Yet Mr. Obama's account of his strategic vision remains eccentric. He insists that Afghanistan is "the central front" for the United States, along with the border areas of Pakistan. But there are no known al-Qaeda bases in Afghanistan, and any additional U.S. forces sent there would not be able to operate in the Pakistani territories where Osama bin Laden is headquartered. While the United States has an interest in preventing the resurgence of the Afghan Taliban, the country's strategic importance pales beside that of Iraq, which lies at the geopolitical center of the Middle East and contains some of the world's largest oil reserves. If Mr. Obama's antiwar stance has blinded him to those realities, that could prove far more debilitating to him as president than any particular timetable.
Ponder this for a moment. Despite the fact that the plot that killed over three thousand Americans on 9/11 originated in Afghanistan, despite the fact that the most wanted terrorist in the world remains free in Pakistan, despite the fact that the resurgent Taliban would turn Afghanistan once again into a haven for men such as bin Laden, despite the fact that these men and their allies in Al Qaeda now roam largely free in and out of Afghanistan via Pakistan, Afghanistan's "strategic importance pales in comparison to that of Iraq" which is important because it happens to be in the middle of the Middle East and has a bunch of oil in it. Never mind the fact that we went to war supposedly for neither of these reasons (the editors of the Washington Post have never had trouble retroactively justifying the war); let's focus on their claims. It is not too grossly oversimplifying matters to say that if we stay in Iraq, we will help to guarantee the supremacy of an Iranian-influenced Shiite government. And that if we leave, Iran will help to guarantee the supremacy of an Iranian-influenced Shiite government. If Iraq remains stable, it will surely be a closer ally of Iran than of us. If Iraq does not remain stable, it will continue-as it has been for the last five years-a country that threatens the stability of the Middle East to some extent, but would appear to offer no threat to us except in whatever sense we see whatever limited advantages could be gained from such instability by our enemies as a threat to us. Yes, Iraq does have a lot of oil, and the Bush administration is doing it's best to make sure that our oil companies rake in the billions from pumping it out of the ground...which they will then turn into gasoline that's sold to us at $5.00 a gallon. One might argue that we would be better served to build wind farms our solar power collectors in space, rather than continue to occupy Iraq, at least as far as our energy policy is concerned.
However, if Afghanistan is permitted to fester, it is to be expected that it will once again harbor the sorts of men who think nothing of killing a few hundred or thousand Americans at the first opportunity. And unlike Iraq, there are concrete goals for action in Afghanistan that can be met with a considerably larger commitment to stability and reconstruction. And unlike in Iraq, putting Afghanistan back together doesn't result in bolstering the power of our enemies.
By any cost-benefit measure, we should draw down forces in Iraq as rapidly as possible, and being moving a substantial number of those troops to Afghanistan in an attempt to make life on the Taliban very, very difficult. Only pundits, bloggers and newspaper editors who are blinded by their own "seriousness" when it comes to matters of foreign policy, cannot possibly see this.