â€œAmerica will complete its mission in Afghanistan,â€ President Obama promised Congress and the American people at last nightâ€™s State of the Union address. That missionâ€™s objective: â€œdefeating the core of Al Qaida.â€ The war, then, Obama said, would be over in 2014. But Americaâ€™s â€œcommitment to a unified and sovereign Afghanistanâ€ (read: active military presence, or war in Afghanistan) will continue beyond that. One of the reasons for the open-ended commitment is to train Afghan security forces. But as Congressman Walter Jones told us in the February issue of Reason, â€œyou can train a monkey to ride a bicycle in less time.â€
The presidentâ€™s other reason for the U.S. to remain in Afghanistan is the same reason the war on terror is set to continue indefinitely, fighting Al-Qaeda, an organization that, according to Obama , â€œis a shadow of its former self.â€ Nevertheless the campaign against it, and its associated forces or â€œaffiliates,â€ acts as the governmentâ€™s justification for continued military operations in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and elsewhere. â€œItâ€™s true, different Al Qaida affiliates and extremist groups have emerged, from the Arabian Peninsula to Africa,â€ the president admitted, without tracing Americaâ€™s hand in those groupsâ€™ evolution. Al Qaeda was a virtual non-entity in Qaddafiâ€™s Libya. Today its presence there is by all accounts stronger than Americaâ€™s. Somaliaâ€™s Islamist militants didnâ€™t set up franchise with Al-Qaeda until just last year, years after Americaâ€™s intervention in Somalia began. The president even looped the French intervention in Mali into Americaâ€™s war against Al-Qaeda; â€œ[we] help allies who take the fight to terrorists.â€
And he gave an empty nod to â€œenlist[ing] our values in the fight.â€ Without mentioning drones or targeted killings specifically, he said his administration has created a â€œdurable legal and policy frameworkâ€ for its counterterrorism efforts and that heâ€™s kept Congress informed of it. Heâ€™s going to keep informing Congress of it, too, he says, because â€œno one should just take my word for it.â€ Unfortunately, all we have are the president and his menâ€™s word, and even that at great resistance. The targeted killing memo that vaulted Obamaâ€™s drone policies into the forefront of the news cycle was leaked. While Jay Carney tried to use it being made public to burnish the administrationâ€™s reputation for transparency, the Obama administration actually rejected a FOIA request for the very same memo. The president only provided the actual memos justifying targeted killings to select members of Congress last week, when it became an issue in John Brennanâ€™s confirmation hearings. Brennanâ€™s answers on the procedures behind the White Houseâ€™s targeted killings policies, by the way, boiled down to â€œtrust usâ€.
No indications, then, that the war that never ends is anything else.