The Obama Administration's "Mission Accomplished" Fallacy in the War on Terrorism / Prof.B.Rubin

July 14, 2011
Leon Panetta, leaving the CIA directorship post to become secretary of defense, and General David Petraeus, leaving the job of commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan to become CIA chief, have just come close to declaring victory in the war against terrorism, though that’s a phrase the Obama Administration refuses to use.

Good news, says Panetta. Once the United States knocks off about 20 al-Qaida leaders currently in Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, and North Africa, that organization will be out of commission. And while the Taliban cannot be quickly wiped out, says Petraeus, it can be “neutralized” so that it won’t cause much trouble in future.

Oh, and Panetta said that the U.S. goal is to force the Taliban to negotiate a deal to allow for national conciliation in Afghanistan. Here’s my proposed headline: Obama Administration Says: Make Deal with September 11 Accomplices. How’s that sound? That’s what’s really going on, a deal with the terrorists and not their defeat.

Uh-oh. Let’s assume that they are correct. So the forces that carried out the September 11 attack will not matter any more. So the Obama administration won’t have to worry about Hamas, Hizballah, and the Muslim Brotherhood– which it seems to think are now moderate, democratic-oriented groups. Nor will it have to be much concerned about all those other revolutionary Islamist organizations out there. Perhaps it can then focus on what seems to be the White House’s main priority, the “War on Islamophobia.”

Presumably, without those defeated threats, Egypt, the Gaza Strip, Lebanon, Iran, and Syria won’t be a problem for U.S. interests and security. Iraq and Afghanistan will be stable and friendly polities.

One can only think of the lines from the satirical songwriter Tom Lehrer:

“Once all the Germans/were warlike and mean/but that couldn’t happen again!/We taught them a lesson in 1918/and they have hardly bothered us since then!”

In other words, the Obama Administration will lull itself even more into a false sense of security as the revolutionary Islamists advance in their effort to overthrow all the region’s regimes, take over the Middle East, and expel Western influence.

But let’s not assume they are correct on the specifics. The most basic principle of counter-terrorism is that just because the leaders are killed (and despite efforts to assuage grievances) broad-based terrorists groups don’t disappear. Obviously, the administration wants to play off its successful killing of Osama bin Ladin to imply that a few more such operations will do the trick. But al-Qaida is a very decentralized group.

Local affiliates continue to exist especially in Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, and Algeria. They aren’t going away so easily. I’ll bet that parallel, albeit non-member groups, will soon appear in Egypt and elsewhere. Preventing terrorist bombers from blowing up U.S. airliners and embassies is a worthwhile task, but that’s not the same thing as stopping terrorist groups–even if they momentarily aren’t using violence–from seizing control of countries and then using violence to intimidate opponents and launch attacks on neighbors.

The fact that Petraeus has become a national hero because of being right on Iraq should not obscure the fact that he was wrong on Afghanistan. Petraeus has long believed that the United States could defeat the Taliban, use civic projects to win Afghan hearts and minds, and to build Afghanistan into a stable democratic polity. The idea that the United States can depend on the Afghan government and military to hold off radical Islamists isn’t going to work. Afghanistan isn’t Iraq.

As for the Taliban it isn’t going to be “neutralized” in any real sense. It might just lay low and let the U.S. forces leave the country, then go into action again. Indeed, it has been revealed that the secret negotiations between the U.S. government and the Taliban seek to obtain precisely that outcome. Does anyone seriously believe–other than the Obama Administration–that the Taliban is going to live up to its commitments? Can one imagine “conciliation” in Afghanistan?

I want to be clear that I do not favor a continued U.S. military presence in Afghanistan. But a withdrawal must be accompanied by ensuring that local anti-Taliban forces keep up that battle in their own self-interest. Pressing them to make a deal with the Taliban, which can then use any such gains in trying to seize state power, is the worst possible policy. Remember that the United States is withdrawing from Iraq with a strategy of helping the Iraqi government defeat the al-Qaida allied terrorists there, not making a deal with the insurgents.

