Well ladies and gentlemen, more than a month after General Stanley McChrystal’s strategic assessment over Afghanistan, the Obama administration is still deciding what the best way forward should be. Meanwhile, another eight American soldiers have lost their lives in two separate IED attacks, the day after another fourteen Americans (including three DEA agents) were killed in two separate helicopter collisions. October is now the deadliest month for U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan since the 2001 invasion, and the security situation is only getting worse as Afghan politicians are preparing for the November 7 election-runoff. Oooh, and did I mention that President Obama is still mulling over his approach?
Out of both academic amusement and sheer determination, I have attempted to place myself in President Obama’s shoes. Sitting in the Oval Office, I ask an internal question; what should the United States do to curb the Taliban insurgency? For space issues, I have neglected to discuss the endemic problems facing Afghan society; after all, I would think that after eight-years of warfare, most Americans recognize how fragile and divisive Afghanistan is (corruption, sectarianism, drug production, Islamic radicalism, etc).
Instead, I think long and hard about a new and comprehensive Afghan war-plan, one that replaces Washington partisanship with an approach that would best serve our troops on the ground (and seriously, I actually did think “long and hard.” Let’s just say seniors in college have a lot of free time on their hands). And this is what I came up with: counterinsurgency for major population centers in Afghanistan, and guerilla-type attacks in the Afghan countryside.
To some readers, this hybrid plan seems rather strange and unworkable. How could we possibly defeat an insurgency by relying on insurgent tactics; such as hit-and-run assaults, roadside bombs, decentralized forces, and small tactical units? My answer is pretty simple; when the war-effort has been going in the wrong direction for the past eight years, and when the Taliban Movement is strengthening at the expense of the western-backed Kabul government, dire straits call for dire measures.
Just think about the plan for a moment. In the cities, the U.S. Military- with the help of reconstruction teams from USAID and civilians from the State Department- would embark upon a rigorous campaign aimed at protecting the Afghan population from Taliban intimidation. This is classic counterinsurgency, a method that has thus far been neglected by the United States in the “Af-Pak” region (as General McChrystal amply notices). And Washington must not forget that this same counterinsurgency doctrine worked wonders in and around Baghdad, reinvigorating America’s chances for success in a seemingly hostile environment.
I truly understand that Iraq is different from Afghanistan in a number of respects (literacy levels, ethnic make-up, and history to name a few), but we must realize the inherent similarities between the two countries as well. Both are riddled with corruption at the highest-levels of government; citizens of both states are forced to live their lives (at times) with minimal resources; Afghans and Iraqis are deeply susceptible to tribal violence and inter-state warfare; and lastly, both populations seem intent on forging a new way forward for their respective societies. The United States can learn from these comparisons, and possibly draw the same conclusions (with some modifications).
Now to the controversial part of my strategy; fight terror with terror. Of course, this seems quite uncivilized. Western Governments often cringe at the words “terror, civilian casualties,” and “war crimes,” especially against an enemy that is so irrational, if not downright nihilistic. But, like I said earlier, there comes a certain point when an unconventional strategy needs to be implemented…both for the sake of our troops and for the sake of the mission’s success. If there is anything that can be learned from the American experience in the War on Terrorism, it is the fact that perception matters. Wars are often one when the armies fighting firmly believe they are on the victorious end of history. Take the U.S. victory in World War II and the coalition’s success in the 1991 Gulf War as contemporary examples.
It may be time for the United States to act in accordance with its superpower image. I do not propose over-using heavy artillery, sophisticated technology, and repeated air-strikes to accomplish this goal; this would undoubtedly create more insurgents than it destroys and make Islamic fundamentalism all that more attractive. To the contrary, I am referring to the innovation and resolve that makes a country such as the United States the world’s last remaining superpower. Adapt to the enemy, know his mindset, understand his logic (or lack thereof) and success will come all that closer. Show your adversary that the methods he considers clever will eventually lead to his own demise.
In World War II, the United States and its European allies defeated Nazi Germany by capitalizing on Adolf Hitler’s misjudgment. As the Vietnam War drew to a close, the United States was able to improve the situation to the point of an American withdrawal. In the Gulf War, coalition forces took advantage of Saddam Hussein’s disenfranchised army, quickly driving them out of Kuwait. Even in Afghanistan, Washington bypassed the operations of conventional armies, providing support to indigenous groups who were angry with Taliban rule.
What is stopping us from continuing this precedent? Sometimes in extraordinary cases, continuing the status-quo is better than deliberating for weeks on end. Maybe this is why I am not the President of the United States.
