Ambassador Ryan Crocker, the State Department’s man in Kabul, is clearly concerned about a premature drawdown of American and Western forces from Afghanistan.
“If we decide we're tired, they'll be back,” Crocker, referring to al Qaeda, told the Daily Telegraph (UK) in an interview last week. “Al Qaeda is still present in Afghanistan. If the West decides that 10 years in Afghanistan is too long then they will be back, and the next time it will not be New York or Washington, it will be another big Western city.”
Crocker continued: “We think we've won a campaign before our adversaries have even started to fight. They have patience, and they know that we are short on that.”
Now, compare Crocker’s ominous warning with President Obama’s explanation of the Defense Department’s priorities for the next decade. In a two-page letter accompanying the DOD’s “Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense,” which was released earlier this year, President Obama wrote:
Our Nation is at a moment of transition. Thanks to the extraordinary sacrifices of our men and women in uniform, we have responsibly ended the war in Iraq, put al Qaeda on the path to defeat – including delivering justice to Osama bin Laden – and made significant progress in Afghanistan, allowing us to begin the transition to Afghan responsibility…
Indeed, as we end today’s wars, we will focus on a broader range of challenges and opportunities, including the security and prosperity of the Asia Pacific.
The authors of the Defense Department’s strategy document continue this line of thought, saying that “while the U.S. military will continue to contribute to security globally, we will of necessity rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific region.” (Emphasis in original.)
It is plain to see from the administration’s “strategic guidance” document and its actions that America has entered a period of strategic retreat. President Obama talks of “responsibly” ending the war in Iraq. It is impossible to see how that can be true. Al Qaeda in Iraq remains a potent foe. In fact, Iraq exploded in violence after American combat forces left. And AQI remains such a problem that the Obama administration argues it cannot arm the Syrian opposition because it fears AQI will benefit. That is, the administration is worried that AQI is expanding. The Iraq War came to an end for America, not for America’s and Iraq’s enemies.
Crocker, who was previously the American ambassador in Iraq, fears the same thing will happen in Afghanistan. The American political elite have largely given up on the conflict. And President Obama ordered a surge of forces only to order a hasty drawdown.
Our enemies will not stop fighting if American forces leave Afghanistan. There are good reasons to suspect the situation will get much worse.
Obama administration officials, including Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, have argued that the U.S. “is within reach of strategically defeating al Qaeda.” The killing of Osama bin Laden and other senior al Qaeda operatives has certainly hampered al Qaeda’s ability to strike the U.S. from its safe haven in Pakistan. But at a time when AQI is expanding, as is al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and other al Qaeda affiliates around the globe, this assessment makes little sense.
And Ambassador Crocker’s comments are not consistent with Panetta’s analysis. Instead of being close to strategic defeat in Afghanistan, Crocker worries that al Qaeda will make a major comeback.
Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.