I think something serious changed in the last two years regarding our defense policy, especially regarding the Global War On Terror. Some might call it the Obama Doctrine. Perhaps a better term would be the Petraeus Doctrine.
How would you connect these dots?
- General David Petraeus "wrote the book" on counterinsurgency. Some lessons in that book: "Sometimes, the more you protect your force, the less secure you may be," and "Some of the best weapons do not shoot."
- The "surge" in Iraq was no surge in US Coalition troops. The peak number of Coalition troops in Iraq in 2007 was 182,668 in October. There were more Coalition troops there two years earlier: 183,000 in November and December of 2005.
- As reported by The Times of London in September 2007: "American forces are paying Sunni insurgents hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash to switch sides and help them to defeat Al-Qaeda in Iraq."
A number of factors have contributed to the progress... Another important factor has been the attitudinal shift among certain elements of the Iraqi population.
- In June of 2010, General Petraeus was put in charge of US forces in Afghanistan, reporting to General James Mattis, head of US Central Command.
- In July 2010, General Mattis said this:
Sometimes there are no good guys. There are no bad guys. It seems like everybody is in the middle. I'll tell you, I've slept peaceably among murderers who were on our side. ...If [FDR] can make common cause with Joe Stalin to defeat Hitler, I would think that we can make common cause with people that would annihilate Manhattan if they had half a chance.
- In February 2011, Robert Gates, US Secretary of Defense, said the following to West Point cadets and officers:
But in my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined,' as General MacArthur so delicately put it.
- As reported on April 25, 2011, more than 480 Taliban escaped from an Afghan prison.
- On April 25, 2011, The New York Times wrote, "In a striking policy shift, the Afghanistan-Pakistan review appears to embrace the concept of Afghan-led reconciliation with the Taliban."
- On April 28, 2011, President Obama announced that he would nominate General Petraeus as the new head of the CIA.
- On May 2, 2011, Osama bin Laden was killed by US forces in the middle of Pakistan, in a raid that is reported to have involved multiple helicopters, explosions, and gunfire and lasted more than 20 minutes, all within 800 yards of the Pakistan Military Academy.
- On May 16, The Washington Post ran the headline, "US speeds up direct talks with Taliban."
Here is how I connect those dots. It has been all about deals, and will continue to be about deals, and not about US ground troops or any kind of conventional warfare. We are essentially withdrawing from the Middle East and Asian quagmires and taking on a live-and-let-live approach with the Islamists in that part of the world.
The Rumsfeld doctrine of "light force" has been reduced to "virtually no force." The CIA will keep the radical Islamists from killing us, by bribing, deal-making, and occasional surgical "kinetic" actions like drone attacks, SEAL Team 6 operations, etc.
The Iraq "surge" was successful because the Sunni sheiks stopped fighting us and started cooperating with us -- that "attitudinal shift" that Petraeus spoke of. What brought about that attitudinal shift? Bribing the sheiks, just like Saddam Hussein did.
We were able to kill Osama bin Laden unmolested in the middle of Pakistan because we made deals with the Taliban and its sympathizers inside Pakistan. Part of that deal was to let hundreds of captured Taliban "escape" from their Afghan prison. There might have been a few Gitmo detainees quietly released as well, for all I know.
The killing of Osama bin Laden would also give us the cover to disengage from Afghanistan in particular, and the Global War On Terror (or whatever it's called nowadays) in general. The essence of the deal: let us get OBL, and we'll leave you alone.
Personally, I'm not that impressed with OBL as some kind of commander of al Qaida. It seems to me he was more some kind of cross between the Unabomber, Howard Hughes in his later years, and Larry Flynt. I think Pakistan was keeping him under wraps to (a) keep both the Taliban and the US at bay, and (b) as a potential bargaining chip. On May 1, Pakistan traded in its chip. For Obama, it was a PR three-fer: a neat book-end to 911, a nice way for Obama to one-up Bush, and an excuse to disengage from the GWOT.
On top of all the other dots that appear to connect, the move of Petraeus to CIA removes all doubt in my mind as to our future strategy in fighting radical Islamists.
Here is how I see that strategy.
- We are writing off the Middle East, Asia, and Africa, just as Secretary Gates said. (Libya was an exception, apparently over Gates' objections, and largely to mollify our European allies.)
- That means the Islamists can have at it. Call it the "new containment." The "Arab peninsula" will continue to be Arab and Muslim. What is now Arab and Muslim will continue to be Arab and Muslim, even more so.
- It is going to suck to be Israel (even worse than it has been). Its one friend, the US, is no longer its friend.
- The US's real mission in all this is: keep Islamists from killing Americans in America. We are not nation building. There is no real "war" in Afghanistan. We are there simply to keep the pressure on Pakistan, which has dozens of nuclear warheads and plenty of anti-American jihadis.
- The enforcement strategy will be "virtually no force": bribes, deals, surgical strikes, and head games. (If the military is your career, bone up on all that "full spectrum" and "asymmetric" business, when you are not busy integrating openly gay recruits into your unit.)
- Let the "Arab awakening" happen. For a while, at least, they'll be too busy killing each other to be coming after us. And maybe when the dust settles, they'll be more realistic about who their real enemies are.
Over the coming years and decades, we'll get to see how well that works.