-Daniel R. DePetris
With all of the hype surrounding Pakistan’s military operation in Waziristan- the militant stronghold that has caused so many problems for the United States in the region- it is tempting to automatically assume that the raid will result in nothing but total and absolute victory.
While it is certainly difficult to restrain from feelings of overt accomplishment in the War on Terror, it would be rather premature for the United States to expect anything substantial from the Pakistani offensive. After all, the Pakistani Government has launched very similar operations in the past, all to no avail. In each circumstance, the Pakistani Army was demoralized to the point that the generals would strike a truce with Islamic militants to the west; not only conceding territory to the insurgency, but allowing some of the most dangerous elements in Pakistani society to fight for another day.
Despite recurring structural problems within the Pakistani army in general,, this Waziristan offensive differs from previous missions in a number of respects. First and foremost, over 60 percent of the Pakistani public supports the army’s efforts. Secondly, the intense barrage of terrorist acts across Pakistan- including a devastating attack on the army headquarters- is quickly persuading Islamabad to actually crack-down on fundamentalist activity. And finally, the United States and Pakistan are deepening their military relationship against Islamic terror.
Therefore, while the capturing of Osama bin-Laden is out of the question, there is still some benefits that might result from Islamabad’s operation in the western-half of the country. Realistically speaking, killing or capturing bin-Laden probably would not make much of a difference anyway, considering AQ’s decentralized character over the past couple of years.
-Daniel R. DePetris
As I was reading a few of Marc Lynch’s posts, one quotation in particular caught me by surprise. According to the influential Middle-East expert, President Obama’s “hands-off” approach is starting to gain dividends throughout the Muslim World; both in terms of America’s image and in terms of public popularity. More specifically, the foreignpolicy.com blogger decided to base his case-study exclusively on Indonesia, a country with the largest Muslim population, yet one in which I know very little about:
“Andrew Higgins has a very good piece in the Washington Post today about the fortunes of Islamic moderates in Indonesia. It demonstrates how overt American attempts to promote “moderate Muslims” or “liberal Islam” routinely backfire — and offers more evidence in support of the Obama administration’s hands-off, disaggregated approach to what used to be called the “war of ideas”. I’ve seen this again and again in the Arab world, and its fascinating to see how it is playing out in Indonesia (a case I follow much less closely). His account offers considerable support to the argument I’ve often made that less is more when it comes to America’s role in intra-Islamic battles. And his story shows the value of moving away from sharp binary oppositions defined by “violent extremism” towards a more nuanced and disaggregated approach defined by, as they say, mutual interests and mutual respect.
Higgins writes that there are many reasons why Indonesia favorable views of the U.S. have gone from 15% in 2003 to 63% today, that al-Qaeda’s terrorism is generally viewed with revulsion, and that moderate Islam is a normal part of the political system.”
At first glance, I agreed somewhat to Lynch’s proposal. After all, the Muslim community is beginning to view the United States in a less hostile-light. Yet, as I started to read between the lines, I could not help but notice that a few of Dr. Lynch’s claims are based in sheer fantasy.
While I understand that President Obama’s “hands-on” approach is starting to result in some significant behavioral changes within the Muslim world, I am still quite skeptical of its effectiveness in the long-run. U.S. research grants and American donations to Indonesia, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Afghanistan can only go so far. There comes a point in time when “soft-power”- that all too infamous phrase in the American diplomatic arsenal- needs to be employed for the sake of U.S. interests in the Muslim community. Sure, the jump from 15 percent to 63 percent in Indonesia is amazing, considering President Bush’s profound global unpopularity just last year. However, as is often true in politics, public opinion does not necessarily tell the whole story.
It seems like Dr. Lynch is denouncing “soft-power” in general; that all-too important tool striving to better the American image through democratic values and “mutual respect.” And by American image I mean a rise in popularity, accompanied by a change in foreign-policy (and as we all know, Muslim Governments have not exactly modified their policies). Anyone remotely interested in the diplomatic process recognizes that winning the battle of ideas is one of the primary objectives.
Likewise, a hands-off approach may work well in Indonesia, but not necessarily in other areas of the Islamic world; some of which are a heck-of-a-lot more violent and fragmented. Do you suggest that President Obama stop intruding in Afghanistan, or Iraq? The answer is no, because this would be a terrible mistake; only strengthening the jihadist movement at the expense of Islamic pragmatism. Just because Indonesia is a good-example of a hands-off strategy does not necessarily mean that every single Arab country will follow a similar path.
