Afghanistan and Iraq share a common policy mistake by the U.S. The situation in Iraq is already playing out badly now, and Afghanistan could suffer similar fate in 2015 if that error is repeated.
The Obama policy of disengagement in the Middle East — and in fact around the world — can only leave a vacuum for anyone with the ability and determination to fill. The administration chose to leave Iraq with a rushed political decision and not to negotiate a Status of Forces Agreement, which was already approved by the Iraqi parliament before the president was sworn into office in 2009. Hindsight was not required to see this was a bad decision. It was and is a matter of how bad the implosion of Iraq would be.
The Obama administration and NATO forces now intend to ignore the obvious reality of a political, precipitous withdrawal in Iraq and repeat a similar mistake in Afghanistan. The decision by the administration to withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan in December 2014 could reverse the gains made in that theater.
In spite of the grand “nuclear” bargain being sold to the world as a success, Iran’s leadership seeks power in the region. They are the world’s largest supporters, trainers and exporters of terrorism. Their proxy wars in multiple countries through organizations like Hezbollah are all part of their plan to be the hegemon in the Middle East. It’s foolish to believe they’ll stay contained within their borders.
Ease of transportation and an already existing worldwide foothold of a radical Islamic militancy makes this a global problem. The ease of transport of humans or proliferation of weapons, which may well include nuclear material, should concern all nations, especially the major powers.
As Iran inches closer to being the hegemon in the Middle East, a troubling unknown is the containment of its ambition nuclear and otherwise. Both China and Russia overtly or quietly will continue to support Iran’s growing influence, as they have for more than a decade. This political, economic, radical and evolving storm will continue to expand until it covers the entire globe if left unchecked.
China also stands to benefit as America’s influence in the Middle East diminishes, potentially gaining access to much-needed Middle East energy. As the U.S. increases energy production, Iran and the Middle East nations will need to sell their energy elsewhere.
Russia benefits not only with access to energy, like China, but also by maintaining its only warm water naval base, Tartus, in Syria. Russia will continue and possibly increase its weapons exports to a dangerous part of the world.
Pakistan, to the south of Afghanistan, is not a good ally either, and would continue to take advantage of an unstable nation.
Afghanistan has the potential to simply become a pathway for the exertion of influence, transit of weapons and other trade, trampling the Afghan people under foreign feet.
A stable Afghanistan makes it more difficult for Iran, Russia and others to take advantage of the strategic location of its airfields. A stable Afghanistan, while it will not likely ever be a Jeffersonian democracy like the United States, has the potential of watching freedom and a free society develop. That is always a better outcome. With either Iran or Russian intervention, however, the West would effectively be cut off from inserting any positive influence.
A stable Afghanistan is a Western foothold. The argument by many on the left that we have to be involved in military action if we remain in Iraq or Afghanistan is false. America has been in Germany, South Korea, the Philippines and many areas across the globe without direct military conflict. This may take some time to achieve in Afghanistan and Iraq, but a foothold is necessary for our security and the security of the world. Foreign policy is, after all, primarily about security, not friendship.
I went to Afghanistan in December 2013 to observe and interact with the NATO Air Training Command and the Afghans involved in building the Afghan Air Force. This effort of 15 nations, military advisers and Afghans is led by USAF Brig. Gen. John E. Michel and his Afghan counterpart, Brig. Gen. Mohammed Barat, the Kabul air wing commander. They begin daily with a simple premise “Shohna ba Shohna,” which means “Shoulder to Shoulder.” This effort is important to the future of Afghanistan’s security and stability, and to the stability of the region. The more recent history of the Afghan Air Force has seen it devolve from more than 400 aircraft at its peak, decimated after a decade of war with the Soviets and followed by Taliban rule that had no interest in an Air Force.
In a time of economic turmoil here in the United States, the effects of legislation such as sequestration, reductions in military forces and a war weary nation matter very much. But America needs to reassess its approach to military spending and our interactions around the world with allies and enemies. We need to establish clear guidelines and follow with actions in terms of who gets the benefit of American power or monetary aid.
Less than $2 billion in total expenditure could facilitate the building of a sustainable Afghan Air Force. The mission is to stand up the Afghan Air Force and leave the country in full control, with the ability to maintain readiness, and repair and rebuild when necessary. The Afghans would control this part of their destiny, and would have the ability to fight more effectively against enemies who wish to see a fractured Afghanistan for whatever reason.
A devolving Afghanistan coupled with upheaval in Iraq and potentially a civil war of many factions in both countries will be the final act of failure if politics of convenience is what’s driving decisions.
Webb is host of The David Webb Show on SiriusXM Patriot 125, is a Fox News contributor and has appeared frequently on television as a commenter. Webb co-founded TeaParty365 in New York City, and is a spokesman for the National Tea Party Federation.