Center for World Conflict and Peace

Center for World Conflict and Peace

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Back to Tet?

I won't be surprised if by now I've acquired the moniker "Dr. Doom" due to my constant attacks on Barack Obama's foreign policy. Still, let me give my take on Obama's decision to pull troops out from Afghanistan.

First, I do think that Brad hits the nail with his argument that Obama's decision is partly influenced by his desire to negotiate with the Taliban. I agree that there is some "tit-for-tat" going on, and Obama's willingness to pull more troops than even agreed by his generals is based on both his goal to negotiate with the Taliban and political considerations back in the US where FOX News found that 74% respondents agreed with Obama's decision.

The problem lies in the Taliban themselves. The Taliban is not a cohesive political or fighting unit. It is basically a network of various local warlords/extremists that have given their allegiance to the "Taliban" banner because there's no credible alternative in Afghanistan at this point. Due to America's targeted attacks on the Taliban's leadership, the movement has become more and more decentralized and fragmented. In addition, Pakistan plays an important role in the Taliban movement, with its intelligence services pulling the strings behind the screen.

In essence, the Taliban is no longer a monolithic organization with a clear chain of command. The question is whether the U.S. is able to draw as many Taliban as possible into any political accord.

The attack on the Intercontinental Hotel on Monday showed the peril of Obama's position. The attack was done by a Taliban faction allied with the Haqqani network, which is very close to the Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence.

Of course, the Taliban movement as a whole claimed that the attack was their handiwork - it would be stupid and politically disastrous to claim otherwise. Nevertheless, this is the case of the tail that wags the dog: while the leadership itself is willing to negotiate, we find many extremists within the organization who oppose such moves. And they are capable of garnering more political prominence due to their repeated successful attacks. Unfortunately, the leadership, in turn, so as not to be driven into irrelevance, likely has no option but to support the extremists.

Thus, my prediction: the closer it gets to September 2012, the more likely the Taliban will attack and cause disturbances, thereby creating a "Tet" moment, the point of time when everyone will look and say that was the moment the group broke America's commitment to Afghanistan. Why not after September? Because as promised by Obama, by then the U.S. has to unilaterally withdraw and thus there is no more political score to achieve for the Taliban.

Moreover, the U.S. public has no appetite for further foreign adventures. Obama or whomever wins the election in 2012 will have no option except to quicken the pace of America's exit. Thus, by causing a "Tet" before the America's withdrawal in September 2012, the Taliban can claim a major political, military, and strategic victory.

In short, the Intercontinental Hotel is just the beginning. This will be a very long year for U.S. troops there. I wish them the best of luck.

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