Like it or not, a large part of the War on Terrorism is about competing ideals and values. Yet, Dr. Lynch is implying that the United States should ignore this reality. As we all know from the Iraq and Afghan debacle, showering ourselves in ignorance is not a bright thing to do.
-Daniel R. DePetris
Take a look at this little snippet of investigative reporting, courtesy of Mark Hosenball of Newsweek:
“The arrest of a Sudbury, Massachusetts, man on charges of conspiring to launch terror attacks against U.S. shopping malls and other targets is the latest in a series of high-profile FBI busts that suggest Al Qaeda sympathizers are very much alive and well inside the country—even if their links to Al Qaeda’s central leadership overseas are tenuous or nonexistent. The Feds allege that Tarek Mehanna, 27, who was born in the U.S. but holds dual U.S.-Egyptian citizenship, conspired with others from 2001 to 2008 to participate in violent jihad against American targets both inside and outside the U.S.
The court documents allege that in April 2002, only a few months after 9/11, Abousamra took one of two trips he made that year to Pakistan seeking training for jihad. At one point in 2004, the Feds say they believe Abousamra visited Iraq for about two weeks. According to the feds, however, the alleged co-conspirators did not find themselves welcomed with open arms by the Islamic terror groups they tried to join. The court papers indicate that Abousamra told a cooperating witness after returning from one trip to Pakistan that he had made contact with both Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Taliban, two notorious jihadist militias, but that neither group would accept him.”
This case is a very disturbing example of how dangerous international terrorists- even a few “rag-tag” wannabees- are to the actions and ambitions of the United States. Eight years after the September 11, 2001 attacks, and six years after Washington decided to launch yet another invasion in the Muslim world, it appears that our country remains on the defensive. George W. Bush’s rational for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq was rather simple: the missions would make Americans safer in general. The safety of Americans would be protected and promoted by taking the fight to the enemy before they take the fight to us.
With fresh terrorists continuing to enter the United States, and with stories like these appearing on the front-pages more frequently, it appears that the former Commander-in-Chief might have been wrong in his assessment.
There is one other thing I would like to point out. The fact that the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban rejected American recruits only reiterates the fact that both movements are as strong as ever. No longer are they forced to blindly accept new fighters for the sake of keeping their resistance alive. There is more to this rejection than meets the eye. Not only do Islamic terrorist and insurgent groups continue to operate with extensive force (in and out of the United States)…their relative strength in both numbers and tactics enables them to practice a certain degree of self-restraint on recruitment. In the past, a “rookie” or “wannabee” terrorist who was intent on striking U.S. targets would be greeted by radicalized Muslims with open ears and an open mind. Today, this simply does not get the job done.
The Taliban is no longer a group of pathetic and marginalized Arabs. They have now become a bunch of full-time professionals in the terror trade. For U.S. soldiers abroad and for intelligence officers in Washington, this development is more than disturbing.
-Daniel R. DePetris
As I was scrolling down Newsweek’s website, I could not help but notice a particular story concerning Iran’s persistent attempts for nuclear technology. Amid all the facts, figures, and detailed analysis, the story (entitled “Tehran Seeking Nuclear Technology”) appears to accurately summarize Tehran’s tradition of sabotage and defiance; despite Iran’s pledges of conformity over the last few weeks, intelligence sources state that the Islamic Republic is sending covert agents in a bid to buy advanced and sophisticated nuclear components.
“Long a crossroads for Middle-Eastern espionage and intrigue, the island of Cyprus is playing an increasingly prominent role in current investigations into Iran’s nuclear program. Suspected Iranian purchasing agents have been using front companies registered on the politically divided Mediterranean island to buy precision Western technology that can be used in designing and building atom bombs, according to reports seen by European intelligence and law-enforcement agencies.
The latest reports are part of a continuing and extended pattern of Iranian equipment purchases. The pattern began several years ago, when U.S. agencies believed Iran was conducting bomb design and development. The purchases have continued into the present; when individual cases are assembled into a mosaic, the resulting pattern arguably constitutes a strong circumstantial case that the Iranians are trying to assemble the wherewithal to design and build an atomic bomb. “They never stopped [doing this],” the European official said.”
Hopefully, this de-classified report will finally persuade President Obama to eliminate his fantasy-type view of the world in general.
Up to this point, the Obama administration has made it an inherent tradition to give the Islamic Republic a certain amount of breathing space when the country’s nuclear program is taken into consideration. Whether this includes lax U.S. efforts at the U.N. Security Council- or pointless low-level meetings with American and Iranian officials- Iran is more often than not given the benefit of the doubt.
