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The Zero Option

February 26th, 2014 - 12:04 am

President Obama’s announcement that he was prepared to completely leave Afghanistan by the end of the year forcibly returned public attention to what has become a forgotten conflict. What exactly happens now?

What may happen is the president may leave Afghanistan the way he found it, with no residual presence, essentially abandoning it to events. This is has been called the Zero Option.

The New York Times gives the impression that Obama is moving on without Karzai as if he had someplace to go. It conveys the idea that the Afghan president, by his stubbornness, has foolishly missed a voyage of marvels bound for enchanted climes. The NYT writes “Mr. Obama’s decision to look beyond Mr. Karzai, the official said, was driven by Mr. Karzai himself, who has told the administration that he believes his successor should sign the agreement because the future government will have to live with its consequences.”

But Anthony Cordesman, in an article written for the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Dec 2013 paints the picture of a campaign at a dead end. “The key question is whether there is a legitimate case for something approaching a zero option and a full withdrawal of U.S. forces and aid. If there is, it does not really matter whether Karzai signs the BSA or in fact if the US has a good excuse to leave. If there is not a legitimate case, one needs to be very careful about setting artificial deadlines and red lines.”

In other words, is there any material difference between a Zero Option and just pulling up stakes and leaving? Is there even any point to staying? Cordesman enumerates some of the issues on which the answer to the question depends.

There are well over a dozen critical issues and tasks the Administration has to address:

Afghanistan is at least a secondary and probably a tertiary U.S. strategic interest … The United States has far higher priorities in Asia, the Middle East, and in meeting domestic needs.

Afghanistan is no longer a key center of international terrorism. Al Qaeda central is located in Pakistan. …

We have no way to defeat the Taliban, Haqqani Network, and other extremist movements that threaten the Afghan government and only pose a very limit threat to the United States.  …

Our presence in Afghanistan has not made Pakistan a strategic partner, but a reluctant nation that permits us to use it for transit in exchange for money. …

Our successes in using drones in both Afghanistan and Pakistan may well have reached the point of diminishing returns. …

One rationale sometimes for staying is probably absurd: Are we are going to stay in Afghanistan because of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons? If there are massive shifts forwards in extremism in Pakistan, what can the U.S. do about it? Can we really ever credibly conduct some kind of Bin Laden like raid to somehow seize control of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons? …

The risks in terms of Afghan corruption and failed governance in the economic sector are far greater.  …

Finally, it is not clear how a U.S. role in Afghanistan would affect the future U.S. role in central Asia and South Asia. Key questions for the United States to address at this time are; why should we maintain more than a diplomatic presence in much of the region? Why not leave the task of dealing with unrest and extremism in central Asia to Russia and China? Why can’t the United States do the best job of winning the new Great Game by ceasing to play it?

How does a Zero Option solve any of these problems? And for that matter how does staying in the Afghanistan solve any of these problems either?

Incredibly, up to the time of the publication of Cordesman’s article the Obama administration had apparently not given much of an indication that it was even thinking about these questions.  Cordesman wrote of the lack of guidance in any of these respects.

We have no clear plans or leadership from the Obama Administration in any one of these critical areas. More than that, we have no decisions about the cost of such efforts, and estimates of what budget requests will be needed over any estimated period of years after 2014. There is some rhetoric but no realism. Worse, far too many in the Pentagon and State Department feel that the White House is little more than an endless random options generator. A constant stream of requests for more plans and data, but no clear decisions.

Now that Obama has announced he “moving on” without Karzai it may be pertinent to ask: “going where?”. One way to remember how Obama got to this crossroads is to recall his own plans, given at a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Phoenix, Arizona in August, 2009.  There Obama laid out the strategic thinking for what he called the “war of necessity”.

as we move forward, the Iraqi people must know that the United States will keep its commitments. And the American people must know that we will move forward with our strategy. We will begin removing our combat brigades from Iraq later this year. We will remove all our combat brigades by the end of next August. And we will remove all our troops from Iraq by the end of 2011. And for America, the Iraq war will end.

