5 years ago
The recent chorus of calls for withdrawal from Afghanistan (which I will treat in more detail later) involve a number of different avenues, some liberal, some conservative, some pragmatic, and some nonplussed. Courtesy of Bryan McGrath at Information Dissemination, we have a mythical reason, called A Return to Offshore Balancing (albeit somewhat dated).
As the new President takes office, the United States is in deep trouble in the Middle East. Despite Obama’s promises to withdraw from Iraq, the debacle there shows no sign of ending soon, and it has made America’s terrorism problem worse, not better. Meanwhile, Hamas rules in Gaza, Iran’s stature is on the rise and Tehran is quickly moving to acquire a nuclear deterrent—which, despite a lot of tough talk, the United States and its allies have been unable to prevent. And America’s image throughout the Middle East is at an all-time low.
All this is a direct result of the Bush administration’s misguided policy of regional transformation. George W. Bush hoped he could implant democracy in the Middle East by using the U.S. military to topple the unfriendly regime in Baghdad—and maybe those in Damascus and Tehran, too—and replace them with friendly, democratic governments.
Things didn’t work out well, of course, and it’s now vital that the new president devise a radically different strategy for dealing with this critical part of the world. Fortunately, one approach has proved effective in the past and could serve America again today: “offshore balancing.” During the cold war, this strategy enabled Washington to contain Iran and Iraq and deter direct Soviet intervention in the oil-rich Persian Gulf. As a Middle East policy, offshore balancing may be less ambitious than Bush’s grand design was—no one promises it will lead to an “Arab spring”—but it will be much more effective at protecting actual U.S. interests.
So what would it look like? As an offshore balancer, the United States would keep its military forces—especially its ground and air forces—outside the Middle East, not smack in the center of it. Hence the term “offshore.” As for “balancing,” that would mean relying on regional powers like Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia to check each other. Washington would remain diplomatically engaged, and when necessary would assist the weaker side in a conflict. It would also use its air and naval power to signal a continued U.S. commitment to the region and would retain the capacity to respond quickly to unexpected threats, like Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990. But—and this is the key point—the United States would put boots on the ground in the Middle East only if the local balance of power seriously broke down and one country threatened to dominate the others. Short of that, America would keep its soldiers and pilots “over the horizon”—namely at sea, in bases outside the region or back home in the United States.
This proposal assumes first that in using SF and SOF we have the actionable intelligence and logistics to support their interdictions, raids and HVT killings. We will not have that with a small footprint. Intelligence sources are killed in small footprint campaigns because their is no force projection on the ground. Logistics would be nonexistent because every participant in trucking supplies into the FOBs or launch points for these operations would have been beheaded or shot. Thinking that this can all be done from offshore platforms is not serious analysis. It’s wishful and even mythical thinking.
Our friend Galrahn (who still hasn’t blogrolled TCJ) says that the light footprint model hasn’t failed us because Afghanistan is not currently a sanctuary for AQ. The problem with this is that as Michael Yon points out, the enemy controls the terrain. Those who would harbor AQ could come back into power.
It should be remember that the so-called Hamburg cell originally intended to attack Germany, and their minds were changed when AQ in Afghanistan (UBL) convinced them to target the U.S. The Hindu Kush and areas South of there (Helmand) harbors AQ and other globalists and also their enablers. Don’t think for one minute that we can simply launch clinical raids with pristine intelligence supported by operators who have all they need when they need it, with combined arms including air support that has air controllers who have all of the logistics that they need while they target only know HVTs with verifiable accuracy.
This is simply a myth – a strategic daydream. The small footprint model has led us to where we are in Afghanistan, and claiming that we should do more of the same will continue the diminution of the campaign. We can withdraw or we can go big, but what we cannot do is hope that more of the same saves us.