17,000 or 21,000 more US troops will not protect Americans against Al Qaeda attacks.
The Obama plan instead will accelerate any plans Al Qaeda commanders have for attacking targets in the United States or Europe. The alternative for Al Qaeda is to risk complete destruction, an American objective that has not been achieved for eight years. A terrorist attack need not be planned or set in motion from a cave in Waziristan. The cadre could already be underground in Washington or London. The real alternative for President Obama should be to maintain a deterrent posture while immediately accelerating diplomacy to meet legitimate Muslim goals, from a Palestinian state to genuine progress on Kashmir.
President Obama is right, at least politically, to take very seriously the threat of another 9/11 from any source. Besides the suffering inflicted, it would derail his agenda and perhaps his presidency. This is all the more reason he must understand that by repeatedly threatening to “kill Al Qaeda” he is provoking a hornets’ nest without protection against a devastating sting.
The hard choices are laid out very clearly in writings by the CIA’s former point man on Osama bin Ladin, Michael Scheuer, who also ran the agency’s rendition program and still supports it. Scheuer is a tough guy, in other words, who says the options are either to kill all the jihadists, make it quick and withdraw (not a real option), or begin pursuing an agenda that addresses what he calls Muslim issues: the American military and civilian presence in the Arab Peninsula, the unqualified US support for Israel, US support for states that oppress Muslims (China, India, Russia), US exploitation of Muslim oil and suppression of its price, US military presence in the Islamic world, and US support and protection of Arab police states.
Such an approach would create an option to violence for many millions of jihadi sympathizers and potential recruits. It would create an incentive not to inflict terrorism, blow up airplanes and hotels, or deploy a nuclear bomb in a suitcase. It would disturb the multinational oil companies and the Israel lobby but open a better path to stability than wars against the Muslim world.
Escalation of American troop levels is a slippery slope. John F. Kennedy sent 16,300 Americans to save South Vietnam from the Vietcong.
President Obama obviously has no intention of sending hundreds of thousands of American troops into Afghanistan or Pakistan. But escalation, once it begins, is increasingly difficult to stop. Already Obama’s generals want more troops than the president is sending. The neoconservatives and Republicans are demanding a “must-win war” and denouncing any talk of an exit strategy. A gradual American escalation may play into the jihadist game plan, drawing more Western troops into jeopardy or permitting a retreat into mountainous wastelands if necessary. Any “redeployment” (another word for retreat in the minds of the neocons), other than returning with Bin Ladin’s head on a platter, provokes a right-wing reaction at home. The easy solution to these pressures is another escalation followed by another, like one drink at a time. (See Daniel Ellsberg, “Secrets”, 2002]