Henry Kissinger warned Thursday night that it is crucial President Obama sends all troops in Afghanistan that are necessary to secure as much of the country as possible from the terrorist Taliban. If Obama doesn’t follow the recommendations of “the ambassador and the general appointed by the Administration, and the commander of U.S. Central Command,” added the former secretary of state, Obama “cannot face the domestic consequences — it would be a big mistake.”
But Kissinger went a step further and said that, once the Taliban has been routed, the U.S. and other key world powers must then craft a security agreement to guarantee the neutrality of Afghanistan.
Kissinger, who served as national security advisor to President Nixon and then secretary of state to Presidents Nixon and Ford, made his observation and proposal before a standing-room-only dinner in Washington last week (on October 8) hosted by the International Republican Institute. The IRI was honoring the 86-year-old Kissinger with its annual “Freedom Award.” Rather than simply accepting his honor with a speech, the honoree instead took questions in a conversational format with prize-winning historian Niall Ferguson.
To no one’s surprise, the first question from Ferguson was about Afghanistan and whether it is “Obama’s Vietnam.”
Kissinger forcefully underscored his belief that “we defeated ourselves in Vietnam,” that the outcome of the war “was a problem of the American soul, not the American performance, and until we accept this we won’t learn the lessons of Vietnam.” Turning to Afghanistan today, he said America needs to address “where we go and where we are trying to go.”
Characterizing Afghanistan as “neither nation or state but a group of provincial leaders who come together to resist foreign intervention,” Kissinger made it clear that the rise of the Taliban in the 1990’s led to Afghanistan becoming a base for a series of attacks on Americans — in Afghanistan, Yemen, and in the U.S. itself. So the issue in Afghanistan is national security, said Kissinger. But he also noted that Afghanistan also threatens “the cohesion of Pakistan and, through that, the security of India.” Afghanistan as a home for terrorists, he added, could easily have a major impact on “Muslim regions of Russia and some parts of China.”
“The future security of the world is involved,” Kissinger said, referring to an “Afghanistan war of necessity.” For President Obama, he emphasized, “there is no reason” to refuse sending the number of troops to Afghanistan recommended by his own ambassador and by Gens. Stanley McChrystal and David Petraeus.
Turning to a desired outcome in Afghanistan, Kissinger recalled one of the major problem: “that we controlled the countryside by daytime, but the Viet Cong controlled it by nighttime.” So the U.S. would only have “50% to 60% security,” he added, “and it is better to have 100% of security in 60% of the country.” The greatest amount of the population protected is the desired goal in Afghanistan, Kissinger concluded.
He also said that the U.S. and other world powers must look to the future status of Afghanistan. Such an agreement, he explained, would be akin to the Treaty of London that required Belgium to remain neutral and committed the signers to guard that neutrality in the event of invasion. (The Treaty of London to which Kissinger referred was signed in April of 1839 between the major European powers at the time and the Netherlands).
“Only Henry would link the future to Afghanistan to a treaty that was concluded in post-Napoleonic Europe,” observed historian Ferguson.
For now, Kissinger concluded, Obama’s failure to follow the full advice of his military and diplomatic advisors on troops to Afghanistan would “be a big mistake” and he “could not face the domestic political consequences.”