Afghanistan Mission Creep Watch - The Credibility Version
Posted by Michael Cohen
A couple of weeks ago I highlighted this Cheney-esque quote from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on why the US needed to stay in Afghanistan:
I think the president believes that this is not only the right strategy but facing what he faced, to withdraw our presence or keep it on the low-level limited effectiveness that had been demonstrated would have sent a message to al-Qaeda and their allies that the United States and our allies were willing to leave the field to them.
As I said at the time, "How is this any different from the argument made during the Bush Administration that we couldn't leave Iraq because it would be trumpeted as a moral victory for Al Qaeda . . This may be the single most disappointing thing I've heard from a member of the Obama Administration to date."
Well apparently Hillary is not alone in buying into the credibility argument. Here via Mike Crowley is Bruce Riedel on why we are REALLY fighting in Afghanistan:
Bruce Riedel has forgotten more about Afghanistan/Pakistan than I know but really . . is this the argument we are now using for staying the course? By this logic, we can never leave Afghanistan until we've wiped out the Taliban and Al Qaeda - not managed or contained, mind you, but eliminated. By this logic, we have no control over when and how we leave Afghanistan because we are pretty much playing by AQ and the Taliban's rules. Even if based on a strategic weighing of America's national interests we decide to leave or pare down our military presence in Afghanistan, according to Riedel, we lose . . .because al Qaeda will spin it as a victory. Talk about giving the enemy a vote; this basically gives them a veto.
Seriously though, hasn't this credibility argument been repeatedly discredited? In Vietnam, in Iraq for example. I know that some like to argue that Bin Laden was emboldened by the US departure from Lebanon in 1983 and Somalia in 1993 because we got our nose bloodied - so by the credibility argument we should have stayed and slogged it out in both wars so as to avoid giving al Qaeda a victory.
And as for the notion that a NATO departure will hurt moderates and empower jihadists in the Muslim world, call me crazy but wouldn't a long-term US military presence in Afghanistan have a similar effect? I can't imagine that any of this is going to help US outreach to the Muslim world.
As I said earlier, it's a bit difficult for me to be so critical of Riedel, but this is not the first time in recent memory that he has sounded overly alarmist about the jihadist threat. Back in June, he wrote a piece for the National Interest that made this rather astounding claim:
Riedel then proceeds to lay out an absolute horror story of what would happen from this neither imminent nor inevitable occurrence, which leads to this conclusion:
The essay goes on to lay out a possible war with India, conflict with Israel, a terrorist safe haven for jihadists and even a possible US-Pakistani nuclear war. (No, I'm not making this up). As Robin Walker correctly noted at the time, little of what Riedel "presumes" is even "remotely likely."
Of course, as we know the Pakistani military was anything but reluctant when they finally engaged in the Swat Valley and the level of US-Pakistani intelligence sharing and targeting of Taliban leaders has improved. But all that, notwithstanding, Bruce Riedel is making some pretty outlandish presumptions and talking up doomsday scenarios that seem rather fantastical.
Crowley suggests that Riedel's views, particularly about the dangers of an al Qaeda and Taliban "victory" in Afghanistan, "carry more weight at the White House than people realize."
Honestly, I sure hope not.