Perhaps if Iran denounced international terrorism as a tool in its foreign policy arsenal, the President’s “Neville Chamberlain moment” would not be such a terrible idea. Yet, as people are quickly realizing on a daily basis, this is hardly the case. Not only are Iranian agents using their political and military clout to undermine respective governments in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, and the Palestinian Territories…Tehran is making a habit of brutally targeting internal dissent within its borders. Is appeasing a rogue state really in the best interest of the United States?
The fact that the IAEA has been unable to accurately describe Tehran’s nuclear intentions does not necessarily mean that the United States should hold similar conclusions. While this Newsweek article is but one source in a variety of documents and estimates, the Iran-Cyprus connection shows how flawed the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate has been all these years. In contrast to Washington’s original assessment- that Iran had stopped its nuclear-weapons research in 2003- it appears that European Governments may have been right all along. Striving for primacy in the Muslim World, the Iranian regime is putting all of its eggs in the nuclear basket.
Does this surprise anyone? If it does, I highly recommend that you read up on contemporary history; U.S. intelligence has been severely degraded since the run-up to the Iraq War.
Mr. President, here is a message for you; the quicker you realize that Iran is continuing to improve its national prestige in the Middle East through a nuclear deterrent, the sooner you will adopt a viable strategy dealing with the problem. For if you continue to mitigate the Iranian nuclear stalemate through the U.N. Security Council- an action that has already been opposed by Russia and China- U.S. interests in the region will deteriorate.
Perhaps it is time for unilateral sanctions, backed by threats of military action (yes I said it) as a response to Iran’s unacceptable behavior.
If there is anything that can be learned through the lessons of history, it is that military force makes the diplomatic process all that more effective. It is time for the United States to give this a try…Lord knows that nothing else has worked thus far.
-Daniel R. DePetris
Note: The Following is a response to Dr. Stephen Walt’s discussion on Afghanistan. This piece was originally published on his blog at walt.foreignpolicy.com. Dr. Walt’s full post can be read in the “comments” section below.
Dr. Walt, the argument you are making against a U.S.-led counterinsurgency effort in Afghanistan is well noted. However, to think that the return of the Taliban would not raise questions about Al’Qaeda’s capabilities is somewhat misleading in my view. A variety of experts on the subject have written articles and spoken at IR conferences explaining the persistent connection between Taliban militants and Al’Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan (and of course Pakistan). Some even claim that the interests of the Taliban and Al’Qaeda are more aligned than ever before…a frightening prospect indeed. Both have a common enemy; both are relatively influential in the Af-Pak region; both use similar tactics against coalition soldiers; and both support a militaristic version of Islam.
While the Taliban may only be concerned with regaining power in Afghanistan, the idea that Al’Qaeda would not expand their base of operations in such a friendly environment is questionable. Let’s not forget that the Taliban Government, when in power, was not necessarily the best at keeping track of militant activity within its own borders.
If Mullah Omar re-emerges as the Supreme Leader in Afghanistan, I sincerely doubt that Taliban forces would be able to secure the long Afghan border with Iran, not to mention the contentious and mountainous terrain between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Governments in Afghanistan tend to disregard border patrol for other priorities, providing an ample opportunity for terrorist groups to infiltrate into new territory.
So, while the Taliban may not want Al’Qaeda in Afghanistan once they return to power in Kabul, they simply have no way of enforcing this preference. After all, it’s not like they have a western-style army capable of protecting the state from outside influences.
-Daniel R. DePetris
Here are the tentative results from this week’s very-important survey:
Question 1: Do you support America’s Role in Afghanistan?
Yes: 53% No: 47%
Question 2: Is defeating the Taliban a priority in the War on Terrorism?
Yes: 57% No: 43%
Question 3: What course would best improve the mission in Afghanistan?
Focus on counterinsurgency: 59% Focus on counterterrorism: 41%
Question 4: What should the White House do with respect to troop levels?
Increase: 14% Decrease: 31% Stay the same: 23% Withdraw: 31%
This bears the question, is this small poll and accurate reflection of the country’s mindset towards Afghanistan? Look below for the answer.
According to a Quinnipiac University poll, all of the “hoop-la” concerning Afghanistan’s deteriorating situation is nonexistent to a vast majority of Americans. Conducted this past week by Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, the newly found survey shows a tremendous amount of American resolve towards the war in Afghanistan; just as the Taliban is gaining strength in the region over U.S. and NATO forces.
