By The Editors
AEI’s interview with Congressman Allen West is a part of the Enterprise blog’s latest symposium: Death of Osama bin Laden, one year later.
Q: What do you believe the killing of Osama bin Laden achieved?
Congressman West: In a tactical sense, the achievement was that you took out the current leader or a figurehead for al Qaeda. But in a larger strategic sense, it doesn’t mean as much because the organization is still around and you know, we have to be concerned about the potential of body bombs being used on our aircraft. So we can’t be focused on this, it was a great thing that happened, all the credit goes to our men in Navy Seal uniforms that went across the border in that late night raid operation. But we still have to stay focused on—like the State Department official said—on the war on terrorism, which is a hollow misnomer, it is not over.
Q: Do you think, as some have suggested, “that the war on terrorism is over,” that al Qaeda is finished?
Congressman West: Well, this is why I get kind of upset—we are really narrowing the focus. Al Qaeda is just one terrorist organization. We have to realize that before al Qaeda, the Islamic terrorist organization that inflicted the most causalities on America was Hezbollah. So just because you are focused on al Qaeda… what about Hezbollah? What about Hamas? What about al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade? What about the al-Quds Brigade? What about the Muslim Brotherhood? What about Jamaat al-Islamiyya? What about Abu Sayyaf? We can go on ad nauseum. At a strategic level, we really are missing out on who we are fighting against, we are trying to narrow it down to one specific organization, which would be just like saying the United States of America is fighting about one infantry battalion.
Q: Do you believe that the United States has appropriately addressed the fact that bin Laden was found, having lived many years, just outside of Islamabad?
Congressman West: We have not appropriately looked at that. We have not appropriately dealt with the sanctuaries of the enemy that are within Pakistan. We all know that the Haqqani network, which is probably inflicting the most casualties right now, is right across the border in Pakistan and is operating freely. We have to be honest about the fact that now we come to find out that Osama bin Laden was bouncing around all over Pakistan for the last five to six years or so, we have to be serious about denying enemy sanctuaries wherever he is, we have to cordon off his ability to have a sphere of influence, and we have to win the information operations propaganda war, and we have got to, from a strategic level, cut off his men, material, and financial support. Those are the critical types of strategic level objectives that we should be looking at.
Q: Why do you think it took so long to find bin Laden? Do you think we failed to devote sufficient resources to the hunt?
Congressman West: I can’t make that assessment because I don’t know what resources were allocated to it. Look, you were looking for a needle in a haystack. So you were piecing together many different leads and trying to pull this operation together. I think that when we did get the right, actionable intelligence and the 75-80% confirmed solution, our special operators did a magnificent job. These things are not very easy to do and when you go back and think about how during the Carter administration we gutted our CIA and those intelligence gathering capabilities and we had to be able to infiltrate some of these organizations—it was very hard to get them built back up.
Q: It is hard to know whether we devoted the appropriate resources, because so much was invisible to us. But right now we are seeing unprecedented disinvestment in our military. Do you think that the current trends in investment in the military and in all of our forces are going to have an impact on our ability to conduct these kind of operations in the future?
Congressman West: Absolutely. We are going in the wrong direction. This belief coming out of the State Department that the war on terrorism is over… you see a commander in chief in President Obama that is really not concerned about these additional sequestration cuts that could hit the military, that take us down to somewhat post-World War I levels when you see more volatility in the world right now. Strategically, we are not going in the right direction—you can’t take your Army from 45 combat brigade formations down to 32; you can’t take your Marine Corps down to 181,000, or take your Navy down to 230 naval war vessels when in the 1990s we were at 570. And you are cutting nine Air Force fighter squadrons. We are really not sitting down and doing what a prudent commander in chief would do, which is look at the geographical areas of responsibility and lay out the breadth of those AORs for the next 10-15 years and develop the right type of requirements, capabilities, and capacities to meet those threats. You can’t make the military the bill payer for the fiscal irresponsibility of Washington, DC. The defense budget is only about 19.4%; the true drivers of our debt are the mandatory spending programs—Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and the net interest on the debt—and that’s what we should be focused on.
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