My wife and I just got back from Kansas City, where we returned to learn about Dick Cheney’s speech last night to the Center For Security Policy. Cheney revealed that the Bush administration had given the incoming Obama team a carefully developed strategy for the war in Afghanistan, and that it was a false allegation that the new administration had to start from scratch in developing a policy. “They asked us not to announce our findings publicly,” Cheney said, “and we agreed, giving them the benefit of our work and the benefit of the doubt.”
Now, of course, Rahm Emanuel is seeking to blame the supposed need for a careful review on the failures of the previous administration, and to find some way to account for Obama’s indecisiveness on the issue of what to do in Afghanistan. Cheney, as expected, argues that General McChrystal’s recommendations are solid and well thought out, and that Obama should implement them immediately. “Now,” he added, “they seem to be pulling back and blaming others for their failure to implement the strategy they embraced. It’s time for President Obama to do what it takes to win a war he has repeatedly and rightly called a war of necessity.”
The problem is that because Cheney is making that argument, liberals and Democrats will run to say that this is the position of the extreme right-wing, and hence should be abandoned. After all, Obama ran as the anti-Bush, and any policy put forth by the former vice-president is for the liberal-left going to be reason enough to reject it.
That is why the new issue of The New Republic that was waiting for me in the mail is so important. It contains in its pages two major articles on the U.S. and Afghanistan. The first is by Peter Bergen, a senior fellow at The New America Foundation, and author of a highly regarded book on Osama Bin Laden. Bergen argues that the argument we are hearing today from so many, that al-Qadea is the real enemy and is in Pakistan and that hence we can ignore and forget about the Taliban and Afghanistan, is completely false.
His point is that the evidence clearly shows that they are not distinct groups, and in fact have essentially merged into one new jihadist body. The heart of his argument is this:
These arguments point toward one conclusion: The effort to secure Afghanistan is not a matter of vital U.S. interest. But those who make this case could not be more mistaken. Afghanistan and the areas of Pakistan that border it have always been the epicenter of the war on jihadist terrorism–and, at least for the foreseeable future, they will continue to be. Though it may be tempting to think otherwise, we cannot defeat Al Qaeda without securing Afghanistan.
If returned to power in Afghanistan, Bergen shows, the Taliban would not become responsible and moderate, as “realists” like Stephen Walt and others claim. They will not become, he quips, “an ultra-rational clique of Henry Kissingers.” And if we fail to defend Afghanistan, al-Qaeda will gain new momentum and strength. To gain their ends, they want and need a state; and if we let them have control over Afghanistan, we will most assuredly up the ante for a major new attack on our homeland.