FrontPage | 5.3.12
By Alan W. Dowd

A year after a fearless, anonymous team of Navy SEALs sent Osama bin Laden to wherever mass-murderers go when they die, the commander-in-chief continued his yearlong victory lap with a stop in Afghanistan to sign a framework agreement with Afghan leader Hamid Karzai. While the Left gushes over President Obama’s swaggering anniversary speeches and the Right questions the president’s tone and tactics, it’s the substance of the U.S.-Afghanistan agreement—or lack thereof—that worries me.

I. The document states that “cooperation between Afghanistan and the United States is based on mutual respect and shared interests.”

Try telling that to the families of U.S., British and French troops who have been killed by Afghan troops—there have been some 45 attacks by uniformed Afghan troops on U.S. and other NATO forces, killing 70 allied troops—or to the Western forces still fighting for Afghanistan, who have to look over their shoulders as they fight.

II. The document states that the U.S. and Afghanistan “reaffirm” their commitment to “defeating al Qaeda and its affiliates.”

There are two problems with this part of the agreement, and they are significant. First, the commitment of the Afghan government and military is shaky at best. (See Point I.) Fresh from a tour of Afghanistan, Lt. Col. Daniel Davis describes Afghan troops as largely unwilling to engage the Taliban. According to a classified report leaked to The New York Times, one Afghan colonel describes his own troops as “thieves, liars and drug addicts.” An American quoted in the report says Afghan troops are “pretty much gutless in combat; we do most of the fighting.”

Second, just how committed are Kabul and Washington to defeating “al Qaeda and its affiliates” if the two have directed their diplomats to talk to al Qaeda’s closest, oldest affiliate? That would be the Taliban. It pays to recall that Afghanistan became the world headquarters for al Qaeda because the Taliban welcomed bin Laden with open arms. The Taliban and al Qaeda share the same worldview and the same enemy. Given the terror that was unleashed when the Taliban was in power—and their brutality since being ousted from power—there’s no reason to think Mullah Omar and his henchmen have changed. CIA Director David Petraeus certainly doesn’t think so. A year ago, when asked to make the case for staying the course, then-Gen. Petraeus bluntly replied, “Two words…Nine Eleven,” reminding us of what happened the last time the Taliban ruled Afghanistan. 

Moreover, when it comes to commitment, it pays to recall, as Karzai surely has, that the Obama administration always keeps its eyes on the calendar and the exit sign—and has little regard for standing agreements with allies. Obama casually scrapped a hard-earned missile-defense agreement with Poland and the Czech Republic in order to get an arms control treaty of questionable merit with Russia; jettisoned Mubarak when the going got tough in Egypt; and when NATO allies made an urgent request for an extension of U.S. air power during the Libya war, a NATO official took pains to emphasize that America’s help “expires on Monday”—a bruising metaphor for what passes as American leadership in the age of Obama.

III. The document calls on NATO member states “to sustain and improve Afghan security capabilities beyond 2014 by taking concrete measures to implement” previous security agreements.

Good luck with that. Following Washington’s lead, NATO is headed for the exits. From the beginning, most NATO members have been half-hearted about the Afghanistan mission. Consider: The United States is contributing 71 percent of all forces to the mission; non-NATO members Australia, Georgia and Sweden have more troops deployed than Belgium, Iceland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway and Portugal—all founding members of the alliance; Germany, Italy and Spain refused to help in Afghanistan’s restive south; Italy didn’t permit its fighter-bombers in Afghanistan to carry bombs; and German troops, until recently, were required to shout warnings to enemy forces—in three languages—before opening fire.

Beyond Afghanistan, NATO nations are slashing their militaries. The consequences are already on full display. In Libya, without the U.S. in the lead, NATO was found woefully lacking in munitions, targeting and jamming capabilities, mid-air refueling planes, reconnaissance platforms, drones, and command-and-control assets—just about everything needed to conduct a 21st-century air war. 

IV. The document commits Afghanistan to providing “access to and use of Afghan facilities through 2014…for the purposes of combating al Qaeda and its affiliates.” That’s an important codicil, especially given Pakistan’s instability and duplicity—and given al Qaeda’s past record and future goals.

Regarding Pakistan, the country is a nuclear basket-case, a political mess, a metastasis of terror, the spawning ground of the Taliban and the final address of Osama bin Laden. It’s a sad irony that Pakistan was once the jumping-off point for targeting terrorists in Afghanistan, but Afghanistan is now the jumping-off point for targeting terrorists in Pakistan.

As to the goals of bin Laden’s terror network, it was brought to light this week that bin Laden was working with his deputies, the Taliban high command and the Haqqani network on a plan for ousting Karzai and taking control of Afghanistan. Doubtless, these plans have survived bin Laden’s passing.

V. The document views “any external aggression against Afghanistan” with “grave concern”—and appropriately so. Elements within Pakistan’s military-security apparatus are funding and supporting a brutal guerilla war against the Afghan government and its American guardians.

Yet in this same document, just a few paragraphs away, the United States “pledges not to use Afghan territory or facilities as a launching point for attacks against other countries.”

How does that fit with other parts of the document? How are these two concepts even be included in the same document?

VI. Finally, the document calls on both sides to “initiate negotiations on a Bilateral Security Agreement. Negotiations should begin after the signing of this Strategic Partnership Agreement, with the goal of concluding within one year a Bilateral Security Agreement.”

Setting aside the exquisitely Obama-esque (and downright silly) exercise of agreeing on an agreement in order to reach another agreement—one recalls the scene from “Office Space” featuring a whiteboard with the phrase “Planning to Plan” scrawled above an elaborate flow chart—it’s not unreasonable to ask if the president will live up to this agreement of agreements. After all, the United States and Iraq engaged in similar negotiations, building toward what most observers thought would be a long-term bilateral security partnership. American and Iraqi military commanders, as well as State Department officials and the Iraqi foreign ministry, counted on a modest-sized force of U.S. troops to provide security and training. Indeed, as Frederick Kagan, one of the architects of the surge, explained, “Painstaking staff work in Iraq led General Lloyd Austin to recommend trying to keep more than 20,000 troops in Iraq after the end of 2011.” The troops would not be there to fight, but rather to deter flare-ups, train Iraq’s nascent army, secure key facilities and back up their Iraqi partners.

But then the president undercut the delicate negotiations with a take-it-or-leave-it offer of a residual force of just 3,000 troops—a force not even large enough to protect itself. When Baghdad balked, as Kagan reported last year, “The White House then dropped the matter entirely and decided instead to withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of [2011], despite the fact that no military commander supported the notion that such a course of action could secure U.S. interests.” That bears repeating: “No military commander supported” a complete withdrawal.

But President Obama knew better.