Tuesday, July 28, 2020

America's Longest (failed) War

On October 7, 2001 President George Bush launched Operation Enduring Freedom.  On March 8, 2020 President Donald Trump began the final withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, with the intent of having entirely left the country before the November 3, 2020 Presidential elections in the USA.  At 19 years plus change, this will have been America's longest running military conflict by far.  Which raises the obvious questions:

What was its purpose? 
Were our national interests successfully met?
Why did we stay so long?
And what are we leaving behind?


The following brief summary is from the Naval History and Heritage Command.

In response to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people, Operation Enduring Freedom officially began October 7, 2001, with American and British bombing strikes against al-Qaeda and Taliban forces in Afghanistan. Initially, the Taliban was removed from power and al-Qaeda was seriously crippled, but forces continually dealt with a stubborn Taliban insurgency, infrastructure rebuilding and corruption among the Afghan National Army, Afghan National Police, and Afghan Border Police.
On May 2, 2011, U.S. Navy SEALS launched a raid on Osama Bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, killing the al-Qaeda leader and mastermind of the September 11th terrorist’s attacks (O’Rourke). Operation Enduring Freedom officially ended December 28, 2014, although coalition forces remain on the ground to assist with training Afghan security forces (Torreon).
The U.S. Navy had two Medal of Honor recipients during Operation Enduring Freedom, both Navy SEALS, Lieutenant Michael P. Murphy and Senior Chief Special Warfare Operator Edward C. Byers Jr.
O’Rourke, Ronald. 2015. “Navy Irregular Warfare and Counterterrorism Operations: Background and Issues for Congress.” Congressional Research Report for Congress (November 6): 1.
Torreon, Barbara. 2016. “U.S. Periods of War and Dates of Recent Conflicts.” Congressional Research Report for Congress (September 29): 6–7.
So, the purpose of the war was to deny the Taliban a base for striking the United States, and - if possible - to punish them and Osama bin Laden for the attacks on the USA homeland on September 11, 2001.  

The US/Taliban agreement:  President Trump has consistently argued that there is little or no ongoing United States vital interest served by the use of US troops in Afghanistan.  As a candidate, and as the Commander in Chief, he has repeatedly said that troops must come home.  Entering the election year of 2020, he directed both the State Department and the Military to open negotiations with the Taliban, seeking an end to hostilities with the US and to prepare an orderly removal of our troops from Afghanistan.  He even went as far as to promote an invitation for Taliban leaders to meet in a peace conference at Camp David.  Ultimately, the only agreement to surface from those efforts was a promise on the part of the Taliban that, concurrent with the removal of several thousand US soldiers beginning this past March, 2020, they would cease attacking US forces.  
The Political Vacuum:  By all visible evidence our forces have been methodically withdrawing and leaving since March, and the Taliban have conspicuously avoided striking any US assets in the theater.  During this time, there was a final election in Afghanistan, purportedly installing a democratic and legitimate government so the US could claim that the government of Afghanistan was in place to tend to its own needs.  Predictably, the Taliban do no accept that election and continue to attack Afghani government forces and centers, pursuing a civil war which will overcome the country the day our last soldier leaves.  
The Outcome vs. our Original Goals:  Given the absence of a compelling US national interest, this would make sense.  However, the primary goal of the war was to deny the Taliban a base for striking the United States.  Is the agreement with the Taliban a new detente, allowing the Taliban to own Afghanistan once again with the understanding that they can never allow another Osama to plot from there to attack us?  It is the only logical conclusion.

What only history will tell:
So, in conclusion, the only goal met was the elimination of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.  The Taliban are now re-ensconced and, with Russian support, will quickly overrun the Afghan experiment in US sponsored democracy.  While it may have been worth it to get Osama bin Laden at first, way back on May 2, 2011, the subsequent 9 years are being rewarded by a retreat that is justified only by trusting the Taliban's good will and giving them back Afghanistan in the deal.
From here it will be the primary task of the Intelligence Community to monitor and destabilize any emergent anti-US forces in Afghanistan.  Welcome back to 2000.  Let's hope for a better outcome.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

(Further) Annexation of West Bank Territories? Learn before you talk.

The American Jewish community is facing a serious complication when it comes to Israel in the context of the current US Presidential election cycle. 

First the Trump Peace Plan has been presented by President Trump and endorsed by Prime Minister Netanyahu. It is not easy, however, for all of us who love and support Israel to fall in line, because the plan itself does not represent a unifying or a centrist view in Israel.  AIPAC, for example, has continued its long term policy of a two state solution, with Israel and Palestine living in peace side-by-side one day.  The Trump plan would eliminate that outcome.  In addition, Israel has just resolved a year long loggerhead between the left and the right in its domestic elections, with much of the left resoundingly opposed to Prime Minister Netanyahu's hopes for further annexation.  In such a complex political environment,  it is disingenuous for anyone to claim that being pro-annexation or anti-annexation is the only legitimate way to show support or love for Israel.  It is an internal domestic hot-potato in Israeli politics, but has broad international implication.

Second, former Vice-President Biden, the Democratic challenger to President Trump for the presidency, has always been an ardent supporter of a two-state solution, and of a negotiated settlement to the conflict.  He reinforced that point of view in a statement to the AIPAC policy conference which I attended in March, and repeated it in a statement in late May.

As a result, Democrats and Republicans are lining up on the issue of annexation as if it were a simple extension of their own domestic politics, rather than a separate issue to be analyzed and understood in light of our values, Israel's ideals and the pragmatic determinations about what will be best for Israel in the long run.  Note, for example, the carefully worded statement from the Conservative Movement's Rabbinical Assembly which raises concerns while not crossing too far over the line of party politics.

While support of Israel is meant to be a unifying item in the American Jewish community, in recent years it has fallen prey to the polarization of American and Israeli political societies in general.  The recent battle over the leadership of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations is indicative of this kind of ugliness that is used on this topic, as a leader of HIAS, a Jewish agency that provides immigration support was held back from her legitimate election by those who said her policies were not in line with President Trump and therefore she should not be a leader of the Conference. 

I urge you to start fresh. Ignore the fact that Jared Kushner has designed a proposal that is clearly skewed on the Israeli spectrum to one side. Ignore the fact that the Obama/Biden presidency had a severe falling out with Netanyahu which paralyzed relations in the last year and left Israel vulnerable to UN votes without a US veto at the security council.

The fact is, Israel is considering a political maneuver with far-reaching implications, and it would be implemented by force of unilateral action.  The Palestinians have no voice in the process, for a variety of reasons.  But the main reason in this case is that they were not part of the process, and are not seriously being considered in the solution.  American politicians have diametrically opposed views of the topic: Peace through consolidation of territorial authority, or peace through diplomacy and engagement.  This is a divisive issue, about which people will differ.

Given that, you must read more and learn more.  I recommend going to the Jewish Council for Public Affairs website on the topic.  There they have gathered varied points of view and credible resources that argue their case.   Read each point of view with an open mind. Determine what you believe and why.  Then be ready to articulate that opinion in a calm, thoughtful manner in the days ahead.  No one should be shaming another person on this topic as a lack of love of Israel.

As for the American election, personally I do not believe that Israel should be our first topic.  Israel is one of the most important things in my life, for me, my children and our people.  I believe that Israel will be part of what redeems the world.  But when I vote, I vote as an American for what I believe is best for America.

I also believe that what is best for America will always be what is best for Israel, because of our deeply shared values - regardless of any given president or prime minister of the hour.