The New Rules: Four Options for Redefining the Long War

The New Rules: Four Options for Redefining the Long War

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.

Press on maximally -- in Pakistan. Over time, this would require only a small-footprint presence in Afghanistan to facilitate cross-border strikes that will eventually get us kicked out of Pakistan anyway. The aid price tag Kabul will demand in return for allowing us to maintain bases in Afghanistan for this purpose has to be less than the $20 billion we've doled out to Pakistan since Sept. 11, the vast majority of which has been diverted to purposes other than those intended. Pakistan, for example, is on the verge of fielding tactical nuclear weapons vis-à-vis India, paid for by us! We are heading toward eventual containment of Pakistan, even as we are loath to admit it to ourselves. But with the help of the hefty intelligence haul from bin Laden's compound, we should strike at additional targets while the iron remains hot -- whatever the consequences. We can't draw down too fast in Afghanistan anyway, so President Barack Obama's instinctive preference for the aggressive use of drones, special operations hunters, CIA paramilitary teams and the like is right on the mark. If Obama's talk of sticking with Pakistan is just cover for such a maximal push, then fine. But if he's serious about lashing U.S. strategic interests to this failed and fake state, then we've just bought ourselves a West Asian version of North Korea.

Keep reading for free!

Get instant access to the rest of this article by submitting your email address below. You'll also get access to three articles of your choice each month and our free newsletter:

Or, Subscribe now to get full access.

Already a subscriber? Log in here .

What you’ll get with an All-Access subscription to World Politics Review:

A WPR subscription is like no other resource — it’s like having a personal curator and expert analyst of global affairs news. Subscribe now, and you’ll get:

  • Immediate and instant access to the full searchable library of tens of thousands of articles.
  • Daily articles with original analysis, written by leading topic experts, delivered to you every weekday.
  • Regular in-depth articles with deep dives into important issues and countries.
  • The Daily Review email, with our take on the day’s most important news, the latest WPR analysis, what’s on our radar, and more.
  • The Weekly Review email, with quick summaries of the week’s most important coverage, and what’s to come.
  • Completely ad-free reading.

And all of this is available to you when you subscribe today.