Al Qaeda, Obama And Victory In Afghanistan
Yesterday, President Obama told ABC News that he was uncomfortable using the word “victory” in relation to Afghanistan.
The two questions that have bothered me most since coming to Afghanistan have been “What is victory” and “What are we (the US, Europe, etc.) doing here?” I even wrote a feature for New York’s Village Voice about the trouble I had finding anyone who could answer these questions.
That Obama realizes the complexity of the situation on the ground here is refreshing. But his statement still leaves us with a big, black hole as to the end game in Afghanistan. Obama told ABC that, “We’re not dealing with nation states at this point. We’re concerned with Al Qaeda and the Taliban, Al Qaeda’s allies. So when you have a non-state actor, a shadowy operation like Al Qaeda, our goal is to make sure they can’t attack the United States.”
But how can you judge that? When can you draw the line and say, “Yup, Al Qaeda and all of their non-state actor pals are licked. Time to pack it in.” In many ways it is already impossible for AQ to plan large-scale attacks from here. Those terrorist training camps that dotted the Afghan landscape in the 90’s are long gone. Any group of AQ planners that meet in groups of more than three are likely to get a hellfire missile where the sun don’t shine.
Does this mean that the soldiers can all come home now?
My point is that any benchmark you set for success in Afghanistan (if success is defined as eliminating groups like AQ) is going to be imprecise in definition and very difficult, if not impossible, to measure for. The obvious exception to this is fighting. If success is defined as “a reduction in the number of insurgents shooting at or blowing up coalition soldiers,” that would be easy to measure (though I think difficult to achieve.) But would it really be success? If the goal is to eliminate terror groups and they’re not shooting at us here, but rather have relocated to Pakistan, what have we won?
I applaud the president’s attempt to be realistic with the American public about the mission here. But I’m still waiting for him to tell us just how this thing is going to end.
Of course, I have my own theory.