THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION: FROM ENDING TWO WARS TO ENGAGEMENT IN FIVE – WITH THE RISK OF A SIXTH
By Anthony Cordesman
03 Dec 14. Presidents propose action, and then reality intervenes. This cycle holds special irony in the case of President Obama. A year ago, it looked like he might end two of the longest wars in U.S. history by the time he left office. As of today, President Obama has involved the United States in five evolving conflicts, and there is little prospect any of them will be over by the time the next president is inaugurated, unless the United States chooses to disengage and lose.
War 1: Afghanistan
First is the Afghan war. The coming “Transition” at the end of 2014 will not end the U.S. role in the conflict or allow the United States to claim any form of success. The administration has ceased to provide any meaningful unclassified data on either the progress of the fighting or of Afghan forces. Rather, the administration and U.S. agencies can only be accused of lying by omission. The latest semiannual report on the Afghan war has no meaningful metrics on the trends in the fighting, dropped all detailed metrics on the readiness of Afghan units, and totally understates and ignores the negative trends in media reporting, UN casualty data, and Afghan public opinion data from recent surveys like those from the Asia Foundation. It sharply understates political risk and does not address the major economic problems and risks raised by the World Bank.
The president has already had to admit that his previous plan to cap the U.S. training and assistance mission at 9,800 will not work, that at least 12,000 to 15,000 more troops must be deployed, and U.S. combat airpower may be needed in the future. In practice, he may well have to go much further.
The United States does not need to reintroduce major combat units, but it also makes no real world sense for the United States to size support of Afghan forces to a fixed number of personnel, or commit to cut them in half by the end of 2015, or reduce them to nearly zero by the end of 2016, without any regard to the actual course of the fighting. Neither does it make sense for the most recent semiannual report on the Afghan war to lack clear plans for either military or civil aid. The president has made promises that he simply should not have made, and probably cannot keep without losing America’s longest war.
War 2: Islamic State or ISIS
The second war is the battle against the Islamic State (also called ISIS or ISIL). Senior U.S. military officers have already said that it may take up to three years to drive the Islamic State out of Iraq. Realistically, they will probably not be able to fully destroy the Islamic State, only degrade it. This is to say nothing of what will happen to the Islamic State in Syria, or to the other jihadist forces now fighting there. The United States has already had to add more troops to the train and assist mission, significantly expand its deployment of strike aircraft by adding A-10s, and admit it is badly short of drones and other intelligence and targeting assets.
Forming a large coalition has still left the United States in the lead, and it is far from clear that it has brought any unity of action to our Arab allies or to any other states in countering Islamic extremism, dealing with the growing range of jihadist movements, limiting the flow of foreign volunteers, doing everything possible to cut off the flow of money to extremists, and developing broader efforts to combat extremism and address its internal causes. There is almost universal agreement that violence and extremist movements continue to grow sharply in the MENA region, and that no one is yet winning the “long war” on terrorism.
War 3: The Civil War in Iraq
Like the Afghan conflict, the Iraq War is anything but over. The future of Iraq, the stability of the Gulf, the ability to contain and deter Iran, and the ability to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq a