Why Obama Can't Win in Afghanistan

The Obama administration has embarked on an Afghan war strategy that will fail because it has not defined the enemy or decided to fight it in a manner calculated to win decisively.

Rather, the administration is asking how can the U.S. defeat al-Qaeda, the Taliban and other terrorist organizations within the four corners of the mountainous nation. This is the wrong initial question because it focuses on the military tactics to defeat specific organizations that are actually but dangerous manifestations of the real enemy.

Let’s remember the base facts about the Afghan war. We went to Afghanistan in 2001 to destroy al-Qaeda which attacked America and killed 3,000 of our citizens. For years the Bush administration “under resourced” the war, focused on killing the Taliban and allowed al-Qaeda to flee to sanctuaries in Pakistan. Now Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warns the situation in Afghanistan is “serious and deteriorating” which prompted President Obama to change strategy.

But Obama’s new counterinsurgency and nation building strategy — copying President Bush’ Iraq strategy and applying a miniaturized version of it to a nation 50% bigger than Iraq — is attempting to transform a warlord dominated tribal region into a fully functional and unified democratic country. The Obama strategy ignores the root problem in the broader war: radical Islam.

President Bush made the same mistake, deciding on nation-building in Iraq. Now President Obama has a chance to develop a grand strategy that targets our real enemy, the ideology of Islamism, a terrorist version of Islam with totalitarian and anti-Western roots. It does not appear that he will.

Granted, we must deal for some time with the Afghanistan crisis because failing to do so would have serious consequences such as the return of al-Qaeda to its historical operating areas and perhaps the overthrow of the government of nuclear-armed Pakistan. That’s why the risks of a U.S. withdrawal far exceed those of continuing to fight the war.

But the Afghan battlefield is only part of the larger Islamist problem, and anything we do there will, like Iraq, amount to only a holding action. We will never win the war with Islamism by playing whack-the-Islamist mole in places like Afghanistan until we have an overall strategy that effectively targets the enemy.

Having defined the enemy then we must ask the all important question, “What national strategy will defeat the enemy [Islamism]?” That strategy should provide clear direction to win the ideological war otherwise we will inevitably lose after having spilt every ounce of our soldiers’ blood and spent every penny in our treasury on little wars across the globe.

The problem we face is that we cannot defeat Islamism without forcing — by military or other means — the nations that sponsor terrorism to cease doing so.

Military action should be taken when other means fail. Retired General Dick Myers, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said, “Those countries that support terrorism must stop. Compelling states to stop supporting terrorists will often require military activity, which will be inherently controversial.”

We can defeat Islamism by targeting it much like our forefathers fought Communism and Nazism. World War II was an all-out war to oust the fascist leaders in Germany, Italy and Japan and replace them with leaders with whom we could coexist. We also mustered our resources to defeat the “evil empire,” President Reagan’s label for the communist Soviet Union, in the Cold War. Victory in the Islamist war will require a similar effort and will only come when the enemy and their state supporters are replaced with moderate leaders.

Victory requires a multi-prong effort, some military but mostly non-military action.

Non-military recommendations to defeat Islamism are found in the 9/11 Commission report. That body recommended defending our ideals vigorously versus allowing Islamists to define us.

The Bush administration failed in this area. Bush’s under secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs Karen Hughes embraced the very people who foment and foster anti-American sentiment in the Muslim world. She met with individuals and groups that held pro-Islamist stances.

Obama’s strategy must be radically different. He must directly support moderate Muslims who share our ideals to stand-up against the Islamists and promote accountability and democracy. The moderates need to reinterpret basic issues such as jihad and women’s rights and denounce groups that are apologists for Islamists. The U.S. must use a strong and clear voice that defines our irrevocable ideals to the Muslim world and follow up with immediate and strong actions — positive and negative — based on reactions.

The Commission suggested we openly confront the problem of the U.S.-Saudi relationship. Oil rich Saudi Arabia is the institutional home to Wahhabi, the austere and harsh form of Islam, the Islamist ideology of al-Qaeda. That nation funds madrasses — Islamist schools — that spread Wahhabi radicalism across the globe. It is also the source of Taliban funding in Afghanistan.

The Commission recommends we define a message that can be used to counter Islamist ideology. This is important in the Islamic world where a 2009 World Public Opinion poll found America’s popularity at rock bottom while support for Islamist goals such as removing the U.S. military from Islamic countries, requiring strict application of Shari’a law and keeping Western values out of Islamic countries was highly popular.

The 9/11 Commission outlines many domestic recommendations but doesn’t specifically address the sensitive issue of Islamism’s threat at home.

Islamism floods into American mosques, Muslim organizations, schools and jails via Saudi-financed publications backed by the Wahhabi point of view and a cadre that proselytize radicalism openly. These efforts have been operative for many years and with significant results.

It’s a sobering fact that most Muslim organizations in the U.S. were founded by members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the oldest worldwide organized expression of Islamism. It formed in Egypt in the 1920s to install a fundamentalist government and works across the world to place nations under Shari’a law. Dennis Ross, a special Obama assistant and member of the National Security Council, said the Brotherhood supports violence to achieve its political objectives but it is not associated with violence in the U.S. as yet.

The Brotherhood’s American strategy was exposed during the Texas trial of the now-defunct charity known as the Holy Land Foundation. A 1991 Brotherhood document states, “The process of settlement of [Islam in the United States] is a ‘civilization-jihadist’ process … [the brothers] must understand that all their work in America is a kind of grand jihad in eliminating and destroying Western civilization….”

President Obama should ask: Who is our enemy? Our enemy is Islamism which manifests itself in terrorism worldwide and seeks to destroy us and our way of life. Mr. President, we need a grand strategy to defeat this scourge much like we defeated Nazism and Soviet communism.


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