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Thursday, October 8, 2009

Obama Ready to Reject Bush Doctrine Tenet

President Bush made his speech in the aftermath of 9/11 about a week afterwards. In the week between the attacks and his speech, there was a bit of debate about one specific issue. That issue was whether or not we were going to include the Taliban in our list of enemies for destruction along with Al Qaeda. I say there was just a bit of debate because most people were in agreement that the Taliban were no less responsible for 9/11 than Al Qaeda itself. Then, George Bush said this in his speech a week after 9/11.

we will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them

Bush continued.

From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.

That was the first tenet of the Bush Doctrine as it related to the GWOT. It was then, as it is now, rather non controversial. That's because it makes sense. Just as those that knowingly harbor a criminal are themselves criminals. Any regime that harbors terrorists must be held accountable for the terrorists.

It goes beyond that. Al Qaeda didn't merely show up one day in Afghanistan. They were invited in. They weren't invited for no reason. Instead, both Al Qaeda and the Taliban share an ideology and a world view. Al Qaeda wanted to be in Afghanistan, in part, because the Taliban imposed the sort of Islamic political philosophy that Al Qaeda agreed with. The two were ideological and strategic allies. One couldn't be dealt with, without dealing with the other.

This, I thought, was the one part of the Bush Doctrine that no one would challenge. Yet, it appears that President Obama is ready to drop that portion of the Bush doctrine.

Obama's developing strategy on the Taliban will "not tolerate their return to power," the senior official said. But the U.S. would fight only to keep the Taliban from retaking control of Afghanistan's central government -- something it is now far from being capable of -- and from giving renewed sanctuary in Afghanistan to Al-Qaeda, the official said.


Members of the president's national security team argued that the Taliban in Afghanistan do not pose a direct threat to the U.S., officials told The New York Times. It was unclear if everyone in the war council accepted the premise.

If the President follows through on this strategy that will reject a central tenet of the Bush Doctrine for the GWOT. No longer will we be treating the terrorists and their harboring regimes as one and the same. The president will treat Al Qaeda as the enemy and treat the Taliban as something else, something we can tolerate.

This makes no sense on a moral level. Al Qaeda is not a country. They operate because regimes invite them in. That's what the Taliban did. That makes the Taliban just as responsible for their terrorism as Al Qaeda itself. It also makes no sense on a strategic level. You can't separate the Taliban from Al Qaeda because they are in fact interchangeable.

Just as in pre-9/11 Afghanistan, these safe havens are home to broad cooperation between the Taliban and al Qaeda. The Taliban hosts camps for al Qaeda’s paramilitary army, as well as al Qaeda’s external network – that is, those terrorists responsible for striking the West. By some estimates there are more than 150 training camps, of various sizes and configurations, in the tribal areas in Northwestern Pakistan.

Senior al Qaeda leaders are routinely killed at Taliban safe houses, training camps, and compounds during U.S. airstrikes. Numerous Taliban leaders, including the Haqqanis (a father and son team who are based both in eastern Afghanistan and in Pakistan’s tribal areas, as discussed below), Hakeemullah Mehsud, Mullah Nazir, Hafiz Gul Bahadar, Omar Khalid, Mullah Fazlullah, and Faqir Mohammed host al Qaeda’s leaders and foot soldiers. These Taliban commanders conduct cross-border operations in Afghanistan, and aid al Qaeda in doing so as well.

So, how do you only go after Al Qaeda when Al Qaeda and the Taliban are fighting together, hiding together, and together in the overall war. That's doesn't even take into account that if we leave the Taliban in place that eventually they'll invite Al Qaeda back in, unless we want to stay in Afghanistan forever.

This would in fact be a massive change in the philosophy of the GWOT. If we aren't treating the terrorists and their sponsors as one and the same, we've now given license to any terrorist sponsoring state, a la Iran, much more license. If Obama pronounces that the Taliban can be left alone that will give that much more incentive for any other tyrant to invite terrorists into their nation. Of all the tenets of the Bush Doctrine, this is the one that I thought with most certainty would never be challenged. Yet, it appears that President Obama is on the brink of making a distinction between the terrorists and the states that sponsor them.

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