By moving forward in Iraq, we’re able to refocus on the war against al Qaeda and its extremist allies in Afghanistan and Pakistan. That’s why I announced a new, comprehensive strategy in March — a strategy that recognizes that al Qaeda and its allies had moved their base from the remote, tribal areas — to the remote, tribal areas of Pakistan. This strategy acknowledges that military power alone will not win this war — that we also need diplomacy and development and good governance. And our new strategy has a clear mission and defined goals: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda and its extremist allies…

The insurgency in Afghanistan didn’t just happen overnight and we won’t defeat it overnight. This will not be quick, nor easy. But we must never forget: This is not a war of choice. This is a war of necessity. Those who attacked America on 9/11 are plotting to do so again. If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which al Qaeda would plot to kill more Americans. So this is not only a war worth fighting. This is a — this is fundamental to the defense of our people.

It is shocking to learn that Afghanistan is actually a “tertiary strategic interest”, that “the United States has far higher priorities in Asia, the Middle East” — and that in any case al-Qaeda have moved to Pakistan amid nuclear weapons which cannot ultimately be reliably secured. It is disquieting to be told that the “war of necessity” can be essentially met by a Zero Option.

It would be as if you were told that a car you’d bought at such a high price can be abandoned by the roadside because you’re better off walking.

If it was such a dead end, maybe a much lighter footprint in Afghanistan should have been more suited to the situation. But the contrast between the Afghanistan Obama described in prospect and the Afghanistan he is leaving in retrospect is like the difference between two unrelated planets.  There is no apparent similarity between the objective outlined out in Phoenix in 2009 and the situation he intends to leave now. The former Afghanistan was depicted as a place of vital importance and dazzling strategic prospects. The latter Afghanistan is no better than a beater best left behind on the road for whoever wants to come along and tow it away, or as is more likely, set it afire. Maybe it was always a beater in the first place sold to the electorate as a limousine by a poor strategist but a world class used car salesman.

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Top Rated Comments   
America is like a siamese twin with one half the sane decent country of George Bush and the other his malevolent twin Skippy Obama. George can analyze a problem and start building something but Skippy is sure to smash it. As long as people can vote themselves income from the public trough this will happen. My solution remains a constitutional amendment that all income be reported and that the percentage of said income coming from a public treasury, either at the state or federal level be noted. Anyone who derives over half of their income from public funds, either state or federal, should not be allowed to vote at the level that pays them. The only exceptions being enlisted members of the Armed Forces and reserve officers called to extended active duty.

If Google Translate were better it could turn Obama's speech into English. The result would probably trigger the PJM banned words PC filter but I will approximate. "Suckers."

The fact that Obama is proven to be just as bad as many of us predicted does not mean that Bush was wrong for trying or is to blame for the Democrats getting in power and destroying everything. My ire is given to those who persist in attacking Republicans and those who still insist that it made no difference who got elected in 2008 or 2012. The so called "contingent voters" were and remain Democratic/Communist/Islamist shills. Full stop. The stakes were high and anyone who by commission or omission, that is by not voting, enabled Obama to take or keep power is to blame. Blood and treasure were at stake. The costs both in the waste of our people and wealth and will, and even more in opportunity costs are vast. If Bush had been backed and McCain had got in then Putin would have been stopped and the Iranians would have been checked and a solid alliance with India against the new Axis would have been forged.

As it is we are now like The Bourbon at Agincourt.
"Shame, and eternal shame, nothing but shame!"
7 weeks ago
7 weeks ago Link To Comment
What is going on here? Easy enough to see. It isn't ideology. It's political financial survival for the Democrats

The bribery continues.

