Alexander's Column

Opting Out of Enduring Freedom

By Mark Alexander · Jun. 23, 2011

Political Expediency vs. National Security

“[I]t is a common observation here that our cause is the cause of all mankind, and that we are fighting for their liberty in defending our own.” –Benjamin Franklin
On the horizon

In opposition to the advice of military and intelligence advisers – but with the support of popular polls – Barack Hussein Obama is moving ahead with his plan to withdraw American forces from Afghanistan beginning this July. In other words, though the drawdown does not comport with the best interests of U.S. national security, it does conform to his 2012 political campaign agenda.

Obama rolled out his worn rhetoric about Iraq being the wrong war, which distracted our nation from the right war, Afghanistan, which would seem to contradict his drawdown plans. As you recall, President George W. Bush launched Operation Enduring Freedom against al-Qa'ida and their Taliban hosts in Afghanistan on 7 October 2001, in response to the 9/11 attack on our nation. Operation Iraqi Freedom was not launched until 20 March 2003, after Saddam Hussein refused, repeatedly, to comply with UN Resolution 1441, giving him “a final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations.”

At the time, we had ongoing combat operations over Iraq enforcing the “no-fly zone,” and arguably, “Desert Storm 2.0” was necessitated because we departed Iraq prematurely after the first Desert Storm in 1991.

Obama credited himself with having taken “decisive action” in late 2009 by ordering a troop surge of 30,000 to Afghanistan. History will note, however, that he dithered for several months before finally granting his military commanders a smaller surge force than the one they’d requested, and that he hamstrung our forces by announcing a date certain by which we’d begin to remove them.

Obama has committed to withdraw at least 33,000 of our 100,000 warfighters in the region by “next summer,” just in time to mollify his anti-war base and re-energize them for the 2012 presidential election. That would be 30,000 more than his advisers requested, which might explain why he made no mention of General David Petraeus, Commander of the International Security Assistance Force and U.S. Forces Afghanistan.

In early May, besieged with the failure of his socialist economic policies, BHO received a short-lived bounce in the polls after announcing that he (read “U.S. SpecOps”) killed Osama bin Laden, thanks to intelligence “extracted” from Jihadi insurgents captured in Iraq when George Bush was president.

I note here that the ability to terminate OBL was possible primarily because of the capabilities that we have deployed in Afghanistan.

As Obama’s domestic policies continue to fail miserably, and his popular approval sinks to new lows, he hopes to get another pop-poll bounce with the announcement of the Afghan drawdown. He jibed, “America, it is time to focus on nation-building here at home,” but just hours before, Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke downgraded the outlook for the U.S. economic recovery, the direct result of Obama’s “nation building here at home.”

All political shenanigans aside, the question we should ask is what action in Afghanistan is in the best long-term interest of our national security? Is our nation-building strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan the right strategy, and if so, how much and for how long? Or, will targeted hunt and kill operations by SpecOps suffice to meet our national security objectives in the region?

The answer to this question should be determined by sound analysis of the risks to our national security and the resources we have to mitigate those risks. Obama is answering this question by analyzing popular polls.

For the record, the primary national security objective of both Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom were not, first and foremost, to eradicate dictators and establish democracy and free enterprise through extensive and expensive nation-building efforts. Our objective was to contain the nuclear threat posed by asymmetric elements in the region.

In plain words, our objective was (and should remain) to prevent the detonation by Jihadi terrorists of a nuclear device in one or more U.S. urban centers. If you think the cost of keeping the battle on their turf for the last 10 years has been expensive, try calculating the cost of recovery after a fissile weapon detonation in Boston or Baltimore, and the resulting economic consequence. Notably, the economic collapse of 2008 can be linked directly to the economic consequences of the 9/11 attack, but those consequences were minor in comparison to the cost of a nuclear attack.

The nuclear deterrence objective depends on a coherent Long War strategy to combat Islamist adversaries in the region, and around the world, but Obama has now made clear his intent to short-circuit that objective for his political expedience.

