Rafael L. Bardaji, Director of International Policy, FAES Foundation
In October 2011, the US president, who had always considered the intervention in Iraq as a ‘bad war’ solemnly announced that ‘After nearly nine years, America’s war in Iraq will be over. The tide of war is receding.’ Soon after, in December, he said, ‘All the fighting, all the dying, the bleeding, and the building, and the training and the partnering, all of it has led to this moment of success. (...) We leave behind a sovereign, a stable, a self-reliant Iraq.’ And so he got ready to pull out all the troops from Iraq and declare the end of the war.
Later, in November of the following year, 2012, Barak Obama stated: ‘the war in Iraq is over, the war in Afghanistan is winding down, al Qaeda has been decimated, Osama bin Laden is dead.’
Finally, in December of that same year, he announced from his Honolulu vacation retreat his exit plan from Afghanistan: ‘our combat mission in Afghanistan is ending, and the longest war in American history is coming to a responsible end.’ This way, at the end of 2014 there would only be 9,800 soldiers left in the country (of the 100,000 in 2010), 5,500 in 2015 and only an embassy protection force in 2016.
As we know perfectly well, the president wanted to end all wars, bad and good; capable of winning a Nobel prize for his wishes and not by his actions, he was mistaken. Neither Al Qaeda was finished; nor Iraq saved without American troops; nor Afghanistan remotely secured. In fact, his efforts to set artificial departure dates, regardless of ground developments, greatly contributed to the failure of his own policy.
Thus, in May this year, the President informed Congress of his intention to extend the consideration of ‘national emergency’ due to ‘Obstacles to the orderly reconstruction of Iraq.’ With the initial military promenade of the Islamic State a month later, the White House had to ask itself again what it should do, militarily, with Iraq. On August 8, Obama authorized the start of air strikes and dispatched 800 soldiers to advise the Iraqi Government. Detachment that was quickly reinforced with 130 soldiers more to help protect the premises used by the contingent. A few weeks later, in September, another 500 soldiers were deployed as support of air combats, drone operators, intelligence and special operations, so that by the end of 2014 there were more than 3,000 US troops operating on Iraqi soil. And today that figure is around 5,000. Not bad for a president who never wanted to be in Iraq, who always defended to get out fast, and who hates land presence in overseas operations.
In Afghanistan, his ‘good war’, has not done much better. After his announcement in Honolulu, the timetable he had established was delayed one year and, instead of the 5,500 soldiers who should be there today, there are still about 10,000.
The weakness of Afghan institutions, from the Government to the Army, and the growing strength of the enemies who have been fought there since 2011, especially the Taliban, who have recently achieved to seize such an important and significant urban centre as Kunduz, has emphasized the possibility of a sudden collapse of the country and its return to the worst years of radical Islam. Even something which had never been seen before, the presence of the Islamic State, is now a reality.
Urged by the military leaders, Obama, the president who has announced the defeat of the enemies of America more times (32 times the death of Al Qaeda, for example) had to correct himself and declare last week (October 15, 2015) a ‘modest but meaningful extension of our presence’ in Afghanistan.
However, Obama insists on being a President who does not learn: the 9,800 soldiers who will remain for another year on Afghan soil are totally inadequate to prevent the fall of Afghanistan. They are divided into four bases (Kabul, Bagram, Kandahar and Jalalabad) and their operational capacity is reduced to specific counterterrorism missions. It is not a force either of stabilization or of order. Much less is it to recapture lost ground. Moreover, by setting a departure date again he is, once more, sending the worst of messages to his enemies. What difference does one year make?
In order to ensure peace a leader must understand perfectly well what a war is and how they may be ended. The Nobel Peace Prize seems to have muddied rather than illuminated the American president. Neither ‘bad wars’ have to be lost if the right strategies are applied, nor ‘good wars’ are won when the wrong decisions are implemented like he has done. His eagerness to end America's wars has sunk entire regions into violence and, what is even worse for him, he has forced the Americans to risk their lives to straighten the policy the White House twisted.