For five years now this administration and its fellow travelers in congress and at the state an local level have been engaged in paying off their most loyal constituency - the publicly funded - to stay on the Democrat reservation and be loyal and guaranteed voters. That's what the so-called "stimulus" and its follow-up iterations all were - we make sure your magic paychecks don't go away and you get your COLA increases, and you vote for us and keep us where we can protect your income stream from those scary conservatives and fiscally responsible types.

It didn't work well enough. Despite a valiant try, it didn't keep enough of a majority in the House to prevent the Republicans from taking over in 2010. Despite the fecklessness of the House, the gravy train was nonetheless stunted, if not shut down. Enter 2012, where Obama again was the beneficiary of fear that without a strong Democrat presence the publicly funded gravy train might just diminish or stop. Where, then to get the money to pay the bribe for the votes given in 2012?

Listen to a lot of the MSNBC/NPR crowd and they will regale you with one of their most cherished myths - that 50% of federal spending is for the military. This is lie that has been repeated so often that, a la Goebbels, it has currency in those quarters.

We are now seeing that play out. The new bribe source is money taken by ransacking the military, so that nobody else who is publicly funded need have that awful demon of anxiety about their magic income give them a visit. The face that is being put on this that is supposed to give it legitimacy is the lie that the military is "x" large, very much larger than it needs to be, so we can do without it at its current size - when in fact the number is less than half of that.

Votes given, payment made, transaction complete.

Our military is being cannibalized to pay off the paper shufflers, the "educators", lawyers, militarized cops, and regulators and bureaucrats so that they pull the D lever for the foreseeable future.
7 weeks ago
7 weeks ago Link To Comment
It is shocking to learn that Afghanistan is actually a “tertiary strategic interest”

I'll bet it's a whole lot more shocking to every American family who lost a brother, son, or father in Afghanistan since 2009.

Obama, in his letter to the gold star families, as he heads out for yet another 18 holes of golf on one of the finest courses in the world: "Ooops, we really didn't mean it; sorry for your trouble! But rest assured, your loved one's eternal contribution to winning our endless rainbow 2012 "FORWARD" campaign will never be forgotten!"
7 weeks ago
7 weeks ago Link To Comment
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All Comments   (71)
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Seems to me that a much maligned former Secretary of Defense advocated a strategy of a small footprint of special forces and mountain troops backed by the muscle of the USAF long ranged bombers to provide “aid and comfort” to the friendly local forces in Afghanistan. The goal was simply deny the Taliban as much territory as possible and kept a US friendly government in Kabul. No nation building nonsense, only a free fire zone to keep the Taliban in check. Guess good ‘ol Rummy was right all along. Shame no one wanted to listen to him.
7 weeks ago
7 weeks ago Link To Comment
As soon as the Regular Army got involved, the Special Forces predicted exactly what would happen, and it did:

They turned the people against them with their doorbusting big footprint ways.

Cheney Rummy team would have done it right.

While I was in Korea, a young child was run over by our speeding 5 ton Wrecker.
Less than ideal PR.
7 weeks ago
7 weeks ago Link To Comment
You've got to look ahead not behind.

Yes, tragically we lost thousands of our best young men and women in Afghanistan on a political whim of President Zero.

However, strategically it may be better that we are out of there. We will never nation build the stan into a place that is worth a crap. If we are out of there, we would be freed up to instigate a massive bombing campaign if need be without worrying about the consequences to our personnel on the ground.

Both Afghanistan and Pakistan have betrayed our best intentions. Both were complicit in 911. Both have supported (in their own way) terrorism. Both aren't worth one more American life.

Both are cruising for a bruising. And with us outta there we will be free to give it to them.
7 weeks ago
7 weeks ago Link To Comment
7 weeks ago
7 weeks ago Link To Comment
In ancient Rome, the emperors secured their throne by large donatives to the legions.

Looks like Obama is doing just the opposite by cutting their ranks, cancelling new weapons, and slashing their benefits.

