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Morning Bell: Obama Must Lead On Afghanistan

Posted By Conn Carroll On September 28, 2009 @ 9:29 am In Ongoing Priorities | Comments Disabled

On March 27th, President Barack Obama followed through on one of his core campaign promises and announced a New Strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan [1] that included sending an additional 21,000 troops to the region. Speaking from the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, Obama explained [1]: “Multiple intelligence estimates have warned that al Qaeda is actively planning attacks on the United States homeland from its safe haven in Pakistan. And if the Afghan government falls to the Taliban — or allows al Qaeda to go unchallenged — that country will again be a base for terrorists who want to kill as many of our people as they possibly can. …But this is not simply an American problem — far from it. It is, instead, an international security challenge of the highest order. Terrorist attacks in London and Bali were tied to al Qaeda and its allies in Pakistan, as were attacks in North Africa and the Middle East, in Islamabad and in Kabul. If there is a major attack on an Asian, European, or African city, it, too, is likely to have ties to al Qaeda’s leadership in Pakistan. The safety of people around the world is at stake.”

So according to President Obama, victory against the Taliban in Afghanistan is not only essential for the security of the United States, but for “the safety of people around the world.” We couldn’t agree more, which is why it is so alarming to learn that President Obama is considering a different strategy advocated by Vice President Joe Biden [2]. Just as Biden opposed the successful surge in Iraq [3], Biden now opposes a surge in Afghanistan, instead favoring withdrawing most U.S. troops leaving only special forces and predator drones to strike al Qaeda cells. Biden was wrong about Iraq and he is wrong about Afghanistan. Heritage fellow James Phillips explains:

The war in Afghanistan cannot be effectively waged merely with air power, predator drones, and special forces. In the late 1990s, the Clinton Administration hurled cruise missiles at easily replaceable al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan, but this “chuck and duck” strategy failed to blunt the al-Qaeda threat. The Bush Administration’s minimalist approach to Afghanistan in 2001 was a contributing factor that allowed Osama bin Laden to escape from his mountain redoubt at Tora Bora. Afterwards, Washington opted to focus narrowly on counterterrorism goals in Afghanistan–rather than counterinsurgency operations–in order to free up military assets for the war in Iraq. This allowed the Taliban to regroup across the border in Pakistan and make a violent resurgence. The “small footprint” strategy also failed in Iraq, before it was abandoned in favor of General Petraeus’s counterinsurgency strategy, backed by the surge of American troops, in early 2007.

Despite this record of failure, some stubbornly continue to support an “offshore” strategy for landlocked Afghanistan today. But half-measures–the hallmark of the “small footprint” strategy–will not work. Precise intelligence is needed to use smart bombs smartly. Yet few Afghans would risk their lives to provide such intelligence unless they are assured of protection against the Taliban’s ruthless retaliation.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates seconded this analysis this Sunday telling ABC News’ This Week [4]:

I think that most people who — the people that I’ve talked to in the Pentagon who are the experts on counter-terrorism essentially say that counter-terrorism is only possible if you have the kind of intelligence that allows you to target the terrorists. And the only way you get that intelligence is by being on the ground — getting information from people like the Afghans or, in the case of Iraq, the Iraqis.

And so you can’t do this from — from a distance or remotely, in the view of virtually all of the experts that I’ve talked to.

The security of the United States and the “safety of people around the world” depend on President Obama ignoring Biden and listening to Gates on this particular point. But listening to Gates will not be enough. The American people are unsure about which strategy to pursue in Afghanistan. According to Gallup [5], 41% of Americans favor withdrawing troops from the country while 41% favor increasing troop levels. Gallup’s Frank Newport adds: “The data indicate that Republicans do seem willing to support Obama should he make a decision to increase U.S. troop strength in Afghanistan. On the other hand, Democrats seem willing to oppose Obama in this case.”

If anybody can convince liberals to support victory in Afghanistan it is President Obama. Health care is important. But so is national security. According to the Washington Post, Obama has scheduled at least five meetings with his national security team over the next two weeks to reexamine the strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan. When this review is completed, the President should announce his decision in a nationally televised speech. He should explain to the American people what is at stake in Afghanistan, why it is necessary to make continued sacrifices to defeat distant enemies there, and why the war is not only necessary, but winnable. President Obama’s March troop surge has not even been implemented yet. The President needs to win over his own party in Washington before U.S. forces can defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan.

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URL to article: http://blog.heritage.org/2009/09/28/morning-bell-obama-must-lead-on-afghanistan/

URLs in this post:

[1] New Strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/Remarks-by-the-President-on-a-New-Strategy-for-Afghanistan-and-Pakistan/

[2] strategy advocated by Vice President Joe Biden: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/23/world/asia/23policy.html

[3] Biden opposed the successful surge in Iraq: http://www.philly.com/philly/opinion/20090927_The_Point__What_Bush_got_right_offers_clues_for_Obama.html

[4] ABC News’ This Week: http://www.abcnews.go.com/print?id=8679829

[5] Gallup: http://www.gallup.com/poll/123188/Americans-Tilt-Against-Sending-Troops-Afghanistan.aspx

[6] weapons capable of carrying a warhead and striking Israel, U.S. military bases in the Middle East, and parts of Europe.: http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2009-09-28-iran-missiles_N.htm

[7] scrambling: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/28/world/middleeast/28iran.html?_r=1&ref=todayspaper

[8] ACORN could not receive funding: http://www.boston.com/news/politics/politicalintelligence/2009/09/congress_slaps.html

[9] “suspended current commitments” to Acorn Housing: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB125409478511144963.html?mod=WSJ_hpp_MIDDLTopStories

[10] died at a hospice: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/28/us/28safire.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

[11] Lions 19, Redskins 14.: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/09/27/AR2009092702246.html

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