Back in 2007, those of us assigned as “expert advisers” to the Baker-Hamilton Commission were given a straightforward assignment: Come up with a plan to salvage the deteriorating situation in Iraq. Few of us thought that was possible. Only a small minority — I was perhaps the most vocal — enthusiastically supported the “surge”: the counterinsurgency strategy conceived and implemented by Gen. David A. Petraeus.
It will be years before we know for sure whether the surge permanently transformed Iraq. But it clearly averted what would have been an American defeat in the heart of the Muslim Middle East at the hands of al-Qaeda and Iran’s proxy militias. Such a defeat would have been consequential in ways most people — including most Baker-Hamilton advisers — have never taken the trouble to imagine.
Whether it was wise for Pres. George W. Bush to invade Iraq in the first place is a separate question. Also a separate question: whether it was wise for Pres. Barack Obama to declare Afghanistan the “good war,” the war that must be won.
Actually, I’d argue they are the same war — just different theaters, much as Europe, Asia, and North Africa were different theaters of World War II. But I guess that, too, is a separate question. The pertinent fact is Obama did commit to Afghanistan, and he doubled down on that commitment by ordering a surge of his own and assigning, once again, General Petraeus to command the mission.
On the left, support for Obama’s Afghanistan policy — never solid — now seems to be eroding. Support from the right also has been weakening. Some conservatives aren’t convinced Obama has the determination to see the mission through. Others believe the mission has become too focused on “nation-building” and not enough on disabling America’s enemies.
That brings us to a rare instance of Left/Right consensus: Hardly anyone believes that the U.S. should replicate the Iraq/Afghanistan model in Somalia or Yemen or other corners of the globe. So whether or not Plan A works in Afghanistan, we will still need a Plan B to fight the long war being waged by what Obama calls “violent extremists” — sworn enemies of the West who see themselves as jihadis, commanded by the Koran to fight non-Muslims everywhere until all submit to Islamic law and Islamic rule.
News bulletin: There is a Plan B — and it’s already being implemented. As the New York Times reports, the Obama administration is now fighting a “shadow war against Al Qaeda and its allies.”
The Times continues:
In roughly a dozen countries — from the deserts of North Africa, to the mountains of Pakistan, to former Soviet republics crippled by ethnic and religious strife — the United States has significantly increased military and intelligence operations, pursuing the enemy using robotic drones and commando teams, paying contractors to spy and training local operatives to chase terrorists.
However: “Virtually none of the newly aggressive steps undertaken by the United States government have been publicly acknowledged.” Well, that’s what makes it a shadow war, isn’t it?