Contrary to President Obama’s pledge to begin withdrawing U.S. forces in 2011, success in Afghanistan would mean just the opposite.
Bruce Riedel, the man who coordinated the Obama administration’s initial strategic policy review on Afghanistan in March said on Wednesday, “If the policy is a success, I suggest to you that there will be very, very few American soldiers coming home in the summer of 2011.”
Riedel added, “This issue is now going to consume this presidency, which is why it took 92 days to come to this policy . . . This is going to be the foreign policy issue on which this president is judged by the American people in November 2012, and the foreign policy issue on which this Congress is going to be judged in less than a year from now.”
Riedel is a 30-year veteran of the CIA and former foreign policy adviser to the Obama campaign who now works at the Brookings Institution.
In a remarkably candid presentation to a policy conference hosted by the Jamestown Foundation in Washington, D.C., Riedel said the Obama White House didn’t really have any viable alternative to the troop surge. “It was the best of bad options,” he said.
Early on, President Obama ruled out a unilateral withdrawal or moving to a smaller force focusing on counterterrorism, as promoted by Vice-President Biden.
“If we are defeated by al-Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan, it will be a global game changer. This will be the second superpower they have defeated and the global ramifications of that in the Islamic world will be enormous, and nowhere more so than next door in Pakistan,” which Riedel said had the “fastest growing nuclear weapons arsenal in the world.”
Riedel said he gave the new strategy a “50/50 chance” of success, and was optimistic mainly because of the involvement of Gen. David Petraeus.
Obama “inherited a disaster in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” because of “dithering” by the Bush administration for the past seven years, Riedel said, adding, Obama “faced an insurgency that never should have been allowed to grow,” one that was threatening to defeat President Karzai’s government and even NATO.
Riedel also accused the Bush administration of dropping the ball when it came to the fight against Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida.
“In eight years, all we have accomplished when it comes to al-Qaida can be summed up in one sentence: we moved the al-Qaida leadership from Kandahar to a point unknown, believed to be about 100 miles away in Pakistan.”
He told Newsmax that the Islamic Republic of Iran has allowed al-Qaida to conduct terrorist operations from its territory “on more than one occasion,” and that the U.S. should not rule out the possibility that Osama bin Laden could have been given shelter at various times by Iran.
“If Iran really wants to give us trouble in the future, all they have to do is allow al-Qaida to conduct a greater level of terrorist activity from their territory. The Iran al-Qaida relationship is a black hole” to U.S. intelligence, Riedel said.
Since the initial strategy review that he chaired in March, Riedel said the situation had gotten worse, and that the U.S. now had to “break the momentum” of the Taliban. “We are losing the war in Afghanistan,” he said.
The United States had hoped after the policy review that Afghanistan would have organized a credible election. “Instead, it was a disaster,” with President Karzai fabricating more than a million fraudulent ballots. “That’s a lot, even by the standards of Florida and Ohio,” he said.
Riedel said that the president’s surge strategy comports significant risks and has no assurance of success: “Casualties are going to go up. Domestic dissident here and in other NATO countries will increase.”
In the meantime, there was always the possibility of several “game-changer” events, such as another 9/11-scale attack against America emanating from al-Qaida in Pakistan, or another Mumbai-style attack in India.
The Indian government has exhausted its willingness to accommodate excuses from Pakistan that it was not aware of the terrorist groups that carried out the Mumbai attack and “won’t send a [diplomatic] demarche to Pakistan the next time” should such an attack recur, he said.
The president’s Afghan strategy has shifted the normal political alliances in Washington as well, Riedel said, with supporters coming from hard-line Republicans and critics coming from the president’s own party. “The ghosts of Vietnam walk the corridors of this White House every day,” he said.
Riedel believes the United States has no choice other than to actively fight global Islamic jihad militarily, and ideologically by finding a “counter-narrative” addressed at the Muslim world.
“From 1998, when al-Qaida declared war on us, until 2001, we tried a defensive strategy” against Islamic terrorism, “and we wound up with the 9/11 attacks.” If the U.S. went back to a defensive strategy, “we have to be lucky and foil every single plot they put out there. They only have to be lucky once,” he said.
Also addressing the conference was Clinton-era official Daniel Benjamin, the Obama administration’s counterterrorism czar.
Newsmax asked Benjamin how the Obama administration could wage war against global Islamic jihad if it didn’t mention the word “Islam.”
Benjamin said the administration felt it was “counterproductive” to look at global terrorism as primarily a Muslim phenomenon.
“Al-Qaida has appropriated texts of Islam, but there is nothing to be gained by describing this as an Islamic problem. That is not going to get us where we want to go,” he said.
He said the goal of administration policy was to “undermine the al-Qaida narrative” and to attack the sources of “real or perceived deprivation” by focusing on the “underlying conditions” that lead to extremism. “When children have no hope of education, and young people have no hope for a job, this pushes people to radicalization,” he said.
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