Thursday, September 03, 2009

Mr. President: ‘We Don't Have a Dog in This Fight.’


Note: The title is taken from a favorite saying of former Secretary of State James A. Baker.

Dear Mr. President:

Shortly before Christmas of 1945, I was discharged from the Army at Fort George G. Meade in Maryland. I decided that I would make a point of studying the waging of war, a profession that had appropriated four years of my youth. Sixty-four years later, now with a large store of knowledge about war, military science and tactics, and military history, I find myself no closer to fathoming why this country continues to wage wars, particularly wars in which we have no national interest and, lately, no particular skill in fighting. Or why we insist on invading countries about whose cultures and religions we know little or nothing. I write as an ordinary citizen. I mention my war service only to discourage superpatriots from attacking me on that score.

Speaking before the Veterans of Foreign Wars national convention on August 17, you defended U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, saying, “This is not a war of choice. This is a war of necessity. Those who attacked America on 9/11 are plotting to do so again. If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which al-Qaida would plot to kill more Americans. So this is not only a war worth fighting. This is fundamental to the defense of our people.”

That's a favorite argument of the hawkish elements in our society who always see war as the only solution. Coming from you, Mr. President, these words were a great surprise. In effect, you acknowledged that the only justification for an increased commitment of American troops and materiel in Afghanistan is the fear that if the Taliban isn't defeated in Afghanistan, they will eventually allow al-Qaida to re-establish itself there. This would enable al-Qaida to mount another attack on the United States--a pretty tenuous reason for continuing the war in Afghanistan.

I respectfully beg to differ. History shows otherwise. Afghanistan had little or no role in 9-11. Nothing we do in Afghanistan is likely to prevent another 9-11 from occurring again. As a result of ignorance or bad advice, your words are an attempt to refute the history of the planning for 9-11, as detailed in the report of the 9-11 Commission.

First, the 9-11 attack was planned and hatched not in the mountain fastnesses of Afghanistan, but in Karachi, Pakistan, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and Hamburg, Germany. Yet no one is suggesting that we invade those other places, including Germany, to prevent it from happening again.

Second, the absolutely essential training of the 9-11 terrorists took place in flight schools in the U.S., right under our very noses. For that, we have no one to blame but ourselves.

Third, the Afghanistan camps primarily trained fighters against the Northern Alliance. Whatever incidental training they provided for 9-11 was minimal and could easily have been performed elsewhere. Pilot training was the key to the operation.

These are not suppositions. I repeat: These are all facts detailed in the 9-11 Commission’s Report. Chapter 10 of the Report describes how only three days after 9-11, the State and Defense departments, working swiftly, produced a joint memorandum outlining a course of action: The State Department proposed delivering an ultimatum to the Taliban: "Produce Bin Laden and his deputies and shut down al-Qaida camps within 24 to 48 hours, or the United States will use all necessary means to destroy the terrorist infrastructure." The State Department did not expect the Taliban to comply. Thereafter, State and Defense would plan to build an international coalition to go into Afghanistan.

Both departments proposed to consult with NATO and other allies and ask for intelligence, bases, and other support from countries, according to their capabilities and resources. Finally, the plan proposed that America use all its resources to eliminate terrorism as a threat, punish those responsible for the 9/11 attacks, hold states and other actors responsible for providing sanctuary to terrorists, work with a coalition to eliminate terrorist groups and networks, and avoid malice toward any people, religion, or culture.

The memorandum was entitled, “Gameplan for a Political-Military Strategy for Pakistan and Afghanistan,” and dated 14 Sept 2001. How different history would be if a belligerent cowboy president with token “playboy” military service and little concept of the world had not ignored this memorandum and decided that the U.S. would not only go it alone in Afghanistan, but, in response to prodding by Paul Wolfowitz, would also attack Iraq.

The United States unilaterally invaded Afghanistan in 2001 to destroy the al-Qaida safe haven there—an action that was clearly justified by the 9/11 attacks. But al-Qaida is no longer based in Afghanistan, nor has it been based there since early 2002. According to current intelligence, bin Laden, the movement’s spiritual father, is now headquartered across the border in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

The Taliban movement in Afghanistan is clearly linked with al-Qaida and sympathetic to it, but there is little evidence of al-Qaida infrastructure within Afghanistan today that could directly threaten the U.S. homeland. Besides, the risk of a successful reestablishment of al-Qaida in Afghanistan isn’t really any higher than the chances of al-Qaida growing more powerful in any number of weak states where it is active: Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, Djibouti or Eritrea on the margins of the Indian Ocean. The Philippines. Uzbekistan. Even parts of Latin America or southern Africa.

In the spring of 2003 we invaded Iraq with about 130,000 troops. Here it is, more than six years later, and we still have about 130,000 troops in Iraq. We have about 62,000 troops in Afghanistan. We expect to have 68,000 troops there by the end of the year. How many troops would you guess, Mr. President, will we have in Afghanistan another six years from now?

We have lost 772 service members in Afghanistan thus far in eight years, and the monthly casualty numbers are rising. Add that number to the more than 4,200 dead in Iraq and 30,000 wounded. I implore you, Mr. President, do not waste any more of the flower of American youth in another war in which we have no national interest. There is much to be done at home if we are to make the American dream a reality again.

Robert Scott
Editor of Postscripts

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