Afghan Quicksand Awaits Obama
The president-elect will face escalating violence, feckless allies, and time that's quickly running out.
November 10, 2008 - 9:00 am
The Iraq war is over. Barring the unforeseen, the darkest days are behind, though we are still losing soldiers to low-level fighting with enemies that are true “dead-enders.” Last month we lost seven Americans in combat in Iraq. Peace, however, is not upon us. Another thirty or so Iraqis died today in suicide attacks. Nobody suffers more at the hands of Islamic terrorists than other Muslims.
A new president will soon begin to make critical decisions about Iraq and Afghanistan, the economic crisis at home, and countless other matters. While the Iraq war began, then boiled, and finally cooled before President-elect Obama will be sworn into office on January 20, 2009, the Afghanistan-Pakistan spectacle is just getting started. He was always a fierce opponent of our involvement in Iraq. And, as with so many Democrats in the Senate, he argued frequently, during the campaign, that we should have been focused on Afghanistan all along, because it is the real incubator of the international terrorist threat. Timing being everything, our new president will get his wish. Afghanistan now moves to center stage. The conflicts in Afghanistan and between Afghanistan and Pakistan have the simmering potential to overshadow anything we’ve seen in Iraq. Here are a few things I hope he understands:
Our enemies are winning. The enemies know it. We know it. Who are they? The Taliban, with its deep local roots, is enemy number one. Al-Qaeda is hanging around to make trouble. Some Paks, who don’t want to see a thriving Pushtun state on their border, are our enemies. They fund and shelter the Taliban even though we rely on them to help us defeat it. Nothing is straightforward in this part of the world. We have other enemies in Afghanistan who hate the Taliban.
Most of our allies are not very helpful. With the exception of the British, Canadians, Dutch, and a few others such as the Aussies, we are not fighting this with an “A-team” of international allies. With a few exceptions, our allies on the ground are comprised of several dozen countries that mostly refuse to fight. The bulk of NATO amounts to little more than a “Taliban piñata.” The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is proving nearly worthless and provides no credible threat to armed opposition groups (AOGs) in Afghanistan. Most of the NATO member countries seem to break out in a cold sweat at the mere mention of “Taliban.” They piled in when the war looked easy and largely humanitarian. But now that it’s getting harder and more dangerous, they would like to pile out.