So, yes, as you may have heard, we finally found Osama Bin Laden, fulfilling a key promise President Obama made during the 2008 campaign. While I would have preferred to see the perpetrator of 9/11 captured alive and brought to trial — cause that’s how we do justice here in the US of A — congrats to the president’s team, the analysts who did the hard work, and the men and women who executed the operation, on finally getting their man.
All that being said, the second half of the president’s statement above is troubling. The death of Bin Laden should mark the beginning of the end of the 9/11 decade. With the splinter finally removed, it is time to take a long hard look not just at our continuing war in Afghanistan — after all, Osama was eventually found in Pakistan, mainly through what the Bunk would call good po-lice work — but at all the questionable and/or extra-constitutional actions we have taken in the name of fighting the terr’ists since September 11th. (Newsflash: Torture had nothing to do with capturing OBL.) If the death of Bin Laden doesn’t move us to this reconsideration, what then ever will?
Unfortunately (and of course), that doesn’t seem to be what’s happening. Instead, Congress is laying the foundation for a wider war: “Contained in the National Defense Authorization Act for 2012 is a new authorization to use military force that would grant the executive branch the power to ‘address the continuing and evolving threat posed by these groups.’ In practice, that means the president could use military force against any suspected terrorist across the globe — indefinitely.“
Indefinite war? No thanks. There’s been an eerie touch of Emmanuel Goldstein in the way Bin Laden was used to justify all manner of extraconstitutional actions and civil liberties violations under Dubya — actions that have been ratified and continued under Obama. Now that the Bogeyman is dead, it’s time to stand down. It’s time to start acting like America again.
And most importantly, unlike Vietnam, the American people were viciously attacked from Afghanistan and remain a target for those same extremists who are plotting along its border. To abandon this area now — and to rely only on efforts against al-Qaeda from a distance — would significantly hamper our ability to keep the pressure on al-Qaeda and create an unacceptable risk of additional attacks on our homeland and our allies.”
This is a bit late by now, but regardless: As you all know, President Obama made the case last week for sending 30,000 more troops in Afghanistan. At this point — and like Fred Kaplan — I’m conflicted about our continued involvement there…but I’m leaning toward withdrawal. Everything I’ve heard about the war lately has had that “Vietnam in ’66” sense to it: A corrupt government as our ally; trouble winning “hearts and minds”; The US stepping half-blindly into a conflict that’s been simmering for centuries (in Southeast Asia, it was the endless Vietnamese war against interlopers; here it’s long-simmering ethnic rivalries between the Pashtuns and everyone else.) And now, our new progressive-minded president tells us: If we just commit X more troops (where, now X=30,000), we can win, close up shop, and go home. Uh, really? I think I’ve already seen this movie a few times.
Obama’s shout-out above to basically token international support doesn’t assuage my fears. And, as far as the threat posed by Vietnam: True, Tonkin never happened, but obviously policymakers of that era were less sanguine about a Communist victory in South Vietnam than we are today — The threat of the Enemy can always gets unduly amplified in the heat of the moment. (Speaking of said Reds, it should sober us to acknowledge that all we’ve done so far in Afghanistan is basically manage to re-create the Soviet experience in the region. Iirc, that didn’t end so well.)
Al Qaeda is in Afghanistan, yes, and if we could weed them out and destroy their capacity to attack again, all the better. (And always remember: If Dubya, Rummy et al had just finished the job properly in 2002 rather than salivating over Iraq, we would be in a lot better position right now.) But Al Qaeda is also in Somalia, Tajikstan, Yemen, the Philippines, Kosovo…all over the place. We don’t have the resources to play whack-a-mole in all these nations anymore, particularly when every whack usually just works to create new moles. (You’d think we learn that the Hydra sprouts two more heads every time you cut off the wrong one.)
The biggest argument in favor of increasing our military position in Afghanistan would be the continued stability of neighboring Pakistan. (There’s Vietnam again — it’s another variation of the Domino Theory.) But, there’s a good amount of evidence to suggest that more troop increases by us will only inflame the situation and further destabilize Pakistan. In which case, I’m not sure what we’re doing over there, and what we could possibly accomplish in 18 months that we haven’t gotten done the last seven years.
In short, it seems to me like we had our shot in Afghanistan, and Dubya blew it. I could be wrong, of course. But, to my mind, now feels like a good time to recognize that fact and stop chasing good money after bad.
“It’s a debate that the Bush administration never seriously had in the seven years following the post-9/11 invasion. Now, by contrast, in the wake of three major strategic reviews, Obama is extending and deepening the discussion of Afghanistan, because the outcome of this debate may set the course of American foreign policy for the remainder of his presidency.” Counter-terrorism (CT) or counter-insurgency (COIN)? In Slate, Fred Kaplan discusses the major decision on Afghanistan before Obama this week.
Update: “‘We have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future,’ Obama said. ‘That is the goal that must be achieved.’” The president announces our new Af-Pak strategy. Sounds like the COINS won out. Update 2: Or did they? Call it CT-plus.
