Downwind of instability

Just a few weeks after the 9/11 attacks, the US launched its “war on terror” and began to attack Taliban strongholds in Afghanistan.

NATO summit (photo credit: Reuters)
NATO summit
(photo credit: Reuters)
Just a few weeks after the 9/11 attacks, the US launched its “war on terror” and began to attack Taliban strongholds in Afghanistan. A decade later, the US is mired in a war it can’t seem to extract itself from.
The question is, can the US fight global terror if it pulls its troops out of terrorist-producing provinces? And would a pullout have any consequences that can affect Israel? Last year, President Barack Obama announced the withdrawal of 33,000 troops by the summer of 2012. But this past week, he announced plans for the withdrawal of the US-led, 130,000-strong international force by the end of 2014.
According to The Guardian, “after the 2014 pullout, a NATO force will be left behind, in part to help with training. No figure has yet been announced but US commanders in Kabul have spoken of around 15,000-20,000 personnel.”
The public in the US and in other countries among the 50-strong international coalition has grown weary with the war that has already cost nearly $500 billion. They want their sons, husbands and fathers back home, and with rising casualties, their voices are growing louder.
Whether containment, a continued strong US presence in Afghanistan, would produce the desired results in the long term is debatable. This is the focus of the fierce argument that has taken place in the corridors of power in various countries over the last few years.
Walter Russell Meade’s classification system differentiates four schools of thought according to the Hamiltonian, Jeffersonian, Jacksonian and Wilsonian types of policies.
In this case, the public wants Obama to adopt the Jacksonian position on foreign policy, which holds that the first priority of the US government in both foreign and domestic policy is the physical security and economic well-being of the American populace.
Jacksonians believe that the US should fiercely protect its borders and not fight battles abroad.
Israel maintains a combination of philosophies when it comes to defense. It focuses heavily on border defense while maintaining constant surveillance of activities abroad and, on occasion, takes measures to protect itself in operations far from its borders.
It doesn’t look to spread democracy like the Wilsonians, although it would clearly benefit from the presence of democratic countries on all its borders.
MUCH OF the American and European public wants an immediate pullout, not a phased withdrawal.
But, according to a New York Times article in March, any accelerated withdrawal would face stiff opposition from military commanders, who want to keep the bulk of the remaining American troops in Afghanistan until the end of 2014, when the NATO mission in Afghanistan is supposed to end.
This would ensure, at least to some extent, an organized hand-over of military control to the Afghan National Army and local police forces.
As competition grows within the Central Asian region encompassing the five “Stans” north of Afghanistan, southern Russia, eastern Iran and western China, more sources of conflict will arise.
The long-standing feud between India and Pakistan will escalate as each struggles for control and influence in Afghanistan.
Given that India has ties with Israel, the country’s position on an international level and its ability to wield influence is important.
Afghanistan is one of the world’s largest drug producers. The UN and the Afghan government have estimated the total export value of Afghanistan’s opium as over 50 percent of the country’s official gross domestic product.
According to the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs in its 2012 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, “Afghanistan produces roughly 90 percent of the world’s illicit opium... Afghanistan remains involved in the full narcotics production cycle, from cultivation to finished heroin. Afghanistan is also believed to be among the world’s largest producers of hashish.”
(Hashish grown in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley has traditionally been smuggled into Israel by Israeli Arabs, Beduin and Druse, but supposedly, since Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2000, Hezbollah has taken over the trade.) According to the Wall Street Journal, US and Afghan officials say Afghanistan’s poppy crop appears to have suffered a devastating failure this year, in a development that is likely to affect the course of the war as US-led forces withdraw.
US commanders and Afghan officials expect the Taliban to reel as opium revenues dry up in coming months. “It’s a blow to the insurgency,” says Kandahar provincial governor Tooryalai Wesa.
According to US Marine Col. Tim Oliver, head of intelligence for the coalition’s Regional Command-Southwest, which includes the Helmand province, “Illegal taxation is a principal financial driver for the insurgency.
Less opium has meant less revenue, more competition between insurgent groups for resources, and less cooperation from a population hard-pressed economically from the failure of what, for many farmers, is their principal cash crop.”
Aside from business conflicts stemming from trade in raw materials, oil and textiles, there are ethnic divisions as well. Over 20 major ethnicities exist in the Central Asian region alone and each will fight for control and power.
Writing in Foreign Policy, Scott Smith and Andrew Wilder perceive “both a new and energized spirit of politicking for the 2014 [Afghan] presidential elections, as well as baldly stated fears of a return to civil war. For many we interviewed, the two are inextricably linked – a massively flawed election in 2014, or a failure to hold an election at all, could easily result in a destabilizing situation where there is no legitimate civilian control, and security forces could break down and begin competing for power along ethnic and factional lines.”
OBAMA RECENTLY announced that within the next two years the war in Afghanistan as we know it would be over.
Afghan Senate vice chair Mohammad Alam Ezdyar said recently, “The commitments being made towards Afghanistan are ambiguous up to now; the international community should not abandon Afghanistan and repeat the mistakes of the ’90s.”
But Obama wants to keep details vague as speculation abounds that a withdrawal from Afghanistan could cement his reelection.
The US seems torn between leaving Afghanistan to deteriorate into utter chaos and maintaining a presence there to ensure stability and prevent another Taliban takeover.
The failed experience in Iraq demonstrates that the US can fight wars but appears less adept at nation-building.
Afghanistan will play a major role in the upcoming US elections and some believe Obama may decide which course of action to take based on which would garner the most votes.
Dr. Paul D. Miller, referring in Foreign Policy to the recently signed US-Afghan Strategic Partnership Agreement, writes, “the crux of the long-term US commitment to Afghanistan in the new agreement is this: ‘The United States shall designate Afghanistan a “Major Non- NATO Ally.” The Major Non-NATO Ally (MNNA) designation was created by Congress in 1989 as a way of identifying America’s major strategic partners without the burdensome requirements of a formal treaty... The designation has a powerful symbolic value: it is a public affirmation of a country’s affiliation with the United States, a global badge of American approval. Although the designation does not technically carry a security guarantee or legally obligate the United States to come to the defense of a designee, the label of “ally” implies as much. Only 14 states and Taiwan have been given the MNNA status. Critics may argue that MNNA status is merely symbolic, but symbols are important.
Afghanistan is now in the same category as Japan, Australia, Israel, and Pakistan.’” Yet even with Afghanistan as a fellow MNNA and minimal US presence there, Israel will lose a strong allied force nearby. Iran flanks Afghanistan on its western border and it is strategically important for Israel to have a strong allied presence east of Iran in the event that a war with Iran breaks out.
Concerning intelligence, it is vastly important that the US has access to Iran’s eastern border, and a pullout could jeopardize the amount of information that could be gleaned from remaining there.
The instability that will accompany a US pullout would have far-reaching consequences in the long-run for many countries, Israel included. Afghanistan will become a hotbed of terrorist activity once again, and the uncertainty stemming from Afghanistan’s future will spread to other countries as well.
The loss of an ally in that region means Israel will have a harder battle to fight.