In today’s Washington Post, I lay out five disasters America will face if we retreat from Afghanistan—including the likely end of the drone war against al Qaeda in Pakistan; an increased risk that Pakistan could fall to the Islamists; the return of al Qaeda to its safe havens in Afghanistan; the emboldening of al Qaeda to carry out new attacks on America; and the strengthening of Iran in its nuclear standoff with America.
These only scratch the surface of what might befall our country if we retreat now before the mission is complete. Here are some additional consequences of an American failure in Afghanistan:
1. Tensions, and the risk of conflict, between India and Pakistan will grow. Before September 11, 2001, Pakistan was one of only three countries that recognized the Taliban regime, and the Pakistani ISI had a long history of covert cooperation with Islamic militants. After 9/11, President Bush delivered a blunt message to Pakistan’s leaders: you are either with us or with the terrorists. They chose wisely and began cooperating with the United States in the war on terror. In the ensuing years, that cooperation has deteriorated. If the U.S. retreats from Afghanistan, it would end all but completely. Those in Pakistan who were behind the policy of cooperation with the United States would be marginalized, while those who have advocated for cooperation with Islamic radicals and terrorists would be strengthened. Tensions between Pakistan and India would grow. If there were another major terrorist attack, like the 2008 Mumbai bombings, which could be traced back to Islamabad, America’s ability to influence the situation would decline. India would rightly conclude that we are not reliable partners, and had lost our ability to restrain Pakistan—increasing the chances of Indian retaliation, and the risk of war between these two nuclear powers.
2. American global prestige would take a major blow. No matter how the Obama administration tried to spin it, an American withdrawal from Afghanistan would be perceived by friend and foe alike as a retreat. And it would not be taken in isolation, but viewed in the broader context of President Obama’s dramatic cuts in defense spending, his decision to pull out of Iraq, his approach of “leading from behind” in Libya, and his failure to lead at all in Syria. All this in concert would do tremendous damage to our reputation, creating an impression of weakness that would affect U.S. security interests not only in South Asia but across the globe. Potential adversaries won’t fear us, friends and allies won’t trust us, and the fence sitters will be more nervous than ever.
3. The morale of the U.S. military would be decimated. An American retreat would allow a resurgent Taliban to regain lost territory, and they would in turn almost certainly permit al Qaeda to use that territory to restore their lost sanctuary in Afghanistan. Preventing this outcome is the mission for which nearly three thousand Americans gave their lives, and many thousands more were injured. The terrorists would not only set up training camps in Afghanistan again, they could very well use abandoned American military posts for this purpose. One can only imagine the devastating effect this would have on the morale of our Armed Forces.
4. We’d have to go back and start all over again. If Afghanistan did fall apart, the Taliban regained lost territory (or, worse yet, returned to power), and al Qaeda made a comeback in the country where they planned the 9/11 attacks, does anyone imagine for a moment that America would be able to sit back and allow this to happen? We would eventually have to go back and drive the Taliban and al Qaeda out all over again. We would expend more American lives and treasure—all to restore military gains that we had already paid for with American lives and treasure.
Bottom line: all these consequences are preventable. But preventing them requires leadership from the commander in chief. The president needs to start standing with his military commanders on the ground and give them the time and resources to implement their war plan. And he needs to use his bully pulpit to rally the American people, by explaining our strategy for success and the consequences failure. Today he is doing neither.