Anxious, it seems, to dispel the idea that the New America Foundation supports peace in Afghanistan, today the NAF scrounged up a former adviser to none other than Dick Cheney to spew nonsense about the failing occupation of Afghanistan as a “war of necessity.”
The NAF forum today followed last week’s release of a study by the Afghanistan Study Group that called into question the very premises of the war and suggested a sharp drawdown of US forces by 2011. The ASG study was organized by Steve Clemons, senior fellow and director of the American Strategy Program at NAF, who helped assemble a team of nearly fifty experts, academics, and policy analysts who issued a report entitled “A New Way Forward: Rethinking US Strategy in Afghanistan.”
On Tuesday, the NAF presented the other side, bringing Bergen and the former Cheney aide, Michael Waltz, to a forum that sounded dire warnings about the stakes in the war.
Waltz, who advised Cheney in 2008 and who served in Afghanistan as a US army commander in charge of a Special Forces unit, said that he’d been holding his tongue until now, refusing invitations from various thinktanks—presumably including the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute. But on Tuesday, Waltz declared that he couldn’t stand it any longer, because he was “so disturbed…by the Afghanistan Study Group” and its report. Hefty, square-shouldered and square-jawed, the former military officer blasted President Obama’s decision to announce a timetable for starting the withdrawal of US forces in July, 2011. The war, he said, is a “war of necessity…not an optional effort,” and he said that the United States “must prevail.”
"I was mortified at the July 11 announcement,” he intoned. Because of it, he warned, tribal elders and other leaders in Afghanistan and Pakistan concluded that the United States is pulling out, and no longer want to work with the United States. Not only that, but he complained that the United States isn’t spending enough money nor sending enough soldiers to Afghanistan, despite Obama’s two surges that nearly tripled the American commitment. “We still haven’t resourced it properly,” he muttered.
In the Q&A, I asked Waltz a two-part question: if he’s so upset about the supposed under-resourcing of the war, why didn’t he make a lot of noise during the Bush administration, when he was a Cheney lackey? It was Bush, after all, who allowed the war in Afghanistan to drag on for nearly a decade while he invaded Iraq. And, I asked, does his militant opposition to Obama’s withdrawal timetable reflect the sentiment inside the US military, including the views of General Petraeus and General McChrystal, who seem to be organizing an insubordinate rebellion against the White House?
Waltz responded that to the extent that he could make his views known to Cheney et al., he argued for escalating the war, and he said that in its last months the Bush administration drew up plans to add 30,000 troops to the conflict, a plan that was passed on intact to the incoming Obama administration. But he refused to comment on the anti-Obama, anti-timetable grumbling within the US command, even though it was the blatant disparaging of the White House by McChrystal and Co.—including in the famous article in Rolling Stone, a magazine to which I’ve contributed several articles on Afghanistan—that got McChrystal first reprimanded by Obama (last September) and finally fired.
Waltz, backed by Bergen, conflated the Taliban and Al Qaeda. One of the chief merits of the ASG report is that it made a clear distinction between the Taliban, a local, Afghan insurgency, and Al Qaeda, a globally focused international terrorist group made up of non-Afghans. The ASG pointed out, correctly in my view, that even if the United States leaves Afghanistan, there is little likelihood that the Taliban will take over the country; that even if the Taliban does seize control of some territory in Afghanistan after a US departure, it won’t necessarily bring back Al Qaeda; and that even if Al Qaeda does re-enter Afghanistan it won’t be able to establish a useful safe haven because American counterterrorism forces will destroy any bases or facilities it sets up. But Waltz insisted that the Taliban and Al Qaeda are deeply entwined, alongside the Haqqani group (based in Pakistan), and that defeating Al Qaeda, the Taliban, Haqqani, and their allies is a vital American interest.
Bergen, too, sharply criticized Obama’s July 2011 plan, echoing criticism from the military and from various right-wing ideologues and neoconservative hard-liners. But Bergen admitted that, when the December 2010, review rolls around, the civilians in the White House—including Vice President Biden and Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel—are going to push for a drawdown. Stay tuned.