Obama Broadening Afghanistan War Into 'War of Choice' and Not 'Necessity': CFR

06/01/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011


Interviewee: Richard N. Haass, President, CFR.org
Interviewer: Bernard Gwertzman, Consulting editor, CFR.org

CFR President Richard N. Haass's latest book, War of Necessity, War of Choice,recounts his time in government, first as a National Security Council aide dealing with the first Iraq War in 1990-1991, a "war of necessity" brought on by Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, and then as a high State Department official from 2001-2003, when President George W. Bush launched a "war of choice," which he opposed. Haass says he is concerned that President Barack Obama may be turning the Afghanistan war into a "war of choice" too. "The U.S. goals in Afghanistan are still relatively modest, but the level of investment is getting large, the level of effort is significant. It's more than ten times, I would say, our level of effort in Pakistan. And it does represent something of a shift from what Mr. Obama inherited," he says.

In your new book you talk about the first Iraq war as being one of necessity, and the second Iraq war as being one of choice, although not a very good choice. How do you view the Afghanistan situation right now? It obviously started out as a war of necessity in retaliation for 9/11, but is it now becoming more of a war of choice?

The short answer is yes, you're exactly right. After 9/11, what the United States did in Afghanistan against the Taliban was a manifestation of the right of self-defense, and I did describe it in the book as a war of necessity. Since then, over the years, the U.S. position in Afghanistan has gotten broader, and in the most recent [Obama] administration white paper, you have the president and others talking about bringing the fight to the Taliban. So this suggests to me more than a narrow goal in Afghanistan of simply going after al-Qaeda remnants and a larger goal of essentially trying to help the central government in Kabul prevail in what increasingly looks like a civil war.

And of course President Obama justified this by saying the step up was against al-Qaeda. He kept talking about how the United States can't let al-Qaeda prevail, even though it's not clear to me the relationship between the Taliban in Afghanistan and al-Qaeda right now.

As I read and reread what the administration has said about Afghanistan, I believe that what they are now doing goes beyond a narrow or minimalist policy of simply targeting al-Qaeda. They appear to have a broader effort under way to essentially neutralize or weaken or defeat the Taliban. And the reason I would say that constitutes something of a war of choice is that one could have a narrower policy of simply going after al-Qaeda. The use of military force in pursuit of this larger goal also reflects elements of choice. One could emphasize other tools of foreign policy, be it diplomacy or development

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