Below is a short summary of the findings that are worth discussing:
1) 65 percent of U.S. voters “are willing to have American soldiers ‘fight and possibly die’ to eliminate the threat of terrorists operating in Afghanistan. 28 percent said otherwise
2) 30 percent polled supported an enhanced U.S. troop presence within Afghanistan for “as long as it takes.” 28 percent thought that an American withdrawal would be the best option, whereas 21 percent wanted U.S. troops to depart from the “Af-Pak” region in 1-2 years.
3) 38 percent of those polled fully endorsed rising troop levels in Afghanistan to confront the growing Taliban insurgency. 28 percent hoped that the United States would decrease troop levels.
Contrary to mainstream accounts of waning public opinion for the war in Afghanistan, some of the country’s most respected research institutions are arriving at an opposite conclusion: the American populace is willing to put up with a sustained U.S. campaign against Al’Qaeda militants for at least the next five years.
While the information presented is only the result of a single political survey among thousands across the nation, I do have some thoughts regarding these statistics.
First and foremost, the media’s negative portrayal of the war is grossly fabricated. Of course, when comparing the current levels of public support with rates immediately after the September 11 attacks, the American population seems fed up with Afghanistan (nine years of warfare tends to produce this type of side-effect). Yet, when placing the October 2009 figures into perspective, the constant claims of a war-weary citizenry emanated by the mainstream media are relatively ambiguous.
This false perception has a dramatic effect on the entire U.S.-led mission. On one hand, commanders and soldiers on the ground have been operating with the assumption that the country they are fighting for is divided over the war-effort. To some, this may not be important. To policymakers in Washington, however, the public’s outlook makes or breaks the success of the campaign.
Consider Vietnam and Iraq as examples. In both conflicts, the tactics pursued by the U.S. Military were heavily influenced by domestic politics. The Johnson, Nixon, and Bush administrations were heavily attuned to the millions upon millions of Americans marching down the streets of the nation’s largest cities, collectively voicing their outrage over the incompetence of the United States Government. Recognizing that Americans were losing patience with both wars, the sound judgment of Presidents Johnson, Nixon, and Bush became clouded by a certain state of paranoia, second-guessing, and outright mismanagement. The result was a devastating loss of lives on the ground and billions of taxpayer dollars wasted.
Minus electoral concerns, perhaps the White House would have been able to re-evaluate strategy in a less hostile environment, without the consistent strain and internal pressure generated through a disenfranchised constituency. If there is one universal ideal within democratic governance, it is the fact that re-election often gets in the way of a clear, unified, and rational decision-making process.
This poll is fundamentally confirming the same universal principle. Americans understand the dangers associated with terrorism, rightly concluding that Al’Qaeda and its like-minded proxies around the world continue to pose a significant threat to their safety and security. Likewise, most Americans understand that ill-fated costs are usually pretexts for a more peaceful, prosperous and secure world.
While both assertions are certainly worth noting, the most valuable inference of the survey is the fact that a vast majority of the country is squarely behind their Commander-in-Chief. For a young leader still learning the ropes, confronted with two costly wars and a dragging economy, a confident constituency is precisely what President Obama needs to keep himself on the right track.
-Daniel R. DePetris
-Information from AFP contributed to this blog.
Out of my own amusement, I decided to post a few questions regarding America’s role in Afghanistan. While this survey is certainly a crude and non-scientific way of gauging America’s pulse, discovering what the country’s attitude is a crucial endeavor; especially when Afghanistan could very well be the most important foreign-policy issue of our time. If President Obama is sincere in re-evaluating the Afghan strategy, he may want to take the views of ordinary Americans into account. What do you think?
Considering that President Obama has promised a great deal to the Arab world in general, it is quite understandable that some distinguished foreign-policy experts are feeling both skeptical and bewildered over his Nobel Prize victory. It does not take a genius to figure out that Mr. Obama’s hopes for the region have been drastically curtailed by the debacle in Afghanistan…as well as other domestic priorities that are high on his administration’s agenda (i.e. health care reform and fixing the national economy).
Scholars such as Marc Lynch and Stephen Walt have already pointed to his lack of progress on substantial issues relevant to Arabs worldwide. President Obama’s vision for a genuine and long-lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace deal is perhaps the most effective illustration.
