Somehow it’s always six more months. Back in the Vietnam War Secretary of State Robert McNamara and Army General William Westmoreland repeatedly promised that with the commitment of more soldiers in six more months the war would enter into a final phase leading to American victory. The U.S. fled Vietnam with its tail between its legs.
Regarding Iraq, designated cheerleader Tom Friedman of the New York Times has written about "six more months" on at least fifteen occasions, promising that the exercise in occupation and nation building only needed a little more time to bear fruit. Last spring it was the turn of Afghanistan, with a surge in U.S. troop strength and an intensification of pressure on the Taliban certain to lead to successful presidential elections and, eventually, victory. Well, six more months are over and the results are in. Iraq is still occupied by 130,000 Americans and is experiencing a major increase in sectarian violence, and the fraudulent elections plus a rising death toll in Afghanistan suggest that the country is going down the toilet even faster than many pessimists would have predicted.
So what might happen in President Obama’s next six months? A number of highly plausible scenarios come to mind.
The central front of Mr. Obama’s worldwide war against the forces of evil will continue to be AfPak. The Taliban have not been badly hurt by the 2009 offensive directed against them because they didn’t cooperate with General McChrystal’s plan, most of them melting away rather than confronting U.S. forces directly. Apart from the larger towns where the Americans have placed garrisons, most of the rural areas and villages in the south and east of the country continue to be controlled by insurgents. The Afghan public realizes which way the tide is flowing and increasingly align themselves with the Taliban. U.S. casualties continue to rise. Belatedly figuring out that the Afghan war is not so popular, Obama will refuse to commit more troops in spite of the demands of the generals that he should do so, opting instead to throw billions of dollars at the Afghans to build up their own police and army units. Much of the money disappears in buying off warlords and through sheer corruption and American advisers note increasingly that the Afghans do not seem to want to fight. Karzai also can read the tea leaves so he works to cut a deal with the Taliban behind the back of his patrons in Washington. Early in 2010 nearly all the Europeans in ISAF will announce that they will be ending their commitments of soldiers to Afghanistan before the end of the year, meaning that the so-called NATO mission has ended in failure.
In neighboring Pakistan the stalemate continues with the government unable to assert control over the tribal areas. Terrorist attacks by the Pakistani Taliban increase in frequency and ferocity, including a greater number of suicide bombers. Usama bin Laden continues to operate out of Waziristan protected by members of the Pakistani intelligence service (ISI), which is not eager to surrender him because to do so would end the multi-billion dollar US assistance program. The United States, operating out of its new bases along the Afghan-Pak border, continues drone attacks against suspected terrorist targets, but no leading militant on the wanted list is actually killed. Public anger continues to grow against the drone attacks forcing President Asif Ali Zardari to appeal to Washington to only attack targets cleared by Islamabad and only after actionable intelligence is received. Washington rejects the request and Pakistan unilaterally scales back its cooperation with CIA and Joint Special Operations Command.
In the Middle East, Obama ignores both Israeli and congressional protests and begins to restore normal diplomatic and trade relations with Syria hoping to wean Damascus from its alliance with Tehran. As a quid pro quo for the Israelis, the Administration ratchets up pressure on Iran at the beginning of October, supporting congressional demands to block Iranian refined petroleum imports. The White House also begins discussions with its European allies to close both airspace and ports to Iranian commercial traffic. Iran declares the pressure to be tantamount to an act of war. It expels the IAEA inspectors and, for the first time, declares its intention to produce a nuclear weapon. Tension in the Persian Gulf increases as Revolutionary Guards attempt to assert control over Iranian territorial waters. The U.S. Navy increases its forces in the region and starts accompanying ships moving through the area. Several incidents almost turn nasty, but the Navy exercises restraint. Congress and the U.S. media increasingly demand military action against Iran and the Israelis again threaten to attack the country’s nuclear facilities. Many politicians and media pundits in the United States support such a move.