“‘If you think of this as sort of a combination of [the hunt for] Eric Rudolph, who was the Olympic bomber, and the movie ‘Deliverance,’ multiplied by a factor of 10, that’s really what you’re focusing on in trying to find bin Laden,’ said Robert Grenier, the former CIA station chief in Pakistan.” Also high on the foreign policy to-do list for President-elect Obama: bringing the war on terror back to Osama bin Laden.
Alas, despite Dubya’s occasional bouts of half-hearted bluster, it seems the bin Laden trail may well have gone ice-cold over the past few years, while we’ve been focused on Iraq. “Robert Baer, a former CIA field officer, told CNN he’s talked to ‘a dozen CIA guys who’ve been on the hunt for him, and half of them told me they assumed he was dead, the other half said they assumed he was alive, but the key word here is assume. They don’t know.’…[Commander of special operations at Tora Bora Dalton] Fury says the best route for the president-elect to take would be to change the dialogue about bin Laden…He believes taunting the al Qaeda leader may force him to prove he’s relevant and, in the process, lead the United States right to him.“
“Barack Obama talks about 16 months. That, we think, would be the right timeframe for a withdrawal, with the possibility of slight changes…Of course, this is by no means an election endorsement. Who they choose as their president is the Americans’ business. But it’s the business of Iraqis to say what they want.” While much of the nation watched The Dark Knight, Iraqi prime minister Nouri Al-Maliki shook up our election considerably, perhaps even decisively, over the weekend by publicly backing Obama’s troop withdrawal plan in the German magazine Der Spiegel.
The Dubya White House immediately tried to lean on Al-Maliki to get him to walk back his remarks, but some hemming and hawing aside, they would seem to stand. In fact, they were reinforced today by Ali al-Dabbagh, Iraq’s government spokesman, upon Sen. Obama’s arrival to the region: “We are hoping that in 2010 that combat troops will withdraw from Iraq.“
In other words, even the Iraqis believe Obama is right and McCain is wrong on our future in Iraq. Which means the McCain campaign has just lost one of their critical tentpole issues, and has no place to go now except scream “surge, surge, surge.” “Via e-mail, a prominent Republican strategist who occasionally provides advice to the McCain campaign said, simply, ‘We’re f**ked.’“
Of course, McCain’s bleeding on the Iraq issue might be better staunched if he didn’t publicly refer to the non-existent Iraq-Pakistan border…
Benazir Bhutto, 1953-2007. It seems all too many christmases of late has been marked by grim news on the global front, from the devastating tsunami to the botched Saddam execution. This year, obviously, it was the assassination of the former prime minister who, while no angel, nevertheless embodied for many hopes for a stable, democratic Pakistan. Her murder — in the military stronghold of Rawalpindi, no less — further destabilizes a nuclear-armed nation already teetering on the brink, and roils significantly the Dubya administration’s fatally flawed approach to the country. Let’s just hope Bhutto isn’t remembered as the next Franz Ferdinand.
“‘The train is derailed and off the tracks,’ said Stephen P. Cohen, author of ‘The Idea of Pakistan.‘ ‘We have to give ourselves a share of the responsibility for this. We placed all of our chips on Musharraf.’ At this point, Cohen added: ‘I don’t think there is anything we can do. We are not big players in this anymore.’” Dubya diplomacy takes another huge hit as a power-hungry President Musharraf declares martial law in Pakistan to ensure his continued reign, sparking nationwide protests and leaving the Bushies between a rock and a hard place. “One adviser traveling with Rice saw a silver lining in the rapid turn of events. ‘Thank heavens for small favors,’ the official said. Compared to Pakistan, ‘Iraq looks pretty good.’” Oh, joy.
Update: Slate‘s Fred Kaplan weighs in. “The state of emergency in Pakistan signals yet another low point in President George W. Bush’s foreign policy — a stark demonstration of his paltry influence and his bankrupt principles. More than that, the crackdown locks us in a crisis — a potentially dangerous dynamic — from which there appears to be no escape route…The Bush foreign policy was neither shrewd enough to play self-interested power politics nor truly principled enough to enforce its ideals.“
“If you’re really worried about Iran, do you want to put your faith in the United States, the country that bungled Iraq? If you really care about Islamic fundamentalism, do you want to be led by the country that, distracted by Iraq, failed to predict the return of the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan?” Why has the world soured on America of late? The real reason, argues Slate‘s Anne Applebaum and the data she surveys, is that, thanks to seven years of Dubya, we’re starting to look incompetent. “And even if the surge works, even if the roadside bombs vanish, inept is a word that will always be used about the Iraqi invasion.“
Paging Yuri Orlov: By way of Dangerous Meta, a new Congressional study finds the US atop the leaderboard in terms of selling weaponry to the developing world. “Pakistan, India and Saudi Arabia were the top buyers…The study makes clear also that the United States has signed weapons-sales agreements with nations whose records on democracy and human rights are subject to official criticism.“