014 in the absence of a peace deal.

"If negotiations fail, some level of American military engagement will probably be necessary well beyond the 2014 date by which President Obama has promised to remove all American combat forces," he wrote.

What we know now, that Dobbins (or anyone else) didn't know then, is that negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government are going nowhere. On Wednesday, the Taliban assassinated a member of the Afghan High Peace Council, the third Taliban assassination of a senior council member in the last year and a half. The attack also occurred one day after the Taliban killed three British soldiers in an IED attack in Helmand province. Meanwhile, planned negotiations in Qatar are stalling and Pakistani support for peace talks has been waning.

Now, it's no secret that residual U.S. forces will remain in Afghanistan beyond 2014. The question is how many troops will there be, and what will they be doing?

On April 17, in testimony to the House Armed Services Committee, Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford became the first top military official to offer specifics on these questions. The estimates are for a NATO-led force of 8,000 to 12,000 troops in Afghanistan post-2014, which does not include troops needed for counterterrorism and guarding U.S. diplomats. But as Bloomberg's Gopal Ratnam notes, "Other U.S. officials have called for a larger U.S. military presence than the range that is under discussion."

Dobbins did not respond to a request for comment this afternoon about whether he still believes a rapid withdrawal is dependent on a peace deal. Regardless, for those who want to familiarize themselves with his views on winding down the war and preventing the country from becoming a haven for terrorists, this report is well worth the read


5 ways you know you're eating rat meat

On Thursday, China's Ministry of Public Security announced that the police had arrested 63 traders accused of buying rat, fox, and mink meat and then selling the meat as mutton. Apparently, the crime ring had been mixing the meat with gelatin, red dye, and nitrates before selling it in Shanghai and neighboring Jiangsu province. How appetizing.

It has been quite a year for food scandals, what with IKEA's horsemeat meatballs and China's floating dead pigs. To China's credit, the country appears to be tackling the food safety issue head on (state media report that Chinese law enforcement officials have arrested more than 900 people for selling fake or tainted meat in the last three months). But this latest revelation has shocked more than reassured, leaving many in China to wonder whether the "mutton" stewing on their stoves is really made of lamb after all.

But never fear! Foreign Policy reached out to North Carolina-based artist Laura Ginn, who, after organizing a rat-themed five-course dinner in New York last year, has become somewhat of a rat meat connoisseur. With her help, we hereby offer you five ways to know you're eating rat.

1. It smells like rat. Rats secrete an oil onto their skin that gives them their distinct "rodenty" odor. Some compare the smell to that of a warm tortilla, says Ginn, while others compare it to urine. Regardless, it's distinctive. While it's true that the odor lessens after the rat is skinned, and again after the rat is cooked, no amount of cooking can ever completely get rid of the smell.

2. It tastes like rat. The oil rats secrete gives them a distinctive taste as well. Ginn describes it as quite pungent and gamey -- most similar to raccoon or rabbit. Blended with other meats, rat becomes a lot less distinctive, so you'd have to be rather discerning to notice it.

3. It tastes delicious when brushed with a moonshine glaze and barbecued. Of all the ways Ginn has eaten rat, this is her favorite preparation. A close second is smoked rat jerky served on brioche French toast. So, if you happen to be savoring a moonshine-BBQ dish, or think there is something slightly "rodenty" about the gamey and delicious jerky you are consuming, you might want to check the ingredients.

4. It looks like lamb. When it's raw, pinkish/red rat looks very much like lamb. Unfortunately for the Chinese, when ground, rat can look a lot like any generic ground meat. When cooked, rat looks more like rabbit, Ginn thinks, just because of the shape of the cuts.

5. You're in Asia. According to Ginn, rats are most commonly eaten in Asia because of the rice crop. In areas where rats feed off rice paddies rather than garbage, the rodents are considered safer to eat. Of course, it isn't clear whether the rats marketed as mutton in China were healthy, rice-fed rats or sewer-dwelling, garbage-eating, Templeton-esque rats. The New York Times reports that the arrest announcement "did not explain how exactly the traders acquired the rats and other creatures." Rats are also disease carriers, so when Ginn organized her meal she ordered hers from a company that supplies specially raised, grain-fed rodents to zoos.

Bon appétit!

Laura Ginn