This year — like 2009 — may be historic if only for President Obama’s geopolitical indecisiveness and weakness. Six geopolitical crises — Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and al Queda — provide Obama the opportunity to redeem his unnerving reputation. But, if the president continues his 2009 policies, we can expect several disasters.
First, the Islamic Republic of Iran is a hegemonic tyrant that is the world’s leading terrorism sponsor and close to possessing atomic weapons. Most nations want the regime replaced, but none — with the likely exception of Israel — is willing to act.
President Obama has done little more than send notes to Tehran’s leadership offering to talk. In November, Obama said “I continue to hold out the prospect that they may decide to walk through this door” and cooperate on the nuclear issue. But Tehran continues to game the system with delays and empty promises which demoralizes our Arab allies and Israel who view Tehran as a mortal threat.
Last May, Obama pledged to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu that he would end engagement toward Iran if it were unsuccessful by year’s end. It’s now 2010 and Obama may make yet another diplomatic foray sending Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) to Tehran. But sending Kerry makes Obama appear afraid to follow through with his promise to impose crippling sanctions.
The Washington Post cites Obama officials saying the administration wants sanctions “against discrete elements of the Iranian government” like the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps but not the crippling gasoline embargo floated by the administration last spring. Another Obama official acknowledged, “We have never been attracted to the idea of trying to get the whole world to cordon off their economy.”
That leaves only two choices: conduct a military strike or accept an atomic-armed Iran. Apparently, Iran is preparing for a strike. It has ramped up psychological operations, military exercises and issued instructions to its terrorist proxies.
Expect Israel to attack Iranian facilities this year. It will not wait for more delays and false promises. At this point, U.S. help appears unlikely.
Second, Iraq is half-cooked with political uncertainty and a low level insurgency mixed with horrific terrorist bombings. The U.S. is waiting for the outcome of the March election, the subsequent formation of a new government and then all combat units will exit.
Obama visited Iraq in June to mark the transition from U.S. to Iraqi control. He reminded our troops and the Iraqis that our plan is “By August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end and Iraqi security forces will have the full responsibility for major combat missions.” He said “Iraq’s future is in the hands of its own people, and Iraq’s leaders must now make some hard choices.”
But we must not abandon Iraq if conditions worsen. That country began its existence — and remains — politically factionalized. We won’t know until after the March 7 parliamentary elections whether Iraq survives as a viable, unified state. Its fragility is evidenced by the fierce infighting among the Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites. Every time political disputes escalate sectarian violence flares.
The bright spot is Iraq’s oil economy. In December, Baghdad auctioned off 10 oilfields which could eventually help Iraq surpass Saudi Arabia’s total production. But oil production is linked to political and security stability.
Expect Obama to withdraw our forces on schedule in spite of unacceptable violence and political chaos, which could invite civil war.
Third, the eight-year war in Afghanistan morphed into a counterinsurgency pitting that fledgling government supported by Western forces against the Taliban, a radical Sunni Islamism movement. The Taliban control large swaths of Afghanistan, own the momentum in the fight and the support of many Afghans because they distrust their corruption-plagued government.
Obama took several months last fall to construct a new war strategy that surges forces to reverse Taliban gains, win the population’s confidence and build government credibility. His questionable strategy begins withdrawing forces in 18 months.
Obama’s surge will be bloody. Last year was twice as bloody in Afghanistan for Americans than in Iraq and Lieutenant General David Rodriguez, the second highest commander in Afghanistan, said our new approach means we take a less aggressive posture. This approach, according to Adm. Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will make Afghanistan “a tough fight in 2010,” resulting in higher U.S. casualties.
Obama is rushing the war. The average successful counterinsurgency lasts 14 years because it takes time to help the people feel secure, trust their government and prosper. Obama’s minimalist strategy surrenders most of Afghanistan to the enemy and naively accelerates security training and government clean-up before quickly exiting.
Expect higher casualties, improved security in the focus cities and more capable Afghan forces. But the end game will include a compromise with the Taliban which Obama forces on Kabul in time to begin leaving by July 2011.
Fourth, al Queda and Taliban forces withdrew from Afghanistan to Pakistan in late 2001 and they continue to use Pakistan to launch attacks. Although Pakistan’s weak government is an ally in the fight, it is insufficiently aggressive against our common enemies, which threatens that country’s stability.
Obama said Pakistan is “inextricably linked” to success in Afghanistan and “We are committed to a partnership with Pakistan that is built on a foundation of mutual interest, mutual respect, and mutual trust.” But Pakistan is not willing to do Washington’s bidding.
Obama desperately wants Pakistan to close ranks with the U.S. to defeat the Haqqani (Taliban) network that operates in both countries and rid the border region of al Queda and insurgent sanctuaries. But the Haqqani group does not pose a threat to Pakistan like it does to Afghanistan and besides the Pakistanis have little confidence in Washington, which has previously abandoned Islamabad.
Expect violence to continue deteriorating Pakistan’s security situation. Bombings and attacks in the Punjab, that country’s core province, will further destabilize President Asif Ali Zardari’s government which has little popular support. That will prompt a military coup this year and probably create a major crisis given Western concern over the fate of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.
Fifth, Yemen is foundering on the verge of social and economic collapse which makes it ripe to become another al Queda sanctuary. It also faces an armed insurgency in the north, which the government claims is funded by Iran and a separatist movement in the south.
Yemen came to Obama’s attention on Christmas day after a Nigerian man tried to set off explosives aboard an airliner. The president said “We know that he [the Nigerian] traveled to Yemen, a country grappling with crushing poverty and deadly insurgencies. It appears that he joined an affiliate of al Queda … [which] trained him, equipped him with those explosives and directed him to attack that plane headed for America.”
What should we expect Obama to do about Yemen? It’s virtually certain he won’t invade the country but likely he will use air strikes against al Queda camps much as President Clinton did against Afghan terror camps. The administration will also increase special operations forces efforts to train and equip Yemen’s army.
Expect Yemen to become a sanctuary for al Queda like Pakistan and the launching pad for more attacks against Western targets.
Finally, al Queda has franchised its extremist ideology globally and will use more sophisticated and deadly tactics.
Last fall, Mr. Obama told a Chinese audience “I continue to believe that the greatest threat to the United States’ security are the terrorist networks like al Queda.” The Christmas panty bomber incident earned Obama’s pledge to “…use every element of our national power to disrupt, dismantle and defeat the violent extremists who threaten us.”
The underwear bomber incident demonstrated our vulnerability, which is a warning that Obama had better move fast on his pledge to defeat sophisticated extremists. For example, the same group that trained the underwear bomber concealed explosives inside the suicide bomber Abu al-Kahyr. He passed through multiple levels of security and into the presence of the Saudi deputy interior minister, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef. Al Queda bragged that “…nobody knows or will ever know the nature [of this explosives charge] and how it was detonated,” although it failed. The bomber may have hidden the explosives in his rectum.
Expect al Queda to try to breach our security with more sophisticated techniques.
These geopolitical crises will provide Mr. Obama an opportunity to shed the labels indecisive and weak or to turn them into multiple major disasters for America and Western civilization.