The Wall Street Journal recently reported that government officials now believe that al-Qaida affiliates in Yemen and Somalia are cooperating with al-Qaida elements hiding in Pakistan, and could pose a more immediate threat to us than the al-Qaida leaders behind the 9/11 attack.
This calls into question the major war we are fighting in Afghanistan, purportedly to prevent al-Qaida from reestablishing a safe haven from which attack us. There 100,000 American troops and 40,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan -- and yet Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia may pose greater dangers? We've already invaded Iraq and Afghanistan and bombed Pakistan, Yemen and Sudan in recent years, and supported Israel's attacks on Syria and Lebanon.
If you are counting, that makes seven Muslim countries on our hit list, not including Iran, which the Israel lobby is agitating to attack. Most Americans apparently don't see a pattern here, but really, is it surprising that many Muslims think we have declared war on Islam?
Interrogations of more than 500 jihadis attempting to infiltrate into Iraq revealed that the overwhelming motivation was to defend Islam from attack.
If some other country, such as China, had carried out an unprovoked, preventive attack on Iraq under false pretenses, and conducted the attacks on these same countries, how would Americans (and Muslims) view that country?
The Afghan war will cost close to $100 billion in 2010. In addition, we have lost more than 100 NATO troops per month recently, with even more troops wounded.
And what is the threat that justifies these costs? CIA Director Leon Panetta told Congress recently that there may be fewer than 50 to 100 al-Qaida members in Afghanistan. The fighting in Afghanistan is almost entirely against the Taliban. They are Afghans, principally the dominant Pashtuns, who are attacking Americans only because we are in their country. They are not a threat to the U.S. homeland.
The president lists among our goals in Afghanistan breaking the Taliban's momentum and strengthening the Afghan government. There is no question that the Taliban is a very nasty bunch, starting with their vicious treatment of women. There is no shortage of vicious, repressive groups in the world, however; that is not sufficient justification for expending thousands of U.S. lives and hundreds of billions of dollars.
In the name of fighting a hundred al-Qaida members, we are nonetheless being dragged into Afghanistan's tribal and ideological warfare. Did we learn nothing from our creeping involvement in Vietnam's civil war?
Gen. George Casey, chief of staff of the Army, said on CBS News July 10 that the United States could face another "decade or so" of persistent conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan. It sounds like we're spending dollars and lives to keep Hamid Karzai in power and the Taliban out. We need to manage the Afghanistan problem politically instead of attempting to solve it militarily.
A RAND Corporation study of 648 insurgent groups found that by far the most common way for them to disappear was to be absorbed by the political process, or secondly to be defeated by police work. In only 7 percent of cases did military force destroy the terrorist group. We must encourage Karzai to seek a settlement with less radical elements of the Taliban to bring them into the political process.
Our real interest in the area is the stability of Pakistan, which has nuclear weapons. We have given Pakistan over $11 billion since 9/11 to strengthen its hand against extremists. At the same time, some of our Predator attacks on Pakistani territory have gone astray, killing civilians and enlarging the pool of enraged Pakistanis for fundamentalists to recruit from.
But whatever the concerns about Pakistan, they do not justify a war against the Taliban on behalf of the corrupt Karzai regime. "You can fight a counterinsurgency for 20 years and spend a trillion and still not get anything out of it," Army Capt. Casey Thoreen told the Washington Post recently. "So it better be worth it."
The Taliban are an indigenous force and, whether we like it or not, will play a role in governing Afghanistan; we should not make them our problem.
Tom Maertens served on the White House NSC staff under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. As a senior counterterrorism official at the State Department he helped plan the campaign against al-Qaida. He is a source in MPR's Public Insight Network.