I can't think of a casear who was able to pull Obama's stategy off and keep their head.
7 weeks ago
7 weeks ago Link To Comment
He does have the Democrat Auxiliaries MSM and Hollywood, however, not to mention our "Education System."
...oh, and of course Holder - ready, willing, and eager to do whatever must be done.
7 weeks ago
7 weeks ago Link To Comment
Auris de ore Dei

Subotai Bahadur
7 weeks ago
7 weeks ago Link To Comment
With apologies (to my regret I never studied Latin), but when I plugged this into several translators it came out "backwards" from what I believe was your intent, namely "your mouth to God's" ear. Of course those same translator websites gave me a half dozen different, and somewhat "odd" results in some cases as well. The closest and most concise I could come to what I believe you meant was Dei aurem tuam or the somewhat more wordy vestri os ut Dei auris.

If I've missed your point, again, my apologies. As I mentioned, my knowledge of Latin is sorely lacking.

I really need the help of Buddy Larsen and his Fellows of the Luckenbach Latin Literary Society, but sadly, I haven't spotted him in this discussion. With their unique Texian historical perspective they've made some amazing scholastic contributions to our understanding of Cicero, Livy and Tacitus. Of course you have to be fluent in Texian to get the true flavor of their analyses. My favorite is their take on Petronius' Satyricon, but most of that is not suitable for the dignity of Wretchard's forum. ;-)
6 weeks ago
6 weeks ago Link To Comment
That one, I just hurriedly plugged into a translator. Thanks for the correction. I admit that one of the strangest things I have ever heard was a Texan trying to speak Mandarin early in the morning. Satyricon in Texan Latin, or in Texas translation has got to be better. In fact, I'd appreciate their perspective, since we are going through it now. Trimalchio's party would fit right into the Beltway today, but sadly he would not. He may have been rude, uncouth, and even by Roman standards uncultured; but his primary sin would have been that he worked for his wealth and neither inherited nor extorted it. Not tolerable in Capitol City.

Subotai Bahadur
6 weeks ago
6 weeks ago Link To Comment
In California, there's a "fraternal order" called "E Clampus Vitus"

Apparently, there is no polite Latin translation of that. I always wanted to join.
6 weeks ago
6 weeks ago Link To Comment
BftP uses the Siamese twin metaphor. I have a slightly different take. Yes we are Siamese twins, but it is not a matter of the actions at this time. I reference the original "Siamese twins", Chang and Eng Bunker. Up until 1874, they lived a fairly normal and prosperous life [although the Bunkers were Confederates and lost much property due to the war]. Both married and between them had and raised 21 children.

In January 1874, Chang contracted pneumonia, and one night died in his sleep. Despite an emergency surgical attempt to separate the twins, Eng died within 24 hours.

Our two separate and hostile nations within one set of borders are cojoined, less than voluntarily on both sides. Those who I have referred to as TWANLOC are showing symptoms of progressing Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. The disease is incurable and untreatable. Absent a separation, we face the same fate as Eng. But the separation attempt carries an extreme risk of death.

I will note in passing that what we leave behind even if we pass from the scene will have aspects of both. One grandson of the pair was Major General Caleb Haynes, who arguably built and organized our WW-II Army Air Forces. But a great-grand-daughter is Alex Sink, Democrat candidate in the special election for US Representative in the Florida 13th Congressional District on March 11th of this year. She is recently infamous for saying at a campaign appearance that we have to pass immigration reform, "because otherwise where will we get our maids and gardeners?". A true American Leftist Elitist.

The downgrade of Afghanistan to a secondary or tertiary national security interest masks something more critical. If the recently announced cuts to the military to pre-WW-II strength levels take place [and they will even if Congress objects]; we will be unable to protect our primary national security interests. Right now, Europe is on it own [not that I object to that], because we could not dream of conducting a REFORGER operation or operating there if we somehow did, because the command, control, and logistics infrastructure is gone. Our allies in Asia now know beyond any doubt that they are on their own. Our foreign trade is at the sufferance of other nations, as is much of our domestic production. We, like Britain, depend on imports for survival.