In the first few months of Obama’s presidency, the White House essentially re-formulated its entire perspective with respect to the conflict. Palestinian grievances would be heard with open ears and respected with an open mind; Israelis would be pressured into making concessions that they have never made before; and Arab nations would be expected to moderate their behavior to further the prospects for regional peace. The key was to depart from the status-quo of the George W. Bush years, when U.S. support for Israel was virtually unlimited and unquestioned.
Months later, what has been accomplished on the Israeli- Palestinian front? The answer, of course, is nothing; unless you count Washington’s regression back under the same old “we work for Israel” banner. Obama, for reasons I still do not understand to this day, has decided that caving-in to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s settlement policy is more important than working towards a comprehensive agreement…not only exacerbating the already horrendous living-conditions of the Palestinian population, but diminishing the optimism that so many Arabs wanted to experience. U.S. policymakers are once again viewing Israel as a “reliable” partner, re-inflaming the same hostility that President Obama hoped to eliminate in his Cairo speech. The “say one thing and do another” approach is once again the microcosm of American foreign-policy
Perhaps the biggest blunder to Mr. Obama’s Mideast peace plan is the fact that he has lost a considerable amount of support from the Arab world. While the 44th president still enjoys widespread international support (hence the Noble Peace Prize), people may be slowly realizing that he lacks the strength and resolve necessary to back up the “yes me can” rhetoric.
Iran is another case in point. Despite the President’s pledge to limit Iran’s nuclear capability (a key issue among Arab populations), Tehran continues to produce uranium at an unprecedented speed. Yes, talks between Iranian representatives and western powers are gradually gaining fruition on both sides; the idea that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is willing to export uranium for further enrichment is by no means a minor breakthrough. Yet, as everyone knows, this is certainly not a show-stopper.
There is a very real possibility that Obama’s premature acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize could translate into his own demise, undermining his credibility and ruining his legacy. With the Prize in hand, the President is now placed with a tremendous amount of added pressure on his shoulders. With more power comes more responsibility, and if the White House fails to live up to its end of the bargain, the United States may very well return to its previous position: the most hated and unpopular nation on earth.
Of course, one cannot solely blame the President for these failures. After all, the man has only been in the Oval Office for the past nine months. No leader, however transformational on the global stage, would be able to successfully complete all idealistic objectives in such a short period of time.
Nevertheless, Arabs are losing patience. At least George W. Bush lived up to his philosophy.
Note: This post was originally published on Marc Lynch’s blog at ForeignPolicy.com
-Daniel R. DePetris
First and foremost, I would like to say that I am indeed a supporter of an enhanced U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan. I firmly believe, like many others, than an American defeat in Afghanistan would be severely detrimental to U.S. national security…not because the Taliban would threaten the United States with direct force, but because of the symbolic effect a U.S. defeat would have for Islamic jihadists throughout the globe. Whether or not Al’Qaeda is a major problem for U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan is irrelevant at this point. What is relevant is the fact that Al’Qaeda militants will certainly exploit a Taliban victory to their advantage.
Citing yet another defeat of a superpower in Afghanistan (Great Britain in the 19th Century and the Soviet Union in the 20th) would only increase the recruitment ability of anti-American groups…regardless of ideological affiliation. We must remember that weakened resolve will not only translate into benefits for Al’Qaeda; it will also give a much-needed boost to Hezbollah militants in Lebanon and Palestinian rejectionists in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.
Interestingly enough, President Obama’s decision to weigh all options- while necessary and understandable- may have a similar effect. Floundering for the next few weeks may very well give the United States a weak image internationally…a development that may not be so terrible if terrorist organizations were not spreading at unprecedented speed. Yet, as reality dictates, this could not be further from the truth. At the same time U.S. soldiers are engaged in Afghanistan, Al’Qaeda proxies are gaining strength in Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, and (of course) Pakistan. With all of these developments, is waiting really the best option for the United States?
There is one more point I would like to bring up. It appears that Civil-Military relations have hit a significant roadblock, with National Security Advisor James Jones virtually telling General McChrystal to shut-up and keep his opinions to himself. Of course, discussing the war-effort and contradicting the President in public should be frowned upon…especially during a period of contention. Yet, at the same time, the U.S. Military is not entirely at fault. The White House response could have been much more constructive than the harsh rhetoric that was emanated just last week.
Again, I cannot help but wonder if this strained Civil-Military relationship will result in devastating consequences for American interests in the immediate future. What White House officials see as a minor rut, terrorists and Islamic militants view as a divided U.S. Government unable to unite in the face of a common threat.
Note: This post was originally published on March Lynch’s blog at foreignpolicy.com
-Daniel R. DePetris