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He may have a point after all

I'll confess that I went to bed last night thinking Hugh Hewitt was delusional for proclaiming a big Bush win. A day later, however, and he almost has me convinced.

These debates inevitably reduce to a single, defining moment -- "You're no Jack Kennedy," or "There you go again," and the remaining details are quickly forgotten. Last night's defining moment is rapidly shaping up to be Kerry's "global test" for pre-emptive military action:

you have to do it in a way that passes the test, that passes the global test....

Zell Miller's assertion that "Kerry would let Paris decide when America needs defending" was met with hoots of derision from the punditry, but Kerry's remarks from last night would seem to bear Miller out. This gaffe plays precisely into the kind of image that Kerry has worked months to overcome. Did it doom Kerry's chances? No. Did it hurt him? I think the answer is yes, and more seriously than most viewers recognized at first.

On a related note, Lt. Smash is really pissed off at Kerry's charge that Bush screwed up in Afghanistan.

What would [Kerry] have done differently in Afghanistan?

Presumably, he would have used American military forces, instead of "outsourcing" the effort to local warlords. But what forces where available in theater at the time? The first large contingent of conventional forces in Afghanistan, a brigade of 1,000 US Marines, arrived at an airstrip near Kandahar on November 25, 2001. That city, which had been the last stronghold of Taliban leader Omar, didn't fall to anti-Taliban forces until December 7.

The only other US forces in Afghanistan at the time were Special Forces, and CIA paramilitaries. Their job was to help organize the various militias into a coherent force capable of defeating the Taliban, and to call in Coalition air strikes as required. It was this combination of Special Forces and local militia that had already driven the Taliban from the strategic city of Mazar-e-Sharif, the airbase at Bagram, and the capital Kabul.

The only US military on the ground at Tora Bora was a contingent of about two dozen Special Forces who were airlifted in to the area on December 2. Their mission was to coordinate the ground attack and to "laze" targets for US bombers. There is no way that these men could have taken Tora Bora without assistance -- And the Marines in Kandahar already had their hands full. In any event, Tora Bora was completely overrun by December 12 -- but not before the al Qaeda leadership escaped to Pakistan.

Let's make one thing clear: outside of this "outsourcing" plan, there would have been no significant military action in Afghanistan prior to November 25 -- but by the time those first Marines arrived, the Taliban had already been largely defeated. "Outsourcing" the war in Afghanistan was not Bush's idea. It was the Pentagon and the CIA that came up with this plan. But President Bush did approve it, and it worked.

The only military alternative to this plan would have been a massive invasion of Afghanistan with several heavy divisions. Of course, these divisions would have had to get to Afghanistan by coming ashore in Pakistan and driving through the ungoverned (and largely hostile) Tribal Areas, where the Pakistani army wouldn't even go. In any event, it would have taken several more months for these forces to arrive in theater -- plenty of time for the terrorists to dig in and prepare for the fight.

Does anyone see any problems with this plan? It seems to me that the Russians tried this approach a while back, and the British before them. Both got their asses handed to them. Nevertheless, I'm sure that the Pentagon presented this option to Bush, with all of the caveats above. In my judgement, Bush was right to reject this plan, and go instead with the "outsourcing" approach.

Presented with the same options, would Kerry have made the right decision? Judging from his remarks last night, I'd have to say "no."

But if we don't elect him, we'll never have to find out.


To answer the first question, Kerry was right that, while a President must have the right to act preemptively, that action must afterwards stand the test of scrutiny here at home and around the world. Does that mean that we have to please every country? No. However, if it clearly will not prove to be supported as a just action in retrospect, then it should not be done. The whole point of creating a commander in chief is to give the country flexibility to take immediate action. However, the President's action must stand up to scrutiny, most importantly here, but also to our allies around the world. We don't have to please all of them, they don't get a "vote", but our allies are our junior partners and the effect of our actions on them does matter.

I personally understand that we did not have enough boots on the ground in December 2001 to truly take over the action at Tora Bora. The Afghan commanders in retrospect made a series of crucial mistakes, including negotiating surrender that may have ultimately given Osama time to escape. I am sure the Americans were still learning the landscape so they might not have not known enough how to cut off the escape routes. (We still can only guess which one Osama took.)

That said, we didn't keep up the pursuit. Shortly thereafter, on February 24, 2002, General Richard Meyers said "I wouldn't call (getting Osama) a prime mission." We never sent the troops to Afghanistan that we sent to Iraq and it has been reported that in early 2002 attention began to switch. Yes, the time frame from 9/11/01 to 12/01 was very quick and it would have been impossible to get a lot of our equipment to the theater that quickly. That said, we never committed nearly the level of military and intelligence resources to Afghanistan that we later committed to Iraq so clearly overthrowing Saddam was a higher priority for this administration than capturing Osama ever was.

I personally disagree with the notion that Osama and his deputy are no longer dangerous. It also seems to be a myth that Osama is as sick as reported. Just this past week, another tape was released. Since 9/11, each of these tapes have been followed by acts of terrorism, the most notable being the acts in Turkey and Madrid that attacked our coalition partners in Iraq.

Saddam never had a worldwide following of terrorists. Osama still does. Whether or not, we could have captured Osama in Tora Bora. It is clear that once he escaped, this administration decided to shift their focus to Saddam, an attack that complicated not helped our relationship with Pakistan, where Osama most likely is today.

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