And the largest deployed US military force is surrounded and dependent on our enemies for supply. Our only option IS the zero option. If we bring them home, either by Dunkirk or planned movement, we will have future options that we don't have if they remain or are destroyed in place. Those options are both foreign and domestic.

Nobody tell Obama or Valerie Jarrett.

Subotai Bahadur
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7 weeks ago
7 weeks ago Link To Comment
The Japanese adopted the Zero option and the US adopted the F6F option and we all know how that turned out. Superior fire power, superior equipment, superior training, superior leadership and superior technology always wins. Obama has adopted the Zero option for the Armed Forces of the United States at large, not just for Afghanistan. Obama is deliberately weakening the United States because every single man and woman in his administration believes a strong United States is a danger to the peace of the world.

Do the helpless and weak need the neighborhood cop
Should the bad guys be given their way
Are we safer without someone strong to yell Stop
Should we hang it up, call it a day
Well that’s what we’re doing, the lefties have won
And have taken the cops off the beat
And marched us all off toward that dim setting sun
And smiled as they welcomed defeat

7 weeks ago
7 weeks ago Link To Comment
Our military is retreating from the world stage and nature does not tolerate a vacuum. As our military retreats, so too does our geopolitical influence. We are falling back to 'fortress America' and our former allies are on their own. They will make such accommodation to the new reality, as they must.

As we saw in WWII, isolationism does not work in the modern world as oceanic distances no longer present the barrier that they once did. Projection of American power will now be transitory, as only boots on the ground confer any degree of permanency. And America is no longer willing to put boots on the ground.

We are being reduced to reliance upon our aging nuclear umbrella to deter direct aggression. That will however, prove insufficient as a deterrent against terrorist attack and as Iran will soon have the bomb, the resulting nuclear proliferation into unstable third world regimes and other jihadist states will in turn result in terrorist groups getting their hands on nukes. And they will use them. We are pathetically vulnerable to nuclear terrorist attack through commercial container shipping and that has not escaped our enemies notice.

When a nuclear terrorist attack occurs, the public's psychological reaction of fear and paranoia will result in the demand for the restoration of law and order, which will only be achievable through the declaration of nationwide martial law. That reaction will make 9/11's pale in comparison.

Given the then undeniable threat, martial law will be near permanent, for the 'duration of the national emergency'. Under martial law, legal precedent for the suspension of Constitutional guarantees has been established. No doubt Obama or a President Hillary Clinton will not fail to appreciate the 'opportunity' martial law provides to circumvent the Constitution.

Whether this is intentional, simply the result of liberal stupidity or a combination of the two is ultimately less important than its consequential predictability.

The nation is headed toward the cliff's edge and the hard left is increasingly prepared to take advantage of that predictable crisis.

China will not intentionally attack us, nor will Russia. The real threat is internal.
7 weeks ago
7 weeks ago Link To Comment
Minor quibble, but words are important, the military is NOT retreating, it is being withdrawn. A difference with a big distinction.
7 weeks ago
7 weeks ago Link To Comment
A valid point, though I might argue that the top military leadership seems to be quite in alignment with Obama. I realize that he's the CIC and that they are there to support him but I sense there's little daylight between him and their personal views. Hopefully I'm mistaken.
7 weeks ago
7 weeks ago Link To Comment
Obama has America up on cinder blocks in the back yard, with the wheels off and the radio stolen.
7 weeks ago
7 weeks ago Link To Comment
I am sure wishing we delve into some Russkie/Ukraine or China/Japan, they surely be spitt'n pots.
7 weeks ago
7 weeks ago Link To Comment
I, for one, am happy to read this. The US has been fighting the wrong war. Ever since we found bin Laden in a closed military area of Pakistan, it should have been clear that the real enemy is Pakistan. Sadly, President Hussein will not bomb a Muslim country so we will not bomb Pakistan on our way home.
7 weeks ago
7 weeks ago Link To Comment
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