By: John Rossomando
President Barack Obama’s plans to send 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan will have little impact on ending al-Qaida’s threat to the United States and may actually embolden the terrorist organization, according to Arnaud de Borchgrave, an author and veteran journalist who has covered events in Southeast Asia, the Middle East and other hot spots since World War II.
The Newsmax columnist says the president’s rationale for escalating American involvement in Afghanistan makes little sense considering that less than 100 al-Qaida members remain in the country, according to several estimates.
“Of course they’re not in Afghanistan, they’re in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan on the border,” de Borchgrave, who also works with the Transnational Threats Project with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Newsmax TV’s Kathleen Walter and Ashley Martella. “There’s no reason for them to be inside Afghanistan today since there’s a war going on, and al-Qaida isn’t interested in that kind of a war.
“They’re busy planning the next big event in the United States, which is bound to come.”
Although Pakistan has launched a war with the Taliban on its side of the border, it has largely targeted those elements that have been responsible for killing over 8,000 Pakistanis in suicide bombings over the past three years. Pakistan has largely left those parts of the Taliban aiming to overthrow the Afghan government alone.
He attributes this strategy to the connection Pakistan’s intelligence service, the ISI, has with the Taliban. This ISI also played an important role in organizing the Taliban and bringing it to power in Afghanistan in the 1990s.
De Borchgrave does not equate the Taliban’s potential return to power in Afghanistan with al-Qaida regaining the same sort of base of operations it enjoyed in the country prior to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
“I think you can make a deal with the Taliban,” de Borchgrave said. “I’m the only guy alive who has actually interviewed Mullah Omar, the head of the Taliban, and that was three months before 9/11.”
The veteran journalist said he had arrived in Afghanistan with his UPI crew intending to interview Osama bin Laden. But Mullah Omar told him he wouldn’t be able to speak with the al-Qaida leader, who, Omar said, “talks too much” and issues too many unwarranted fatwas or religious decrees.
De Borchgrave says this experience led him to believe significant differences exist between al-Qaida and the Taliban.
Al-Qaida, he said, doesn’t need to use Afghanistan as a base because it has established bases around the world in places like South America. It is in Latin America where he believes its operatives have learned Spanish in order to infiltrate the United States as immigrants. The discovery of Americans in al-Qaida cells further underscores abilities it has gained since being driven from Afghanistan.
De Borchgrave says he believes the presence of more Americans working with al-Qaida likely will emerge as the FBI recruits additional Arabic linguists.
He says Obama has been wrong to reduce the number of border patrol agents at a time of increased threat from al-Qaida and other terror groups.
Although de Borchgrave disagrees with the plan to send the additional troops to Afghanistan, he says the administration has made a mistake in announcing July 2011 as the likely date for the start of the U.S. pullout.
De Borchgrave also answered questions about the region’s other brewing crisis ─ Iran.
Iran, he says, presents a greater threat to Israel’s nuclear monopoly in the Middle East than to its existence. De Borchgrave believes a 50-50 chance of war exists between the two countries.
“Most people say for Israel it is an existential crisis, but it’s not the fear of being hit with an Iranian nuclear bomb or missile that makes it an existential crisis, it’s the fact they will lose their nuclear monopoly in the Middle East, which has guaranteed peace for Israel,” de Borchgrave said. “That is a highly dangerous situation.”
Israel, he says, lacks the ability to strike all 23 suspected Iranian nuclear sites, but any strike against the two or three key nuclear sites it can hit likely would have minimal impact to Iran’s long-term nuclear capabilities and would draw the United States into the conflict.
De Borchgrave believes an Israeli strike against Iran’s nuclear program would only serve to setback the Iranian nuclear program by two or three years.
“One Israeli bomb on Iran is war, and it will drag the United States in automatically even if President Obama is against the exercise because of all the very juicy U.S. targets up and down the Persian Gulf,” de Borchgrave said. “And they have a coastline that extends the whole length of the Persian Gulf.
“They also command the Straits of Hormuz through which 25 percent of the oil of the world flows every day.’
An Israeli strike could also cause Iran to use surrogates such as Hezbollah, which has assets in Latin America as well as the Middle East in retaliation. Hezbollah showed its capabilities in Latin America in the mid-1990s when it bombed the Israeli Embassy and a Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
De Borchgrave says Obama can do very little against Hezbollah because it is an important part of Lebanon’s political structure and because it controls much of that country.
He also weighed in on upcoming political and economic issues.
De Borchgrave tells Newsmax that Gen. David Petraeus, the general overseeing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, would make an excellent choice for the Republican nomination for president. He says Petraeus is “brilliant” and has a strong understanding of countless subjects, which he contrasts with another famous battlefield commander ─ Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Eisenhower, whom De Borchgrave also knew during his Newsweek days, by contrast stayed apolitical and aloof from issues of his day such as the Taft-Hartley Act, which monitors labor union actions.
When it comes to the economy, he is not optimistic.
“We are at a plateau right now, and I don’t see it recovering for quite some time.” de Borchgrave said. “We do have roughly 25-28 million Americans unemployed if you count those who have dropped off the rolls.”
He says the Wall Street scandals continue to unfold as further revelations of insider trading and oversized bonuses come to light that highlight the disconnect between Wall Street and average Americans.
“We have to find a new paradigm,” he said. “Today, we’re borrowing $2-3 billion a day from the rest of the world, primarily China, to maintain the world’s highest standard of living based on conspicuous consumption at a time of great shortages.
“That doesn’t compute anymore... Right now we’re not in the business of looking for a new paradigm; we’re in the business of bailing ourselves out and keeping ourselves afloat.”
See Video: Newsmax columnist Arnaud de Borchgrave describes the real al-Qaida threat to America - Click Here Now