The Never-Ending War in Afghanistan and Against Al-Qaeda

The war in Afghanistan is going to be over, says Obama, except not


to 2014 and beyond
U.S. Army / Foter.com

"America will complete its mission in Afghanistan," President Obama promised Congress and the American people at last night's State of the Union address. That mission's objective: "defeating the core of Al Qaida." The war, then, Obama said, would be over in 2014. But America's "commitment to a unified and sovereign Afghanistan" (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, "you can train a monkey to ride a bicycle in less time."

The president'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 , "is a shadow of its former self." Nevertheless the campaign against it, and its associated forces or "affiliates," acts as the government's justification for continued military operations in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and elsewhere. "It's true, different Al Qaida affiliates and extremist groups have emerged, from the Arabian Peninsula to Africa," the president admitted, without tracing America's hand in those groups' evolution. Al Qaeda was a virtual non-entity in Qaddafi's Libya. Today its presence there is by all accounts stronger than America's. Somalia's Islamist militants didn't set up franchise with Al-Qaeda until just last year, years after America's intervention in Somalia began. The president even looped the French intervention in Mali into America's war against Al-Qaeda; "[we] help allies who take the fight to terrorists."

 And he gave an empty nod to "enlist[ing] our values in the fight." Without mentioning drones or targeted killings specifically, he said his administration has created a "durable legal and policy framework" for its counterterrorism efforts and that he's kept Congress informed of it. He's going to keep informing Congress of it, too, he says, because "no one should just take my word for it." Unfortunately, all we have are the president and his men's word, and even that at great resistance. The targeted killing memo that vaulted Obama'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 administration'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 Brennan's confirmation hearings. Brennan's answers on the procedures behind the White House's targeted killings policies, by the way, boiled down to "trust us".

No indications, then, that the war that never ends is anything else.