Friday, November 07, 2008

Obama fails the strategy test

There's a decent piece by Con Coughlin on the Telegraph's comment page today in which we are reminded that President Elect Obama's foreign policy is still nothing more than a pretty vague wish list.

It is one thing to speak eloquently to a crowd of semi-delirious supporters about the sacrifices being made on an almost daily basis by those serving on the front line of the war on terror; another matter to take the tough decisions that will ensure that those sacrifices are not in vain.

Quite right. And as Coughlin correctly pointed out, Bush may not have taken popular decisions, but they were decisions that needed to be taken and have ensured that America has not suffered s similar attack to 9/11. Obama will need to learn very quickly that rhetoric is not enough.

Coughlin points out the chilling prospect of a nuclear weapon capable Iran by the end of next year - which is a real concern - but the most worrying thing for me was something which I think most people will have missed.

An opponent of the Iraq war from the outset, Mr Obama has indicated he would like to redeploy many of the 160,000 US troops based in Iraq to Afghanistan, which he describes as the "central front" in the war on terrorism. (My italics).

You see, if Obama really believes that Afghanistan is the "central front" in the war on terror then we have the most strategically inept President in waiting that we have had since Carter. Afghanistan isn't now, never was and never will be the "central front" in this very long war. It is and always has been a sideshow.

The war on terror - or whatever you want to call it - is a global thing. On one side we have the free world. On the other the Islamists who want to establish Islam as the dominant ideology over the entire globe. The sides are clearly defined - less clearly defined are the boundaries. Islamists exist and operate in virtually every nation. We know where they are - we just don't know who they are.

Rather than being obvious national confrontations as we get in most wars, we are faced with an amorphous blob of enemies who consist of various nations (Iran the most obvious), various covert armies (such as Hammas and Hezbollah) which are well armed and well trained and a multitude of individuals all over the world who are loosely interconnected.

When the Taliban were in place in Afghanistan there is no doubt that these factions used that nation as a place to train - but it was by no means the only place. Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria and the Palestinian lands are just as useful. Since kicking the Taliban out of government we have deprived terrorists of one safe haven - but that is as far as it goes. And as they can infiltrate and hideout quite easily in the nations they are trying to bring down - including our own, it's not really a big deal for them.

The majority of the fighting in Afghanistan is between western forces along with the ANA against opposing Afghan tribes backed by the Taliban. Yes, there are foreign Islamists tagging along, but they are tolerated rather than welcomed. The Afghans are an incredibly proud and independent people - they don't take easily to foreign fighters joining in whichever side they are on. So they don't like us and they don't like swarms of Pakistani, Arab or Iranian Islamists either.

That was always the problem with Afghanistan. It was too remote from the heartland of Islamism and it failed to attract Islamists into the battle - which is one of the reasons why the Iraq war was necessary. It was guaranteed to bring hordes of terrorists swarming into it to defend the cradle of Islam - Babylon - and it worked superbly.

The objective of the Afghan war was achieved a long time ago. Why we remain there is a mystery to me - it serves us no useful purpose except as an excellent proving ground for men, weapons and tactics. Useful, but not essential. Afghanistan is never going to become a stable democracy - it's a nation that has been in a state of perpetual war for hundreds of years dominated by tribalism and infighting.

Iraq, on the other hand, has been a success. Our losses in comparison to the enemy have been tiny. We have killed huge numbers of terrorists - literally tens of thousands - many of whom travelled from all over the world to die there. That was the point. The media portrayed it as a Vietnamesque quagmire - focusing on the huge loss of civilian life which was perpetrated almost entirely by the Islamists while ignoring the vast numbers of terrorists who were being killed almost daily..

All we need to do in Afghanistan is pull out with the clear message that they either behave themselves or we'll be back - next time with a short, sharp campaign instead of the protracted "nation building" exercise we are doing now. What we also do need is to ensure that we keep the Islamists occupied somewhere. They've lost in Iraq and have pretty much given up - so where next? Syria? Iran? Pakistan?

I don't know or care as long as the battleground is in their territory and not ours. Afghanistan isn't it and never will be.

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