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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View all comments


David Oslow said:

It would appear that we need a new that is interested in the American spirit instead of every loser that whines. Good grief people, lets get our heads unscrewed from our hind-quarters and get the job done. How hard can that be? Oh, wait, my bad, we're dealing with liberals and "moon-beam" children of yesterday.

Thursday, June 23, 2011 at 12:19 PM

J Paul said:

If only he would withdraw himself from America.

Thursday, June 23, 2011 at 12:26 PM

Bob said:

I still don't know how much of BHO's policy is ignorance or intentional well thought out ambition to destroy America (as it is spelled out in the constitution and Bill of rights and bring about his fundamental change to the failed policies of many Socialist nations gone by.

Thursday, June 23, 2011 at 12:30 PM

daryl said:

If it happens here expect that a lot of heads will roll starting with the man at the top. We will go looking and not settle until those who alloow it are retired from public life for good, preferably in a prison either of their own making or one we supply.

Thursday, June 23, 2011 at 12:32 PM

Jim A. said:

Dear Mr. Alexander,I agree with you 99.9% of the time. BUT, this time a disagree. I recently went to a presentation given by a Marine who just came back from Afghanistan after 9 months. He gave a photo presentation of his time there. Undoubtably, he and his fellow soldiers are the best American has to offer. However, I came away with the strong sense that we are wasting our time, blood, and resources there. These people are NEVER going to change! And the rules of engagement are stupid and put our soldiers lives at great risk. And for what? Afghanistan is the most God-forsaken land I have ever seen. It is not worth one more American life or dollar! Sure, the Generals and Gates advocate staying longer. They say if we leave now then all our gains will be lost. I say if we leave 5 years from now all our gains will be lost then too! Gates and the Generals are in the war business! They remind me of management of a company that is going in the wrong direction, but don't listen to the frontline employees who are trying to tell them.

Thursday, June 23, 2011 at 12:37 PM

James S. Parker said:

First, let me say how much I appreciate your stand for truth and decency. I cannot believe that people still believe this president is concerned about this country when he has constantly criticized our military, (at least in the past). He has wrecked our economy with his policies. One thing I would ask you to consider. If you could put your post in pages i.e. 1,2,3 etc. so that we might be able to copy important information without having to print all of the things that are listed throughout your post. Thank-you so much! We do send support from time to time.

Thursday, June 23, 2011 at 12:39 PM

tom sanders said:

mark: great stuff; how can we forward this one in particular around.

Thursday, June 23, 2011 at 12:51 PM

The Editor replied:

Hit the forward button to your whole list, and ask them to do the same!

Bill said:

For BHO, strengthening America's interests in Afghanistan gets in the way of nation building here at home. "Nation building" in the USA is code for "nation destroying". It would be ideologically inconsistent to systematically weaken the USA domestically while simultaneously strengthening her internationally. Therefore the troops must come home now. That and he can't afford any left-wing deffections next fall--he'll need every vote he can muster to even hope to get re-elected.

Thursday, June 23, 2011 at 12:56 PM

MAJ USA Ret in Saint Louis said:

BHO cannot lead because he is blind; ignorant of history, of the U.S. Constitution and of the real source of this nation’s success (In GOD we trust!). Consequently, he follows polls, which is to say he follows the blind masses who follow the blind media, while they keep affirming each other with hype and hope. (Hype is not truth, and hope is not a plan.)If we keep following this blind man, we deserve what we get. Our nation will repeat the lessons learned and once taught in public schools in WW1, WW2, Korea and Desert Storm 1. The lesson is our failure to oppose freedom’s enemy outside our borders will require we fight within our borders. I do not know the sum total of the cost (dollars or lives), but to pay to learn the same lesson is the epitome of foolishness. (I suspect if more students flunked or failed to graduate and had to learn the lesson over again, all students would learn to study harder. In addition, our fellow citizens would study their candidates with greater discernment and make wiser voting decisions!)Our world today is far smaller than in the periods of those previous conflicts. Likewise, the price of relearning those lessons will be far higher. No doubt, the USA has so far been history’s leader in teaching and demonstrating freedom can be enjoyed by all humanity. The end of the USA may not be the end of freedom forever, but it will certainly bring spark unprecedented ages of worldwide blindness. Imagine a “Mad Max” type world that lasts several millennia.Long past time to acknowledge the Only source of Truth and Freedom, else, without vision, the people perish.

Thursday, June 23, 2011 at 12:58 PM

TexasGuy said:

Obamass could care less about the security of the United States, and anyone who thinks differently has another think coming. All Obamass cares about is what George Soros tells him to care about, which is whatever points in the direction of Soros ruling the world. Onewildman, time for your closing remark...

Thursday, June 23, 2011 at 1:07 PM

DonB52 in Wenham said:

This man, who calls himself Commander-in-chief, could not successfully command a troop of Cub Scouts without taking massive casualties. He needs to go away!

Thursday, June 23, 2011 at 1:10 PM

Robert Noell said:

I do not agree with Obama on anything. I do not believe that the life of one of our servicemen is worth the version of freedom that will result from our further involvement in Afganistan. We can no longer afford [in blood or treasure] to be the world's policemen. We are not a rat on a gluetrap over there, we are a country that must decide what is most important to us. We do not honor our fallen heros by getting their buddies killed and maimed for a country that has never and will never govern itself. We have a real war going on our border with Mexico that is more important than a war in the middle east.

Thursday, June 23, 2011 at 1:36 PM

Richard Whitman said:

MarkGreat as always but OBL was not killed by US. Special Forces, which are Army, but by Navy Seals , part of the US Special Operations Command, USSOCOM at McDill, FB, Tampa Florida.VRRichard WhitmanABN< SF< SPECOPS

Thursday, June 23, 2011 at 1:45 PM

The Editor replied:

My bad...meant SpecOps not SF.

Tom Lynn said:

Mr. Alexander, you mention India as a possible future troublespot in your troop withdrawal scenario. This begs the question, "Do the Indians see it this way also?" And can we get them on board, to strengthen our position in this theater?

Thursday, June 23, 2011 at 1:45 PM

Bill B said:

Jim A - Very elloquently stated. I am a former Naval Officer and fully support our military however, I believe that we would be more effective if we reinvested some of the money we are spending overseas into better security of our homeland and relied on Asymetric Warfare to address the terrorist threats in the Middle East.

Thursday, June 23, 2011 at 1:47 PM