Former Secretary of State James Baker said on Sunday that he believed Yemen was becoming a greater threat to U.S. national security than Afghanistan, and he questioned the enormous amounts of American military and financial resources devoted to the Afghan war.
The Afghan war is approaching a pivotal moment, with the Obama administration struggling to decide how many troops to withdraw this summer in advance of a self-imposed July deadline for beginning to bring some of the surge troops home. Republicans have long been some of the war’s strongest supporters, but Baker's comments on CNN highlighted that even GOP backing for the war is beginning to splinter.
"I'm coming more and more around to the view that it's time to take a close look at our involvement there," Baker said on CNN's Fareed Zakaria GPS. "We need to take a long and close look at whether that is still a vital national interest to the United States. I would argue to you that Yemen, which is coming apart, too, may end up being more of a problem as a failed state for al-Qaida than Afghanistan."
Public support for the Afghan war has been falling for months, and a Washington Post/ABC News poll last month found that nearly two-thirds of Americans now felt that the conflict was no longer worth fighting. It was the highest level of opposition ever recorded in the poll, but the partisan breakdown was equally interesting. Democrats turned against the war more than a year ago, and the poll found that only 19 percent of Democrats supported maintaining the war effort there. But the poll also found that barely half of Republicans back the war, a sharp decline among voters who had long been the war's strongest backers.
Baker said he believed that the U.S. should, as a general principle, only commit troops to harm's way when vital American national interests were at stake—a precondition that he didn't believe had been met in the case of Libya.
"Had I been in there, in the councils of government, I'm not sure I would have supported it, but I understand it," Baker said on CNN.
Still, he cautioned that the Obama administration risked losing the already fragile level of public support for the Libyan intervention if the situation remained stalemated or if any American troops were to die there.
"In a democracy such as ours, the final arbiter of foreign policy is the will of the American people," Baker said. "If you don't have a national interest, sooner or later, you will lose the support of the American people, when the body bags start coming home."