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On Dec. 14, 2011, President Obama proudly proclaimed the “end” to the Iraq war, announcing that “there is something profound about the end of a war that has lasted so long.” In an interview with AEI last week, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) warned that the pullout posed a security threat as well as endangering regional security. “The greater question is what kind of country will Iraq ultimately become, and the prospect of a decent outcome has now been placed at unnecessary risk because of the full withdrawal of U.S. troops,” McCain said. AEI has covered the conflict from the start, as well as the longer war in Afghanistan in the face of a looming 2014 deadline for Afghan security forces to take over.
As America marked a decade since the 9/11 al Qaeda attacks in September, an AEI Public Opinion Study by Karlyn Bowman and Andrew Rugg assessed how the public viewed the Afghanistan war and broader war on terror ten years on. Some findings:
Americans continue to believe that the initial decision to send troops was the right one. In 16 questions asked by Gallup since 2001, a majority has said it was not a mistake to send military forces to Afghanistan. In May 2011, 58% gave that response. After the surge in Iraq, when most pollsters turned their attention back to Afghanistan, Americans were more critical about our involvement in the war. In summer 2011 Quinnipiac and CBS polls, majorities said we shouldn’t be involved now.
Fred Kagan, director of the AEI Critical Threats Project, and Kimberly Kagan, who spent nearly half of 2010 in Afghanistan and yet more time there in the past year, issued the January study “Defining Success in Afghanistan”:
Success in Afghanistan is hard enough that one might prefer to find another way than counterinsurgency to attain our goals. The search for such different paths is natural and understandable. It will not, however, yield meaningful alternatives capable of ensuring America’s core national security interest, namely, preventing a resurgent transnational terrorist safe haven.
It is not possible to deny safe haven to terrorists in Afghanistan without also pursuing a counterinsurgency strategy. The neutralization and ultimate defeat of the insurgency is a necessary prerequisite for preventing the return of al Qaeda and other transnational terrorist groups that thrive in the political vacuum that the insurgency creates. As long as local networks willing to support extremists exist and can operate freely in Afghanistan, terrorists will be able to use those networks however intense our direct-action operations might be. The current counterinsurgency strategy is the only approach that can disrupt and ultimately eliminate those local networks, thereby preventing the terrorists from returning to Afghanistan and ensuring that America achieves its vital national security objectives.
RELATED: In June, AEI vice president for foreign and defense policy Danielle Pletka laid out why we can’t abandon Afghanistan: “Certainly, there are complexities to understand, but Afghanistan is not more complex than any other war fought at any other time. And there are core truths that are being obscured, sometimes deliberately, in order to design an endgame that satisfies political rather than strategic and military exigencies.”
SPECIAL TOPIC: A comprehensive package of AEI’s Iraq war coverage
In one of his last Washington addresses as secretary of Defense, Robert Gates spoke in May about America’s role in the world, framed with the backdrop of Gates’ role in executing the Iraq surge and propelling strategy forward in Afghanistan.
The Center for Defense Studies was on top of the budget wrangling and the unsuccessful supercommittee, whose failure to reach an agreement on deficit reduction puts into gear a sequestration scenario in which more than $500 billion would be cut from the Pentagon’s budget projection. In “Defense spending, the super committee and the price of greatness,” Tom Donnelly and Gary Schmitt assess such “devastating” cuts and debunk three myths:
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