- - Monday, June 23, 2014


“This is what happens at the end of wars.”

That is how President Obama justified his order to release five Taliban commanders from Gitmo in return for the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who, according to many accounts, was captured by Islamic militants after deserting from the U.S. Army in Afghanistan.

The main elements of the Bergdahl swap — the unequal trade, the likelihood of encouraging future hostage-taking, the administration’s failure to consult Congress, its unbelievable assurances that the Qataris will closely watch the freed Taliban prisoners, its PR stunt in the White House Rose Garden, its dubious claims of Sgt. Bergdahl having been taken prisoner “on the battlefield,” and its infantilizing references to the 28-year-old man as a “child” and a “kid” — have already earned widespread criticism.

The wider context, however, has received less attention. As Mr. Obama sees it, he “was elected to end wars.” Clearly, that’s his goal in both Iraq and Afghanistan, where his efforts have focused on withdrawing U.S. troops and declaring the wars to be over (Iraq) or nearly over (Afghanistan). We see a similar rush to rhetorically end the overall war against jihadist terrorism, as Mr. Obama has declared that al Qaeda is “on the run,” “on the path to defeat,” “on its heels,” and has been “decimate[d].”

The problem is that a war isn’t over until both sides agree it’s over, or until one side loses the will or ability to continue fighting. Our enemies have not abandoned the battle.

In Iraq, the withdrawal of U.S. troops has coincided with a stunning collapse of state authority. The central government’s power has eroded to the point that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) — an al Qaeda off-shoot — recently took over Mosul, the country’s second largest city. Having also seized Iraq’s largest oil refinery, it is now marching toward Baghdad. This means a jihadist terror organization currently controls a wide swathe of territory stretching from the middle of Iraq through northern Syria. The Obama administration’s stunningly naive response is to seek to collaborate against ISIS with Iran — a terror-exporting regime that has worked to sabotage U.S. efforts to stabilize Iraq for the past decade.

In Afghanistan, contrary to the administration’s boasts, the drawdown of U.S. troops has emboldened terrorists, with al Qaeda cooperating closely with the Taliban, the Haqqani network, and a slew of other terror groups. Many of these organizations are based in neighboring Pakistan, which remains dangerously overrun by terrorists, as shown last week when al Qaeda-linked militants launched a shocking attack on the country’s biggest airport. The assault, featuring suicide bombers and resulting in at least 39 deaths, was followed days later by an armed attack on a nearby training facility for the airport’s security services.

Meanwhile, al Qaeda affiliates have spread rapidly throughout other parts of the Middle East and Africa, with Boko Haram committing wholesale massacres of Christian villagers and kidnapping hundreds of schoolgirls in Nigeria. Indeed, from al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which provoked a French intervention after its fighters and allied extremists seized control of much of Mali, to Libya’s Ansar al-Sharia, which spearheaded the Benghazi attack that killed four Americans, to Yemen’s al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, whose 2013 plot provoked the shutdown of dozens of U.S. diplomatic facilities, Islamic terrorism is surging throughout the world.

Thus, it’s ludicrous for the Obama administration to cling to its discredited claims of having achieved a great victory over al Qaeda. The lawyerly distinctions it now makes between “al Qaeda’s core” in Afghanistan and Pakistan, which has supposedly been shattered, and lesser al Qaeda affiliates that are still active elsewhere, is meaningless spin, since al Qaeda has always operated as a decentralized network of affiliated jihadist groups. With his transparently false reassurances, Mr. Obama is reminiscent of Kevin Bacon in the movie “Animal House,” declaring “Remain calm, all is well” as pandemonium erupts on the streets all around him.

The Obama administration is entitled to take all the victory laps it wants over the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. Simply leaving the battlefield does not end wars, however. The American people and our servicemen and women have made huge sacrifices battling these terrorists, and they deserve to know where our efforts stand. Although we may stop bringing the fight to our enemies, history shows they are unlikely to respond in kind.

Rep. Devin Nunes, California Republican, is a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

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