Obama errantly believes that concessions will inspire our Jihadi foes in al-Qa'ida’s broad and amorphous terrorist network to go home in peace. However, since he took office, casualties in Afghanistan have increased five-fold. If history repeats itself – and it will – Obama’s foreign policy today will cost us dearly at some future date. Retreat from Afghanistan without a clear military victory will be seen by jihadists as a victory for al-Qa'ida and Islamo-Facists around the world. (Tellingly, he never once used the words “win” or “victory” last night when he announced his rationale for withdrawing our forces.)

Obama was a national security neophyte when he entered office, and he hasn’t learned much since then. Rather than exhibit leadership, a personality characteristic that remains enigmatic to him, Obama is content to follow the polls.

Unquestionably, most Americans want to “bring the troops home.” Of course we do. The 10-year campaign to contain Islamists in Afghanistan has cost our nation the lives of 1,522 of its Patriot warriors – about half the number of Americans killed on 9/11 – and more than 10,000 injured. But the consequences of a rapid drawdown will cost us far more lives in the future.

This is clear to military leaders stateside, and military commanders in Afghanistan.

Of Obama’s foreign policy, departing SecDef Robert Gates said of his decision to resign, “I’ve spent my entire adult life with the United States as a superpower, and one that had no compunction about spending what it took to sustain that position. … I can’t imagine being part of a nation, part of a government … that’s being forced to dramatically scale back our engagement with the rest of the world.” (Gates’s successor, Leon Panetta, will be charged with dramatic military cuts as Obama continues to massively expand the size and role of the central government, creating a “debt bomb,” perhaps more perilous to our national security than the Jihadi threat.)

Real Leadership: Gen. David Petraeus

According to my sources, Gen. Petraeus has warned Obama that his proposed drawdown is too much, too soon, and that the current level of U.S. military personnel is needed for at least another year to turn the tide. U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Gen. John Toolan, Regional Command Southwest, has expressed similar concerns, as has Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, commander of NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan. The stated NATO goal is to give the keys to the Afghan army by the end of 2014.

However, it is the Army and Marine commanders on the frontlines in Afghanistan whose opinion we give greatest weight, because their perspective is unfettered by political agendas.

Having contacted five commanders at the O-5 to O-6 ranks on the ground in Afghanistan, I can present the following composite of the perspectives they shared with me: If we leave on Obama’s political timeframe, not only will Afghanistan return to the breeding ground for terrorists as it was prior to 2003, but Islamists are likely to overtake Pakistan, a nuclear power on the precipice of chaos. In addition to redoubling their campaign against Israel and Western targets, they may also set their sights on India, another nuclear power, and the scene fades to dark after that. The rhetoric about timelines and drawdowns is counterproductive, because what our allied Afghans and Pakistanis hear is that America is abandoning them. That belief only serves to embolden the Taliban, al-Qa'ida and other Islamo-Fascists in the region, including those in Iran. Region-wide, Obama’s policies portray us as uncommitted and untrustworthy, which further demoralizes the moderates we seek to empower. In short, this is a war against a formidable adversary that we must continue to prosecute if our ultimate objective – keeping the battlefront on their turf rather than ours – is to be maintained.

In summation, one Marine officer put it this way: “When I hear Obama say ‘the American people want me to end this war and I am responding with an exit plan,’ that’s the antithesis of leadership. President Bush, against the popular will, surged forces here, and that was the right policy and required leadership.”

The death of OBL gave BHO a temporary boost in the polls. Using that as a catalyst to draw down our forces in Afghanistan he might enjoy another temporary boost. But the bottom line that gets lost in this debate is the potential that Islamist terrorists will one day detonate a nuke on U.S. soil.

Graham Allison, Director of Harvard’s Center for Science and International Affairs, and a leading analyst of U.S. national security and defense policy pertaining to nuclear weapons and terrorism, grimly notes in regard to a nuclear attack on the U.S., “I think that we should be very thankful that it hasn’t happened already. … We’re living on borrowed time.”

Unfortunately, while we currently control the clock, we’re about to pass it back to the bad guys through Barack Obama’s malfeasance.

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