Central view: Vital interests — applying the test
July 22, 2013
It is said that American foreign policy is only discernible in retrospect. So, only now are America's reactions to the atrocities of 9/11 coming into clearer focus.
Back in the summer of 2008, Candidate Obama took a stand on U.S. foreign policy that would win the votes of those on the Left who opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq (the Doves), while not totally alienating those on the Right (the Hawks). So, Candidate Obama proposed to scuttle our efforts in Iraq, saying that President G.W. Bush is fighting the "wrong war in the wrong place," and that the "good war" needed to be fought in Afghanistan.
As subsequent events have shown, the decision to abandon Iraq and embrace Afghanistan has been and remains an unmitigated disaster. The U.S. and NATO are about to leave Afghanistan with little or nothing positive to show for their efforts.
Did we ever have a vital national interest in Afghanistan? Yes, immediately post-9/11, it was in our vital national interest to shut down the al-Qaeda training camps and to run Osama bin Laden out of his safe haven. Allied forces under General Tommy Franks did that, leaving only a token force that was winding down. Unfortunately, President Obama reversed that process.
Afghanistan is a land-locked nation with no economically accessible mineral resources. Afghanistan's only marketable product is opium. Afghanistan has proven ungovernable by everyone from Alexander the Great, Great Britain, the former Soviet Union, and by the United States.
Iraq, on the other hand, is strategically located at the head of the oil-rich Persian Gulf. Iraq serves as a sandy firebreak between our enemy Iran and our supposed ally, Saudi Arabia. Northern Iraq, the Kurdish part, stretches along the land bridge that connects Europe to Asia.
Some say we should have split the Kurds off into their own Kurdistan; thereby, weakening Iran on the one hand but, on the other hand, that would have ticked off Turkey — our supposed ally. But is it in our vital national interest to create new nations?
Let's get real. The vital interests of a maritime, global-trading nation like the United States lie in the maintenance of freedom-of-the-seas so that peaceful nations can trade peacefully with each other. President Kennedy said, "A rising tide lifts all boats," meaning a free global economy would raise the standard of living for millions of people around the globe. And, it has. Whether or not Muslim girls get to go to school or get to drive cars or have to suffer genital mutilation or suffer Sharia honor killings are not the stuff of which vital national interests are made. Those are valid humanitarian concerns, deserving of the attention of our religious and other charitable institutions.
Where America gets in trouble is when the winning of elections becomes more important to political candidates than securing the vital interests of the United States. Now, we find to our dismay, that President Obama did not just double-down our involvement in Afghanistan while virtually abandoning Iraq, he tripled-down in Afghanistan and now we have no economical way to withdraw billions of dollars of arms and equipment from land-locked Afghanistan. Over $7 billion dollars of U.S. military equipment must be destroyed in place or abandoned to the Taliban. Go figure.
Nationally syndicated columnist, William Hamilton, was educated at the University of Oklahoma, the George Washington University, the U.S Naval War College, the University of Nebraska, and Harvard University.