Con: Obama must go for a knockout in Afghanistan
There are many reasons for hunkering down in Afghanistan and adopting a tougher military strategy so Americans and their NATO allies can finally leave behind a more stable—though barely democratic—Middle East. New York City, Philadelphia, Denver, Springfield, Ill., and the U.S. Marine Corps base at Quantico, Va., are high among those reasons.
All five places were prime targets of suspected radical Islamic jihadists, according to plots the FBI and local police nixed in September.
Most of the would-be terrorists the FBI has identified and arrested had trained at various al-Qaeda camps in or near Afghanistan. And all of them had gained cover in the United States by posing as normal members of moderate Muslim communities.
Insiders in the international intelligence community say there is suspicion that numerous Islamic terror cells hide in the United States, only waiting for signals to launch attacks that could be more lethal than 9/11.
President Barack Obama would do well to heed the “don’t go wobbly on me, George” advice Britain’s Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher gave the first President George Bush after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990.
The Iron Lady suspected Bush of hesitating with his response to the outrage, and he did not disappoint—although in a roundabout manner. After assembling an unprecedented coalition of 50 nations and crushing Iraq’s vaunted army in 100 hours, Bush let the brutish dictator limp back to full power in Baghdad.
One can argue until the cows come home whether Bush the Younger—President George W. Bush—did the right thing in sending American troops to Iraq and Afghanistan. But he did it, and President Obama is stuck with both wars.
Obama must now craft plans to either destroy al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan or declare victory and limp home.
Such a failure, Sir David Richards, the top officer of the British army, told London’s Sunday Telegraph the other day, “would have a catalytic effect on militant Islam around the world … because the message would be that al-Qaeda and the Taliban have defeated the United States and the British and NATO, the most powerful alliance in the world.”
The “geostrategic implications would be immense” and the consequences for the western world “unimaginable.”
As I see it, one thing is already crystal-clear: Americans and the NATO allies cannot win by hesitation or huddling in fortified enclaves—even if Obama sends the additional 40,000 troops that Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the American and NATO commander in Afghanistan, has requested.
McChrystal’s advice runs contrary to the present mood in the White House—one that dominates Democratic leaders in Congress. They, it is evident, have suddenly converted to the war-by-remote-control option presented by the much-derided Vice President Joe Biden.
Such a tactic might reduce allied military casualties but create more Afghan civilians—as “collateral damage.” But even this dubious alternative might not be as reckless as pulling out of Afghanistan without delay. And that, in essence, is what the American political left wants Obama to do.
Candidate Obama repeatedly declared Afghanistan a “good” war and Iraq the disaster George W. Bush brought upon America. As president, Barack Obama hewed to the line without hesitation. His commitment to prevail in Afghanistan could not have been doubted even by his Republican opponents and assorted critics at large.
Declarations are not dogma chiseled in stone. Nor should they be. Circumstances change and must be adapted to. But turning tail is what it is, no matter how you wag it.
Bogdan Kipling is a Canadian journalist in Washington. Readers may write him in care of the National Press Club, 13th Floor, 529 14th Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20045, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.