Belmont Club

Exit, stage left; exeunt stage right

The Nobel Committee thinks that President Obama is advancing the cause of peace. Today it announced that he had been awarded the Peace Prize. The NYT reports: “In a stunning surprise, the Nobel Committee announced Friday that it had awarded its annual peace prize to President Obama “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples” less than nine months after he took office. “He has created a new international climate,” the committee said in its announcement. You can say that again.

The New York Times describes the gargantuan withdrawal from Iraq but the Telegraph reports that the Cavalry won’t be riding to the rescue in Afghanistan. The NYT writes about a pullout so vast it staggers in the imagination.

JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq — There is no more visible sign that America is putting the Iraq war behind it than the colossal operation to get its stuff out: 20,000 soldiers, nearly a sixth of the force here, assigned to a logistical effort aimed at dismantling some 300 bases and shipping out 1.5 million pieces of equipment, from tanks to coffee makers. …

By itself, such a withdrawal would be daunting, but it is further complicated by attacks from an insurgency that remains active; the sensitivities of the Iraqi government about a visible American presence; disagreements with the Iraqis about what will be left for them; and consideration for what equipment is urgently needed in Afghanistan.

The drawdown in Iraq won’t mean a transfer in numbers to Afghanistan. The Daily Telegraph, citing sources which spoke to the AP, says that President Obama is “is prepared to accept a role for the Taliban in Afghanistan’s political future in a major shift of policy towards the Islamic radicals who are attacking US and British troops, it has been reported. ” It says President Obama will only give the Afghan campaign enough resources to keep al-Qaeda at arms length.

As he assesses a request from his top commander in Afghanistan to dispatch another 40,000 troops to fight the Taliban, he is also “inclined” to send only as many as needed to keep al-Qaeda at bay.

The assessment was given to the Associated Press by a senior official involved in Mr Obama’s discussions with his top national security and military advisors about Afghanistan strategy….

But it seems increasingly unlikely that he will grant the request from Gen Stanley McChrystal, the commander he appointed only this summer, for an extra 40,000 US troops to join the 68,000 who will already be in Afghanistan by the end of the year.

If the US decides to change course in Afghanistan, there’s little doubt the Allies will follow suit.  Reuters writes that “a . senior U.S. defence official acknowledged the U.S. debate had left European governments in a wait-and-see position as they decide whether to vote for additional resources for Afghanistan.” But that same Reuters reports described the no-reinforcement policy as one of McChrystal’s ideas.

General Stanley McChrystal also gave President Barack Obama an option of sending more than 40,000 troops, the sources said, which could be politically risky given deep doubts among Obama’s fellow Democrats about the eight-year-old war.

One of the sources, both of whom spoke on condition that they not be identified because of the sensitivity of talking about recommendations to the president, said McChrystal also gave a third high-risk option of sending no more troops.

With the lid down on McChrystal’s public statements it will be a while before his views on the subject are known. More details are probably going to be forthcoming in the next few days, but if the Telegraph’s sources are right, then the President’s “war of necessity” has been redefined downward. Just how far down is described by the Washington Post, which reports that the President has concluded the Taliban cannot be beaten and hopes to convince them to become a lesser threat like the Hezbollah. The WaPo writes:

As it reviews its Afghanistan policy for the second time this year, the Obama administration has concluded that the Taliban cannot be eliminated as a political or military movement, regardless of how many combat forces are sent into battle. … The goal, senior administration officials said Thursday, is to weaken the Taliban to the degree that it cannot challenge the Afghan government or reestablish the haven it provided for al-Qaeda before the 2001 U.S. invasion. Those objectives appear largely consistent with McChrystal’s strategy, which he says “cannot be focused on seizing terrain or destroying insurgent forces” but should center on persuading the population to support the government. …

Some inside the White House have cited Hezbollah, the armed Lebanese political movement, as an example of what the Taliban could become. Hezbollah is considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. government, but the group has political support within Lebanon and participates, sometimes through intimidation, in the political process. …

Obama identified al-Qaeda as the chief target of his Afghanistan policy in March, when he announced that he would dispatch an additional 21,000 U.S. troops to the region, and his advisers have emphasized during the policy review that the administration views al-Qaeda and the Taliban as philosophically distinct organizations. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Thursday that “there is clearly a difference between” the Taliban and “an entity that, through a global, transnational jihadist network, would seek to strike the U.S. homeland.”

It may in the long run be a distinction without a difference. First of all, the distinction depends on an assessment of Hezbollah’s intentions, not its capabilities. And Hezbollah’s intentions can change whenever it decides to. Hezbollah’s capabilities are potentially far greater than al-Qaeda’s. And it is not simply an “armed Lebanese political movement”. It’s an Iranian and Syrian proxy. Nor is it completely confined to Lebanon.  MSNBC and other study groups report that Hezbollah is trying to gain a foothold in the Western Hemisphere. Just a few days ago the Wall Street Journal described the ties between an Honduran radical closely identified with former President Zelaya and the Hezbollah:

Meet one of Honduras’s most vocal advocates for the return of deposed president Manuel Zelaya to office. He’s not your average radio jock. He started in Honduran politics as a radical activist and was one of the founders of the hard-left People’s Revolutionary Union, which had links to Honduran terrorists in 1980s. A few years ago he was convicted and served time in prison for raping his own daughter.

Today Mr. Romero Ellner is pure zelayista, hungry for power and not ashamed to say so. This explains why he has joined Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez and Mr. Zelaya in targeting Jews. Mr. Chávez has allied himself with Iran to further his ability to rule unchecked in the hemisphere. He hosts Hezbollah terrorists and seeks Iranian help to become a nuclear power. He and his acolytes cement their ties to Iranian dictator Mahmoud Ahmadinejad by echoing his anti-Semitic rants.

Letting the Taliban gain capability on the basis of a promise not to attack the United States is like giving your enemy back his gun in exchange for an undertaking not to shoot you. It’s great if it works, but why would anyone think so? Well maybe someone does. More importantly, the remark attributed to the White House raises the question of how the President regards Iranian support for attacks on Iraq, Hezbollah’s attacks on Israel which actually resulted in a recent war, and whether Iranian proxies will in the future be off-limits once Teheran has acquired nuclear weapons. For a variety of reasons, resigning one’s self to watching the Taliban grow in strength and wistfully longing for them to be like the Hezbollah may be a bad metaphor. It certainly may be bad policy.

On that dixit we exeunted.
“If you do not know where you are going, any road will take you there.”
Big Sur and the oranges of Hieronymus Bosch — Henry Miller

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