X out one possibility in Afghanistan - America isn't withdrawing. Any debate at this point will be purely theoretical because the decision has already been made to stay. In an interview with CNN, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said, "The notion of timelines and and so on, frankly, I think would all be a strategic mistake. The reality is, failure in Afghanistan would be a huge setback for the United States."
But Gates went far beyond his usual nonchalant disinformation by throwing the mission parameters into deep confusion. America's objective in Afghanistan is subject to morph at any time and it appears to have done so again.
President Obama insists that a broad mission will fail, which is why he's zeroed in on "disrupting, dismantling, and defeating al-Qaeda." There's just one problem - defeating al-Qaeda means defeating the Taliban. To defeat the Taliban, America must forge a legitimate government in Afghanistan. And to uphold a credible government, America must nation-build. But the goal is still al-Qaeda.
Now a new twist. Gates said, "the Taliban and al-Qaida, as far as they're concerned, defeated one superpower. For them to be seen to defeat a second, I think, would have catastrophic consequences in terms of energizing the extremist movement, al-Qaida recruitment, operations, fund raising, and so on. I think it would be a huge setback for the United States."
While Gates has a point about energizing extremist movements, his statements are the clearest indication yet that the Taliban is America's true target, and that al-Qaeda is a tool to rally support in Afghanistan. al-Qaeda barely existed in the Soviet war, as Gates should know, and lumping it so effortlessly with the Taliban is blatant distortion. His words are proof that America won't leave until the Taliban is defeated, a war that could protract for decades, and his assessment guarantees more US troops.
Gates is no fan of the "offshore" theory and he won't allow Vice President Biden and his shadows to win. Gates just poured a vat of oil on an already slippery slope. Anyone believing America will withdraw, draw down, or leave Afghanistan in the next five years should carefully follow him. He will inadvertently lead you to the truth and just telegraphed escalation.
If defeating the Taliban is America's mission then more US troops are needed and soon. Those who cover for President Obama's "deliberation" threaten the war effort. The London Times reports, "Several Taleban leaders said that the movement was already attracting more recruits and was drafting plans fully to exploit the post-election power vacuum... The drawn-out fiasco of last month’s elections has only bolstered the Islamists."
"The political paralysis helped us a lot," said Mullah Ghulam Muhammad Akhund, a Taleban commander in Helmand. "The government will be too busy dealing with their own problems, giving us time to create plans and recruit more people and attack government facilities."
The Afghan and American governments are the in same boat.
In a semi-related development, Energy Minister Ismail Khan threatened to quit the government after narrowly avoiding a suicide attack. Khan, part of the Northern alliance, has been targeted in the past and was warned of imminent threats. "Very clearly I want to say that if the government does not form a clear strategy to bring peace and security, and the situation continues like this, I will not participate in the Cabinet anymore," he said.
That's one vote for more US troops.