Thanks to Obama, Islamist militants will be the ultimate victors in Iraq and Afghanistan
By Con Coughlin World Last updated: January 6th, 2014
President Barack Obama has returned from his two-week Christmas vacation in Hawaii to find his controversial policy of disengagement with America's foes in tatters.
While Mr Obama was merrily lounging at his favourite Hawaiian resorts, a damning National Security Estimate, which collates material provided by 16 American intelligence agencies, predicted that the Taliban is set to reclaim much of the territory vacated by American and British forces when they complete combat operations at the end of the year. (General Sir Peter Wall, the head of the British Army, made much the same warning in my exclusive interview with him at the end of last year.)
At the same time as this depressing NSE report was make public, the takeover by al-Qaeda militants of iconic Iraqi towns such as Fallujah and Ramadi – the scene of some of the fiercest fighting involving American combat forces following the overthrow of dictator Saddam Hussein - represents another strategic disaster for the Obama administration.
Such was Mr Obama's distaste for maintaining America's involvement in a conflict associated with his predecessor, President George W Bush, that he, in effect, ordered the unilateral withdrawal of American forces from Iraq before the country had been fully stabilised.
As Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham pointed out at the weekend, Mr Obama's failure to maintain a residual American force that could continue to support the Iraqi government as it guided the country from dictatorship to democracy meant not only abandoning the Iraqi people to their fate, but that "the thousands of brave Americans who fought, shed their blood, and lost their friends to bring peace to Fallujah and Iraq are now left to wonder whether these sacrifices were in vain."
If the latest developments in Iraq make for worrying reading at the White House, then the prospect of Afghanistan being overrun by the Taliban is potentially even more disastrous for the Obama presidencey. For, if the NSE report proves to be accurate (and there is no reason to believe it won't), then the blame for another disastrous foreign policy reverse will be laid directly at Mr Obama's door.
For it was Mr Obama, in one of the first major security decisions of his presidency, who gave his personal approval for the military surge strategy to defeat the Taliban during his speech to the West Point Military Academy in late 2009.
By increasing the number of American combat forces in Afghanistan, Mr Obama hoped to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table, thereby bringing a decade or more of American military operations in Afghanistan to a satisfactory conclusion.
But no sooner had the President authorised the surge than he changed his mind, and in one of the most damaging decisions of his presidency, announced the withdrawal of all American combat forces by the end of this year. The Taliban, realising that the White House had no serious desire to defeat them by force of arms, decided that there was no point in taking part in the negotiating process. As the old Taliban saying goes, the West may have all the watches, but we have all the time.
And so, if the NSE's predictions prove to be accurate and the Taliban retake all the territory vacated by the withdrawing American and British troops, then Afghanistan, which was supposed to be "Obama's War", will turn out to be the single greatest foreign policy disaster of the Obama presidency.
If that happens, even Democrat voters will be asking whether the sacrifices made by the thousands of American service personnel who have been killed or suffered serious injury in the Afghan conflict were in vain.