The US commander of the ISAF coalition in Afghanistan, General Jospeh Dunford USMC, recently stated: “We are not leaving. We are transitioning – there’s a big difference.”
While it is doubtful that the Taliban could parse said difference, the statement has led to comments of Operation Enduring Freedom having led to a defeat. Since the reason we are in Afghanistan is the 9/11 attacks, this is more than a throw away comment.
Although the provision of education for females and the establishment of an accountable government in Kabul are laudable objectives, these are not the reasons for our invasion of Afghanistan. It is crucial to note that it is now impossible for al Qaeda to mastermind mass-casualty attacks against US targets from the territory of that nation.
The fact that, according to Director of National Intelligence General Clapper, al Qaeda now has operational centers in 12 nations around the world does not mean OEF has failed.
The strengthening of al Qaeda in areas outside of Afghanistan is not a function of the failure of our combat troops in theater. It has to do with the absence of strategy at the highest levels of the administration.
The quote comes from a 9,000 word 2011 piece in the New Yorker titled “The Consequentialist.” I recommend this in-depth piece, based on access to top members of the administration including the president, to all the national security types I work with and anyone who wishes to understand why America is where it is today.
The article is an attempt by a leftwing organ supportive of the administration to reveal to the world President Obama’s global vision and how he sees America’s role. After all the background details and interviews with his most influential advisers (Power, Rice, etc) — none of whom have military experience and who almost exclusively are academics or political activists — the most striking moment comes in an interview with the president himself.
Asked about his strategy, the doctrine that informs America’s actions in the world, the president replied: “When you start applying blanket policies on the complexities of the current world situation, you’re going to get yourself into trouble.” In English: no plan is better. Having a plan can get you in trouble.
Given that China is intimidating its neighbors, Russia has actually invaded one of hers, Iran stills wants nukes, Syria is collapsing, and al Qaeda is alive and well outside of Afghanistan, it would be hard to envisage an Eisenhower, a Churchill, or even a Truman saying: “Nope, no plan needed here. That’s dangerous.”
We can win against al Qaeda in Afghanistan, at least if we continue to guarantee that it can’t reconstitute its former bases or deploy terrorists to the US. Talk of “transition” instead and negating the very need for a strategy will, however, likely lead to defeat there and elsewhere.
The trouble is that our Commander-in-Chief long ago revealed why foreign policy is irrelevant to him. At the end of his 2009 speech to graduating West Point cadets, he was unequivocal. It is time to “end the war in Iraq and transition to Afghan responsibility,” because “we must rebuild our strength here at home.” Notice the use of the word “transition.” The talking points have lasted well and apparently been sent to ISAF HQ in Kabul: “nationbuilding is to be done at home.” (It is quite shocking that the first place he made this clear was in front of hundreds of young men and women all in uniform on the cusp of deployment).
President Obama is clearly a product of Chicago’s political machine. From his perspective, Obamacare and the false narrative of punishing the “fat cats” (who helped put him in office) are the priorities. If foreign affairs and our military missions abroad had any weight with him, then his former National Security Advisor, General Jim Jones, would not have been treated like a pariah and eased out of office after just twenty months after being appointed, and the armed services would not be facing their largest cuts in half a century.
The cruel reality of the world is that since the Homeric wars of Troy right up until WWI, WWII, and the current crisis in the Ukraine, the enemy always had a plan and wanted to win. It is time for us to follow suit.