Iraq or Afghanistan: On the Horns of a False Dilemma
Joe Biden is getting plaudits from the Leftosphere for asking Ryan Crocker a really dumb question in yesterday’s hearings. Here’s the video:
BIDEN: Mr. Ambassador, is Al Qaeda a greater threat to US interests in Iraq, or in the Afghan-Pakistan border region?
CROCKER: Mr. Chairman, al Qaeda is a strategic threat to the United States wherever it is–
BIDEN: Where is most of it? If you could take it out, you had a choice, the Lord Almighty came down and sat in the middle of the table there, and said, ‘Mr. Ambassador, you can eliminate every al Qaeda source in Afghanistan and Pakistan, or every al Qaeda personnel in Iraq, which would you pick?’
CROCKER: Well, given the progress that has been made against al Qaeda in Iraq, the significant decrease in its capabilities, the fact that it is solidly on the defensive and not in a position as far–
BIDEN: Which would you pick?
CROCKER: I would therefore pick Al Qaeda in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border area.
Spencer Ackerman leads the charge with a post entitled “Biden Punks Crocker: ‘I Would Therefore Pick Al Qaeda on The Afghanistan-Pakistan Border.'” DDay weighs in with “Joe Biden Just Obliterated Every Administration Argument About Iraq.”
Steve Benen is more thoughtful but buys into Biden’s premise:
Is al Qaeda a greater threat to U.S. interests in Iraq, or in the Afghan-Pakistan border region? In one of the more interesting exchanges of yesterday’s hearings on the Hill, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joe Biden asked Ambassador Ryan Crocker that question, got an honest response, and set the Bush administration’s talking points back quite a bit.
The only problem with all this is that, well, it isn’t true.
The United States has been, along with our NATO Allies, the United Nations, and the European Union, in Afghanistan for upwards of six years with no end in sight. We’ve conducted raids in Northern Waziristan and worked to get the Pakistani government to do more there as well. And, yes, we’re in Iraq.
Al Qaeda was the de facto military and police force in Afghanistan before we toppled the Taliban government. No longer. The invasion of Iraq exacerbated the presence of al Qaeda there, leading to both a rebranding of Zarqawi’s band as “al Qaeda in Mesopotamia” and a flood of foreign jihadists hoping to do what Osama bin Laden’s generation did against the Soviets in Afghanistan.
So, we’ve got, somewhere in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region, the remaining leadership of what might be called “Old al Qaeda” and in Iraq a larger band of loosely affiliated Islamists that some have dubbed “Al Qaeda 2.0.”
Joe Biden wants to pick which of these to go after? The answer — which Crocker attempted to give before being forced into a ridiculous false dilemma — is obvious. Both. Forced to chose, Crocker chose abandoning the front that would at least be partly manned if we left. But, so long as we can sustain two fronts, it would be absurd to abandon one of them.