The underlying problem is that Panetta and Patraeus are articulating two of the many myths held by the Obama Administration: that revolutionary Islamist groups aren’t a threat unless they are trying to blow up American skyscrapers and that they can be moderated by killing a few terrorist leaders or making a deal with them.

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7 Comments, 5 Threads, 6 Trackbacks
1. MarcH
I served two tours in Iraq and am currently servng in Afghanistan. Your critique of GEN Petraeus is, IMHO, spot on.

P4 understood and exploited the human and physical terrain to take apart the Sunni INS in Iraq. I was always disappointed that, although he articulated the threat from Iran and Syria, he contiued to serve the Bush and Obama administrations even though they ignored it.

As you say, Afghanistan is not Iraq, anymore than the 9th century is the 15th century, but our strategy from 2009 on just seems an attempt to clone “what worked” in Iraq.

For me, the great tragedy is that we spent great amount of blood and treasure in the “Surge” to win a position in Iraq from which Iran and the whole Middle East could be influenced and the gave it up to push resources into what Obama called a “war of necessity (Afghanistan)”.

July 14, 2011 - 5:35 pm Link to this Comment | Reply 2. Ken Besig, Israel
The Obama doctrine is very simple and straightforward, behave treacherously and perilously inconsistently with America’s allies, and harmlessly and naively towards America’s enemies.
Obama has already betrayed Egypt, abandoned Israel, while simultaneously empowering the Syrian dictatorship and supporting the irredentist Palestinians.
Obama is now surrendering the Afghans and the Iraqis to the Taliban and the Iranians respectively partly in response to American public opinion and war weariness, but mostly because he is deeply ambivalent to the use of American military power and deeply sympathetic to even the most dysfunctional Third World regimes.
This is why former UN Ambassador John Bolton has publicly written that Obama is the worst President Israel has ever had to deal with.

July 14, 2011 - 6:13 pm Link to this Comment | Reply 3. Carl Sesar
The underlying problem underlying all the many problematic “myths” held by the Obama administration is that the Obama administration knows they are myths, knows they are mortally dangerous to our health and security, and is promulgating those myths to a gullible punditry and citizenry precisely because they are mortally dangerous to our health and security.

The most dangerous and problematic myth of all in circulation, however, is held by our gullible punditry and citizenry: the myth that the Obama administration honestly believes in the “myths” it so relentlessly and assiduously keeps promulgating.

July 14, 2011 - 7:12 pm Link to this Comment | Reply 4. MiRo S-Schwartz
And what do you want Obama to do re Taliban, Al-Qaeda and Co.?
Please give a workable answer, not blablabla

July 14, 2011 - 8:19 pm Link to this Comment | Reply blablabla
kill ‘em

July 14, 2011 - 8:52 pm Link to this Comment | Reply MarcH
MiRo S-Schwartz #4 – asked “what do you want Obama to do re Taliban, Al-Qaeda and Co.”?

How about using all instruments of US national power (land based conventional invasion not needed or wanted)to destroy the governments which act as state sponsors, safe havens, facilitators and flag wavers for Radical Islam? Iran and Syria are the most dangerous. That would be a very good start. Given the fragility of those two governments, I would say it is not too tall an order for The One who can stop the rising of the oceans.

July 15, 2011 - 2:28 pm Link to this Comment | Reply 5. chuck
The underlying problem is that al-Qaida and the Taliban are Islam; they are in fact nothing short of the modern day incarnation of Mohamed himself.

The war will not be over until Islam is utterly defeated, as was Germany, and those now suffering under the horrific system of living known as Islam are liberated, as were the Nazi Germans. There is no middle ground.

The Muslims have set the terms: Us or Them. It has been very, very, difficult for the West to accept but the choice is not ours.

The battle will not end until the last Mosque has been reduced to rubble. That is not for us to decide either. What we must decide is if we will defend civilization or not. It is a burden cast upon us by history.

So far there is no indication that those in power will defend the civilized world.

Barry Rubin
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