Opinion: Columnists

James Jay Carafano: Joe Biden's 'zero option' for Afghanistan

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Opinion,James Jay Carafano,Columnists,Joe Biden,Afghanistan

Our current vice president has had some not-so-good ideas.

In 2006, the then-senator from Delaware proposed portioning Iraq into three separate autonomous regions. Each state, he argued, would have "room to run."

Most likely, they would have run in opposite directions making an already messy situation even messier. Fortunately. his advice -- and his disregard for the will of the Iraqi people -- were ignored. The U.S. left Iraq a coherent state.

Well, Visionary Joe is at it again. Biden continues to be the lead voice arguing that the U.S. should adopt the "zero option" in Afghanistan. What this means is that, after 2014, the U.S. would provide virtually no military support to the Afghan military.

Rather, a handful of special forces and drone warriors would hunker down in Kabul to play whack-a-mole with al Qaeda. As for the remaining security challenges, well, the Afghans could just fend for themselves.

Biden's Iraq plan -- carve it up and let the chaos begin -- made little sense. The notion of withdrawing to an Afghan Alamo while the Taliban fills the moat around us fails the common-sense test as well.

The zero option offers no way to conduct effective counterterrorism operations. So far, NATO has been pretty successful at keeping the top ranks of the Taliban and al Qaeda out of the country.

Rather than put themselves at risk, the enemy brass lounge around in Pakistan and send their underlings across the border to recruit dollar-a-day Taliban.

However, if NATO gives up the capacity to move around the country in force, it will cede the initiative to the bad guys. Worse, it will lose the ability to collect actionable intelligence needed to go after high-value targets.

Worse still, the fragile progress in governance and security in the countryside may well melt away if we abandon the Afghans to their fate.

After years of false starts and missteps, many parts of the country are now fairly stable. In others, the bad guys have been battled to a standstill. Last year, for the first time, the Taliban failed to launch an offensive during the summer "campaign" season. Today, there are no U.S.-led combat operations anywhere in Afghanistan. Afghans have the lead.

A zero option puts all that in jeopardy. The Taliban may not overrun the whole country again. But without a meaningful U.S. presence, the Afghan people may well be thrown back into bloody civil war.

That would kill the opportunity that now exists to build a civil society and economy that serves the people well. There is a risk to us as well. A reversal in Afghanistan, coupled with Pakistan's failure to deal with al Qaeda and its affiliates, could leave large parts of the countryside looking like they did on Sept. 10, 2001. We could find ourselves right back where we started.

At a certain level of force reduction, the U.S. loses its capacity to operate in the field, protect its personnel and help our Afghan allies win their future. Biden's zero opion is well below that level.

The longer the U.S. delays in making a commitment to the number of troops we plan to leave in the country post-2014, the more our enemies, the Afghans, the Pakistanis and our allies doubt the our resolve to stick it out. Many of them think the president might actually take the advice of his vice president.

America still has a chance to safeguard its interests in a dangerous and troubled part of the world. The zero option, however, has zero chance of working.

Washington Examiner Columnist James Jay Carafano is vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Heritage Foundation.

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