Concerning Israel and Palestine, the Administration comes under intense pressure from the Israel Lobby and congress to abandon attempts to convince Tel Aviv to halt any settlement growth on Palestinian land. A weakened Obama realizes that it is a no win situation for him that could damage his domestic agenda, so he accepts a series of proposals by Benjamin Netanyahu that make it appear that Israel’s settlement growth will be frozen even though there is no intention to do so as all the growth will be around Jerusalem, which is not part of the deal. Obama also confirms that he will get tougher with Iran and Israel agrees to peace talks though without making any concessions. George Mitchell leaves the Middle East never to return. The Arab countries are disgusted and say so publicly, led by the rulers of America’s principal regional allies Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and the UAE. To demonstrate their displeasure they refuse to cooperate with Administration plans to pressure Iran, making the sanctions imposed by Washington completely ineffective.
In Iraq, inter-communal violence escalates creating no-go areas in Baghdad and in the country’s second largest city Mosul. The government’s security forces, themselves divided along sectarian lines, prove incapable of coping and U.S. forces re-enter some urban areas to restore order. The U.S. casualty toll surges and the Obama Administration is unable to continue with plans to have all American soldiers out of the country by 2011. The price tag on Iraq and Afghanistan together rises to nearly $9 billion a month and the Pentagon declares, at last, that it has no more soldiers to feed into the burgeoning conflicts without reinstituting the draft. Obama refuses to consider that option, knowing that it would end all support for his foreign policy. The cost of the two simultaneous wars on top of the rising federal deficit means that the United States is effectively bankrupt.
Half way round the world from the Middle East, North Korea continues to launch missiles and insults, but the overwhelmed Obama team decides that the threat is not worth a confrontation, putting the conflict on a back burner to the dismay of the South Koreans and the Japanese. Africa heats up with U.S. advisers entering Somalia for the first time since Blackhawk Down to assist the shaky provisional government. Two advisers are killed almost immediately by the soldiers they are training. Obama threatens to intervene in Darfur but moderates his language when National Security Adviser General James Jones tells him that the U.S. has no military forces available. Elsewhere, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela obtains support from eleven Latin American nations for a declaration condemning the expanded U.S. military presence in Colombia.
In March, an Iranian Revolutionary Guard gunboat confronts the patrolling frigate USS Vandegrift. The captain of the frigate claims that the gunboat opened fire and, acting under new more aggressive orders issued by the president, responds with his ship’s own 76 millimeter rapid fire battery, sinking the vessel and killing eighteen Iranians. Just before dawn the next day, three Chinese made Silkworm cruise missiles are launched from Bandar Abbas and come in at just above sea level to strike the aircraft carrier USS George H. W. Bush. A single missile penetrates into one of the storage areas for aviation fuel, resulting in a huge explosion and fire that cannot be put out. The captain grounds the ship and orders an evacuation. The grounded aircraft carrier burns and detonates spectacularly for three days and is featured on television worldwide. President Obama, declaring the conflict with Iran to be a "war of necessity," orders a retaliatory attack against 750 identified military and nuclear targets, initiating 42 days of round the clock bombing. The attack is devastating, killing many civilians, but the country’s nuclear weapons facilities, hidden and deep underground, are untouched by the assault. The bombing of Iran triggers a popular rising by Shi’a in Iraq which the army and police make no effort to suppress. The long road to Kuwait that is used to supply U.S. forces is cut, making it necessary to support the American bases by air. General Ray Odierno warns that U.S. troops might have to fight their way out, abandoning their equipment, with heavy casualties. Suicide bombers sent by Iran hit U.S. Fifth Fleet headquarters in Bahrain. Two hundred thirty Americans die. The American Embassy in Beirut is sacked and burned by angry Shi’ites. Congress passes a resolution supporting the use of "all available military resources" against Iran and pledging total support for Israel in the crisis. Fighting becomes general throughout much of the Middle East and in Central Asia.