If you can wade through all the conspiracy theories and denialist rhetoric that has come to the fore since President Barack Obama’s announcement late May 1 that Osama bin Laden had been killed, you’ll find a host of intriguing geo-political implications waiting to be examined in a critical light.
The news outlets and blogosphere have flowered with articles proposing that bin Laden’s dispatch is a fortunate and perhaps coincidental part of a huge American plan to swiftly depart the region, and has therefore led to what some fear could be the current U.S. administration’s “mission accomplished” moment.
From the global intelligence site, STRATFOR:
The U.S. mission in Afghanistan, as stated by Obama, is the destruction of al Qaeda — in particular, of the apex leadership that once proved capable of carrying out transnational, high-casualty attacks. Although al Qaeda had already been severely weakened in Afghanistan and has recently focused more on surviving inside Pakistan than executing meaningful operations, the inability to capture or kill bin Laden meant that the U.S. mission itself had not been completed. With the death of bin Laden, a plausible, if not altogether accurate, political narrative in the United States can develop, claiming that the mission in Afghanistan has been accomplished. During a White House press conference on Monday, U.S. Homeland Security Adviser John Brennan commented on bin Laden’s death, saying “We are going to try to take advantage of this to demonstrate to people in the area that al Qaeda is a thing of the past, and we are hoping to bury the rest of al Qaeda along with Osama bin Laden.”
STRATFOR and other sources have also speculated (register required) that Obama’s April 28 announcement that Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, will replace Leon Panetta as CIA director was the main chess move by the President to begin shaping an exit strategy, and that killing bin Laden has coincidentally added to the drama in a positive way for the administration.
If you’ve ever read Bob Woodward’s book “Obama’s Wars”, and gotten a glimpse of the relationship between the Golden General (Petraeus) and the President, you can see how this move might actually make sense. Patreaus is the face of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and he has phenomenal influence in maintaining the status quo. So, Obama has strategically appointed him as the CIA director to get him bogged down in the bureaucracy of the intelligence world so he can freely change the political climate in the region to set up a withdrawal. Whether very dumb or very smart, the President seems to be checking off items on a list for major movements in the coming year and the death of bin Laden could be viewed as the keystone item on his list.
So Petraeus is being removed from the picture in Afghanistan. Bin Laden has already been removed, and one might argue that, while there may be room for some manner of special-operations counterterrorism forces, the need for additional U.S. troops in Afghanistan no longer exists. It’s difficult to ignore the fact that bin Laden was killed, not in Afghanistan, but deep within Pakistani borders. And if we allow that the counterterrorism mission in Afghanistan is dissipating, the nation-building mission in Afghanistan becomes unnecessary and nonessential.
Plus, as STRATFOR observes:
. . . with tensions in the Persian Gulf building in the lead-up to the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, ending the war in Afghanistan critically releases U.S. forces for operations elsewhere. It is therefore possible for the United States to consider an accelerated withdrawal in a way that wasn’t possible before.
Very intriguing stuff. But what do you think?
Are bin Laden’s death and Petraeus’ new appointment merely coincidental? Do the confluence of the two events create politically strategic opportunities for the U.S. administration that did not exist before? Is there now a stronger possibility for a dramatic shift in U.S. strategy in Afghanistan? What other factors could help or hinder an exit from the region?