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The New Rules: Four Options for Redefining the Long War

Monday, May 16, 2011

There is a profound sense of completion to be found in America's elimination of Osama bin Laden, and the circumstances surrounding his death certainly fit this frontier nation's historical habit of mounting major military operations to capture or kill super-empowered bad actors. Operation Geronimo, like most notable U.S. overseas interventions of the past quarter-century, boiled down to eliminating the one man we absolutely felt we needed to get to declare victory. Now we have the opportunity to redefine this "long war" to America's most immediate advantage. I spot four basic options, each with their own attractions and distractions.

Declare victory and go home. This is what the bulk of the American public wants, and that desire shouldn't be casually dismissed as naïve. After all, we went to Afghanistan to dismember al-Qaida's central leadership cell there, and by all accounts, we've basically accomplished that mission. Al-Qaida's headquarters staff is in permanent, off-the-grid hiding -- overwhelmingly in Pakistan. It has also been reduced to providing leadership that is more inspirational than operational in character. Tactically speaking, the network's center of gravity sits today in Yemen with al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Given the instability and proliferation risks of Libya's civil war, we must also consider al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) to be of second-order importance. Staying in Afghanistan keeps us in bed with Pakistan, which means continuing to provide massive military aid to the closest thing China has as a military ally. If we're so worried about China's growing might, this path seems downright goofy. Afghanistan's run as the "good war" is officially over. ...

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