This post is now Part I of the series: Portents of the upcoming Democratic withdrawal from Afghanistan
This will likely be the most controversial post I have written to date; to the extent that the left (and other Democrats) see it at all, they’ll likely respond with vituperative outrage. However, I genuinely believe (and in my view, I have good reason to believe) that if a Democrat is elected president next year, (s)he will cut short the war in Afghanistan by pulling American forces out before the Taliban and al Qaeda are defeated.
If I am right about this, it should permanently put to rest the notion slowly seeping into the discussion on the right that perhaps, just perhaps, the country would be better off if the Democrats won in 2008. The argument (best presented but not endorsed by Jonah Goldberg in National Review Online) goes something like this: the only way the Democrats will understand the depth of the “war on terror” (as followers of this space know, I prefer calling it the Wahhabist-Ba’athist-Khomeinist War) is if they are handed the reigns and forced to “take ownership” of it. The problem with that analysis is that it assumes the Democrats and the left want ownership of the war, something that I simply do not see. In fact, what I see of the Democrats and the political landscape tells me they’ll respond by cutting the war short as soon as possible.
Here are my reasons.
Support for the liberation of Afghanistan is far weaker in America than we realize: The conventional wisdom holds that all Americans support the war in Afghanistan. As usual, conventional wisdom is wrong. In fact, a Washington Post pollster asked the following question as past of its survey: “Thinking now about Afghanistan, all in all, considering the costs to the United States versus the benefits to the United States, do you think the war in Afghanistan was worth fighting, or not?” The Yes/No split was 56-41. Forty-one percent of Americans now oppose America’s military presence in Afghanistan.
I know, I know, we who support the Iraq war would love a 56-41 split. The last time we had that was January of 2004. Ominously, buy the end of that year, the numbers had flipped (42-56), and the Yes side never came near 50% again. The Taliban are already plotting a spring offensive to demoralize our allies and our voters, hoping to copy the political success of the Iraqi terrorists.
More to the point, odds are the overwhelming majority of this 41% will support the Democratic candidate in 2008 (whoever that may be), and should said Democrat win, the political pressure will be quite strong on the Democrat to pull out of Afghanistan and wash our hands of the entire W-B-K War – and that won’t be the only place from where the Democratic President will feel that pressure.
Support for the liberation of Afghanistan is far weaker among our allies than we realize: There is a lot of talk about NATO being united on the Afghan mission. It’s not true. Of all the NATO allies, only four: the United States, Canada, Great Britain, and the Netherlands, have authorized their troops to do any fighting in Afghanistan. Every other military force is restricted to behind-the-line work by their governments. Meanwhile, the Netherlands is already shifting left, Britain will soon follow with the exit of Tony Blair, and Australia (the only non-NATO nation with a fighting force in Afghanistan) may replace John Howard with a left-wing opposition (Howard’s coalition trail in the polls by double-digits – AAP via Epoch Times). Canada is, for now, the only nation that appears political set for the long haul in Afghanistan, and that’s only if current trends continue up there.
Meanwhile, European left-wing parties (including the governments of Spain and Italy) are less than happy about being in Afghanistan at all (Italy’s government nearly collapsed after left-wingers protested its country’s continued presence there, even without fighting). The Spanish and Italian government’s were elected solely on the basis of Iraq; there was little if any reference to Afghanistan in their campaigns. That hasn’t stopped them from trying to cut and run now.
Pakistan no longer has any interest in supporting the war against the Taliban: The fact is, Pakistan is more interested in keeping Afghanistan from becoming an ally of India than defeating the Taliban. As it was arresting one Taliban leader (Shotgun), it was making deals with another (Asia Times).
Therefore, the new Democratic president will face a newly emboldened base, several foreign leaders, and an ally in Central Asia telling him/her the same thing: wrap up Afghanistan, and do it soon. Will (s)he listen to them? I think (s)he will, and here’s why.
Pakistan’s influence in Washington: Beginning in the late 1960′s, when Richard Nixon started using Pakistan as a conduit to Mao Zedong, Pakistani leaders have always been able to count on more friends in Washington than India could. Paksitan’s role in helping the resistance to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan sealed the deal in the 1980′s. To this day, Pervez Musharraf is given slack almost no other American ally has, and he sees as his enemies not the Islamists, but the secular democrats he bounced in 1999.
Part of the problem here is the refusal to come to terms about Pakistan’s ally and enabler: Communist China. So long as the Communist regime is considered a “friend,” it’s that much harder to come to terms about Pakistan. For Republicans, the presence of al Qaeda is enough to keep the focus on defeating them. I’m not sure the Democrats will feel the same impulse from their political base; it will be far easier to listen to Pakistan’s friends in the State Department and the weak Europeans who have fought so little anyway.
The arguments against the Iraq war can be easily grafted onto Afghanistan: After all, the Taliban were fighting on several fronts, including one front against an Iran-backed Shia group. Moreover, the Taliban has an untouchable safe zone in Pakistan, much like the terrorists have in Syria, only worse. Meanwhile, the Pashtuns in Afghanistan are playing the same cards as the Sunnis in Iraq, and although few Pashtuns actually like the Taliban, it hasn’t stopped the group from claiming the Pashtun cause, and if the Democrats can be fooled into believing the Sunnis hate us because of al Qaeda in Iraq, they can be fooled by the Taliban in Afghanistan.
The nature of the Democratic front-runners: At this point, I can only see four potential Democratic nominees – Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Al Gore, and Barack Obama. Gore and Obama have no involvement in the reaction to 9/11/01, given them the perfect opportunity to drop Afghanistan quickly. Edwards and Clinton supported the Afghan war, but both have managed to worm their way out of their Iraq vote (Edwards with far more success), and could probably repeat the performance in re Afghanistan.
George W. Bush is the perfect scapegoat: There is already talk about how the rest of the world will react to a new president, and while most of the speculation is wrong (Bush remains popular in India and Russia, why these large nations don’t count is a mystery to me), the entire European elite will certainly welcome a Democrat. However, they will also move very quickly to lean heavily on said Democrat to call Afghanistan and Iraq “Bush’s Wars,” and end them on that basis. Again, given the domestic pressure the Democrat will be facing, and the perfect opportunity to make a “clean break” with Bush; I don’t see a Democrat resisting this temptation.
Of course, it won’t be called a pullout. The new Democratic Administration will call for a UN peacekeeping force to replace the Americans and allies, and odds are it will be approved quickly by the Security Council (Russia and Communist China will have their own reasons for supporting it – namely the hope they can fill up the vacuum we will leave behind). There will be talk over President Bush “overreacting” to 9/11, how the Democrats would never have leaned so hard if they were in control; how Bush should have prevented 9/11 in the first place, etc., etc., etc. There may even be a Church Committee redux, with investigations and lurid charges about the mistakes of the Bush Administration, and of course, the 9/11 conspiracy theorists will have a new lease on life.
I know, I know, no single Democrat is even talking about an Afghan pullout, but no single Democratic leader was talking about an Iraqi pullout last year either. It was only after the new Congress was sworn in (and Joe Lieberman cast his vote for Harry Reid as Majority Leader) that talk of troop caps, “slow bleeds,” and withdrawal filled the airwaves.
The pieces are in place for an Afghanistan pullout, a return to glory for the Taliban, and a huge daily double (Iraq and Afghanistan) for al Qaeda. All they need is a Democrat in the White House. Will the American people give it to them?
Cross-posted to the China e-Lobby