“I don't have troops I can reach for . . . to send into
Afghanistan until I have a reduced requirement in Iraq,” said Admiral Mike
Mullen on July 2. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff explained,
“Afghanistan has been and remains an economy-of-force campaign, which by
definition means we need more forces there.” Adm. Mullen’s statement breathed
new life into an old claim by leftist Democrats who still wanted to sound
tough, that the United States was fighting the wrong war in the wrong place by
concentrating forces in Iraq rather than in Afghanistan.
Sen. Barack Obama says as president he would immediately withdraw
thousands of U.S. ground troops from Iraq and send them to Afghanistan to help
defeat the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
“It's time to refocus our attention on the war we have to win
in Afghanistan,” Obama said in a recent speech. “It is time to go after the al-Qaeda
leadership where it actually exists.”
The Democratic contender, whose opposition to the Iraq war was
the core of his primary campaign, has embraced the old saw that Iraq diverted
scarce military resources from taking on the “real” terrorists in Afghanistan.
Because al-Qaeda operatives trained for the September 11, 2001, attacks in
Afghanistan, even otherwise antiwar liberals say they want to fight there.
Obama’s camp also seems to believe that the United States has relied too
heavily on forces from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, that is, from
America’s European allies. “Afghanistan should have been our fight,” said
retired Air Force General Tony McPeak, national co-chairman of Obama's
McPeak’s notion that America should go it alone in Afghanistan
runs counter to the left-wing criticism of America for going it alone in Iraq.
The charge since 2003 has been that it was a mistake for the Bush administration
to act “unilaterally” in Iraq without the support of major allies. During the
2004 presidential campaign, Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry argued
that other nations shared the U.S. goal of stability in Iraq. If elected
president, Kerry said he would use his powers of persuasion to convince them
that they share in the war effort. “Our soldiers are bearing the brunt of this
operation,” Kerry said. “Our military is to some degree overextended. American
soldiers are bearing the huge majority, the lion's share of this.”
The United States did have a “coalition of the willing” that
sent troops to serve alongside American soldiers and Marines in Iraq, most
notably British, Poles, Australians, South Koreans, Italians, Rumanians, and
Ukrainians. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld made his famous statement
about the difference between “Old” and “New” Europe, which generally coincided
with socialist Western Europe and post-communist Eastern Europe. The
governments of the latter were more supportive of a forward American policy,
having had bitter experiences with brutal dictators. Most of the non-U.S.
troops have been withdrawn since the initial invasion, but over the course of the
Iraq War, some 43 countries committed troops for some period as part of the
The two European countries that did the most to block UN
Security Council support for the Iraq invasion were France and Germany.
Liberals and those further left have repeatedly cited the statements of then-German
Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and French President Jacques Chirac as bringing
into question the legitimacy of American action. Indeed, the operative meaning
of “unilateral” was not that Washington was truly alone, but that it had not
won the support of key international institutions like the UN.
In Afghanistan, however, both Germany and France have committed
troops, and the campaign is officially a NATO operation. The U.S. invoked the
mutual defense treaty immediately after the 9/11 attacks. Only about half the
forces on the ground in Afghanistan are American; whereas even at the height of
foreign participation in Iraq, American troops accounted for three-quarters of
Obama opposed the “surge” of American reinforcements into Iraq,
but now wants a “surge” in Afghanistan. He may be right in the second case, for
exactly the reasons he was wrong in the first case. The surge has worked in
Iraq. As reported
in London’s Sunday Times on July 6, “American and Iraqi forces are
driving Al-Qaeda in Iraq out of its last redoubt in the north of the country in
the culmination of one of the most spectacular victories of the war on terror.
After being forced from its strongholds in the west and centre of Iraq in the
past two years, Al-Qaeda’s dwindling band of fighters has made a defiant ‘last
stand’ in the northern city of Mosul.” Radical Shi’ite militias are also being
The notion that al-Qaeda in Iraq is somehow a different or less
dangerous al-Qaeda than the one headed up by Osama bin Laden is untenable. As bin
Laden himself stated in an audio message posted on jihadist websites December 28, 2004, “The most important and
serious issue today for the whole world is this Third World War, which the
Crusader-Zionist coalition began against the Islamic nation. It is raging in
the land of the two rivers [Iraq]. The world's millstone and pillar is in
Baghdad, the capital of the caliphate.”
