Monday, December 7, 2009

Eugene Robinson: Afghanistan Surge Reflects Flawed "Drain The Swamp" Approach

There's one point about al Qaeda in Afghanistan that the Obama administration isn't talking about: there aren't too many al Qaeda operatives there. In fact, U.S. intelligence officials state that there are only about 100 left. Senator John Kerry (D-MA) and former CIA Pakistan station chief Bob Grenier had the following exchange at a Senate hearing:

Kerry: "So in terms of 'in Afghanistan,' they have been disrupted and dismantled and defeated. They're not in Afghanistan, correct?"
Grenier: "That's true."

So if al Qaeda was defeated in Afghanistan, why are 30,000 more U.S. troops going there? The line is that we don't want them to establish another safe haven there. Commentator Eugene Robinson (above) captures the flaw in an argument that seems to assume that al Qaeda has no other place to go:

...even if the surge works, why wouldn't al-Qaeda -- or some like-minded group -- simply set up shop in Somalia? Or in Yemen, another failing state? Or in some other wretched corner of the world where central government authority is weak and resentment of the West's dominant power is high?

...The problem is that al-Qaeda's murderous philosophy, which is the real enemy, has no physical base. It can erupt anywhere -- even, perhaps, on a heavily guarded U.S. Army post in the middle of Texas.

...In the end -- even if conditions in July 2011 are such that Obama can order a real withdrawal, not a token one -- the larger threat of terrorism will remain. The "drain the swamp" approach to fighting terrorism doesn't work if the virulence can simply infect the next swamp, and the next.

Frank Rich also cites the point that al Qaeda is not necessarily tied to Afghanistan and can go to the same countries that Robinson mentions:

...the notion that we are still fighting in Afghanistan because the 9/11 attacks originated there is based on the fallacy that our terrorist enemies are so stupid they have remained frozen in place since 2001. Most Americans know that they are no more static than we are. Obama acknowledged as much in citing such other Qaeda havens as Somalia (the site of a devastating insurgent suicide bombing on Thursday) and Yemen.

It is one thing to hit al Qaeda bases, training camps and operatives wherever they are, be it Afghanistan, Somalia or Yemen. To send thousands of troops to Afghanistan, however, is to ignore al Qaeda's tiny presence there and to deny the fact that they have options elsewhere.


iyan1982 said...

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Jeff Tone said...

iyan1982: I appreciate your comment.