President Obama and his security team have crafted a well thought out recalibration of America's national security strategy. It is designed to meet the threats of the 21st century within today's fiscal realities. In fact, had the smaller, more agile, technology driven force projected under the new Obama security doctrine been in place after 9/11, the economy would be much stronger and America far safer than it is today. Here's why.
During the dark days after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the United States executed a remarkable military operation. Some 350 Special Forces soldiers with 100 CIA officers parachuted into Northern Afghanistan and linked up with a force of 15,000 Afghans. Under American leadership this coalition destroyed a Taliban army of 50,000-60,000, and sent al-Qaida forces scrambling into Pakistan's tribal areas to escape total destruction. The campaign was completed in two months at a total cost of just $70 million.Writing about this feat in his riveting book Horse Soldiers, Doug Stanton says:
"The epic success of the Horse Soldiers, as they were dubbed [for fighting on horseback] was stunning, by both historical and contemporary standards. The campaign is, in fact, a template for the way the present war -- and future ones -- should be fought. Instead of large-scale occupations, we should rely on small units of Special Forces..."
As we now know, this story does not end well. Not for military reasons, but for political ones. Instead of exploiting this victory in Afghanistan and cutting off the escape of the al-Qaida cadres, the Bush administration changed tacks and began its unnecessary trillion dollar war in Iraq. By the time Afghanistan again assumed center stage it was too late. The Taliban and al-Qaida had re-grouped and returned to the fight with devastating results: the United States still has 100,000 troops in Afghanistan, spends $2 billion a week, with no firm strategy in mind for ending its commitment. Talk about snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
Now consider the alternate scenario of a smaller, leaner, and more agile military force. Without the large military assets available to draw upon the Bush administration would have had to go before Congress to seek a buildup of U.S. forces for the invasion of Iraq. This would have placed the strategy for the Iraq invasion, its costs, and its consequences under intense public examination. I am quite certain, given the lack of inter-agency agreement, especially between the departments of State and Defense, the lack of any post-war contingency planning, and talk of cooked intelligence to justify the war, that it would have been impossible to get political support for invading Iraq. This would have forced the United States to finish the job of stabilizing Afghanistan under favorable conditions, given that most Afghans, indeed much of the world was on America's side after 9/11.
Instead, the American invasion of Iraq destroyed this country's credibility abroad and locked the United States in a decade-long, trillion dollar war in yet another Muslim country. The narrative the invasion created -- of an America at war with Islam -- has been skillfully exploited by al-Qaida and its franchises to recruit terrorists to its cause. This has made America and Americans far less safe today than in the autumn of 2001 and damaged the economy.
"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," then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned cadets at the United States Military Academy, West Point. The nation's new national security doctrine builds on Secretary Gates' sound advice.