Iraq has always been the more important theater in the two-front
war that America has been waging. In population, oil reserves and geographic
location, Iraq is of much greater strategic value than Afghanistan. When forces
are limited, priorities have to be assigned, and Iraq has deserved the higher
priority. Terrorism is the weapon of the weak. Militants only gain the power to
upset regional balances or support large scale aggression when they can seize
control of governments and mobilize national resources. Iraq is a much larger
prize to Jihadists than is Afghanistan. It is also the key to containing Iran –
a state radical Islamists did capture.
In World War II, the decision was made to make the defeat of Nazi
Germany the top priority even though it had been Imperial Japan that had
attacked Pearl Harbor. The superior military and economic strength of Germany
made it the more dangerous enemy, so American and allied forces fighting in
Europe had first call on manpower, equipment and supplies. Once fully
mobilized, the U.S. “Arsenal of Democracy” poured forth the means to take the
offensive in the Pacific as well, and Japan was defeated only a few months
There is hypocrisy in the Democrat’s complaint that U.S. forces
are stretched thin and cannot fight with overwhelming power in both theaters.
It was Democratic president Bill Clinton who ordered drastic cuts in American
ground troop strength, leaving the Bush administration without the combat power
needed to sustain long campaigns on two fronts. In 1990, when the first Gulf
war broke out, the Army had 18 divisions. President George H. W. Bush reduced
the Army to 14 divisions in post-Cold War euphoria. Then Defense Secretary Dick
Cheney called the 14 divisions the “irreducible minimum” needed to protect
American interests. President Clinton then cut the Army further to 10
divisions. The last time the Army had only 10 divisions was just before the
Korean War, a conflict for which the country was unprepared and in which the
military suffered heavy casualties during the first year of fighting.
It was under President Clinton that the “swing strategy” was
first discussed. In this strategy, the U.S. would hold on one front while
forces are concentrated to win on the other, primary front. Then forces “swing”
from the victorious campaign to reinforce the secondary front and push on to
victory there. Though the Clinton Pentagon ceased talking about this strategy
out of embarrassment, force level cuts made it the only practical response when
faced with multiple challenges. It was pronounced as official doctrine in the
Quadrennial Defense Review released only a few weeks after 9/11 (but written
As the situation in Iraq continues to improve, more American
forces can be shifted to Afghanistan. The situation there is not as grave as
Democrats and the media portray. The Taliban has not been destroyed, because it
can retreat to sanctuaries in Pakistan to recover. As long as those sanctuaries
exist, the Taliban insurgents can strike into Afghanistan. But they are too
weak to take and hold any territory of value. The Taliban cannot stand against
Allied counter-attacks. Much of the violence that gains headlines are terrorist
attacks, like the suicide car bomb that killed more than 40 people near the
Indian embassy in Kabul on July 7. Shifting to terrorism from attacks to seize
territory is a sign that the Taliban effort is actually moving backwards.
Terrorism requires less strength than ground offensives, but, by the same
token, cannot threaten conquest. The Taliban cannot win control of Afghanistan
in the face of a significant U.S.-NATO presence.
Some 40 countries have troops in Afghanistan, but the front
line along the Pakistani border is manned mainly by American, British,
Canadian, Australian, and Dutch troops, who make up three-quarters of all
forces serving in the country. The French continent of 1,700 soldiers remain
around Kabul, while the 3,400 Germans are in the north, far from the fighting.
The Italians hold the strategic area around Herat which borders Iran. The U.S. is sending another 3,200 Marines to
reinforce the summer campaign because the Europeans claim they cannot find
additional troops. This is despite the fact that the 27 countries of the
European Union have 500 million people and an aggregate economy larger than the
United States. So, while NATO forces can play a useful role as auxiliaries to
American efforts, continental Europe cannot be depended upon to act like a true
major power for the foreseeable future.
The Afghan War will be a long one if the Taliban continue to
find sanctuary in Pakistan. But the war can be kept at a low level as long as
the American will to resist remains strong, and some valiant allies can be
rallied to the cause.
But this new turn of events is because we are winning the War
in Iraq, against the hopes of the Left.