Is Afghanistan a repeat of Iraq?

Category: Americas, World Affairs Topics: Afghanistan, Conflicts And War, Iraq Channel: Opinion Views: 2799

Since the beginning of May, roughly as many American soldiers have died in Afghanistan as in Iraq, even though there are about four and a half times as many in Iraq.

Since this is apparently the only metric that matters, all of a sudden, there is some media attention to the fact that has been obvious for several years, which is that the situation in Afghanistan is steadily worsening.

Indeed, Ahmed Rashid, whose new book Descent into Chaos is a forceful indictment of U.S. policy in Afghanistan after the war, has been making the rounds trying to convince people that Afghanistan is a worse problem globally than Iraq and deserves more attention.

Rashid may well know more about Afghanistan and in particular about its political history over the past three decades than anyone else in the world. His book confirms in copious detail what has been clear to serious observers of U.S."nation-building" in Afghanistan: the fact that the United States has been, especially in the first several years, committed to the warlords rather than to any potential nascent secular democratic forces; that people like Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz had no interest in building democracy in Afghanistan; that the new Afghan government had almost no resources for governance while actual policy was made by other forces; that virtually all reconstruction was for show and benefited no one but warlords, local elites, and political allies of the United States; that a huge opportunity to improve the lives of Afghans at very little cost has been lost.

Sadly, he succumbs to the same delusions as Barack Obama and a number of liberal Democrats who know little or nothing about Afghanistan.

Across the board, from Rashid to Obama to NATO to American generals - and perhaps one day even to Republicans and the Bush administration - there is a growing drumbeat for an increased American presence in Afghanistan and an even more aggressive prosecution of the war against the neo-Taliban. In the coming months, you can expect many pundits, flush with deep understanding of the supposed eternal verities of counterinsurgency theory and with a perception of tremendous success in Iraq, to pile on.

The logic of these calls is deeply flawed. In fact, the U.S. troop presence in Iraq made matters worse in every time period from April 2003 onward, with the partial exception of September 2007 until the present. Iraq had degenerated into massive internecine violence, to the point of creating significant internal rifts within sectarian communities and even within individual armed organizations; some of those groups made decisions to stand down and others to abandon erstwhile allies and support the Americans. The positive role played by the U.S. troop presence and its shift in strategy was largely confined to the fact that it created a greater incentive for these various realignments.

In Afghanistan, however, the level of violence is currently low (by the country's normal standards) - except for coalition violence against suspected insurgents and insurgent violence against the coalition. The Toronto Globe and Mail recently did a major interview project with 42 ground-level Taliban fighters and concluded that the majority of them fight for one simple reason - that there are foreigners in their country running it.

And, according to Antonio Giustozzi's recent book Koran, Kalashnikov, and Laptop, the neo-Taliban are much more careful about their violence than the various Iraqi insurgent groups and are more careful about their crazy religious edicts than the old Taliban were. This is not to deny that they kill civilians in their suicide bombings, kill teachers and foreign aid workers and shut down schools, and do various other awful things, but rather simply to say that they may well be attentive enough to the considerations of the population in southern Afghanistan to retain legitimacy and the ability to continue their struggle.

Even if we leave aside consideration of their safe-haven in Pakistan's tribal areas, there is no reason to believe that any reasonable increase in offensive operations by coalition forces will defeat the insurgency; indeed, we seem to be at a point currently where increasing of counterinsurgent operation will actually increase the size and power of the insurgency.

We have a major opportunity not to turn Afghanistan into Iraq. Alternatively, we could ramp up the occupation, let loose a spiral of violence that kills hundreds of thousands, then, when everyone is once again saturated with it, have a "surge" and announce "success" when the level of violence once again dips down. Sadly, the people who will suffer if we do this have no voice in the decision.

Rahul Mahajan teaches at New York University. He has been to Iraq twice and reported from Fallujah during the siege in April. He maintains a blog Empire Notes


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  3 Comments   Comment

  1. Muslim from UK

    Afghanistan and even Pakistan have no geo-strategic importance to the West What utter codswallop, for obvious reasons i.e. pro-Indian & Islamophobic bias (especially historical foe Pakistan). Globalisation is a reality & the world is a global village, so whatever happens in one place affects another. The hegemonic MIC have long shown their interest in this geo-strategic, strategic just look at the military-intel reports openly available online! Control of the Pakistan-Afghanistan is a prize for all the competing major nations e.g. West, Russia, China & regional hegemon India who sees it as its personal backyard. The region has the energy-rich Middle East to the West (including Gulf sea-lanes & Iran); BRIC China to the East; BRIC India to South East, BRIC Russia & energy-rich Central Asia to the north; Energy-rich Caspian to the north-west; strategic Arabian Sea/Indian ocean sealanes to the south ( which is why India is building up its vast fleet & China is investing in Gwadar port, Soviets wanted a warm sea base etc).Remember the US MNC UNOCAL was dealing with the Taliban to use Afghanistan as the criss-cross hub of pipelines. The energy-starved rivals are striving to play the GREAT GAME to their advantage & dissuade rivals. Afghanistan-Pakistan is the prized jigsaw piece. Emotional anti-Pakistani Islamophobia does not change the FACTS, check them out with Military-intel reports online.

  2. AJ from UK

    Defeating two world superpowers, one after the other ie. the Soviet and the US, by a bunch of ill-equipped freedom fighters is no mean feat and it's no mere coincidence. It is when the 'niyyah' and 'tawakkal' are solely for Allah that victory over evil is certain. Not "pan-arab nationalism", no matter how huge the arsenals you have..No, Allah's help won't come in that way.

    As for the number of US deaths, it was an outright lie, the reality is much worse. For years, the Bush Regime has cover-up the real number of their deaths. Today's Columbus and his gangs, ie. G. Bush and his regime do not care a bit of how many of their servicemen are dead, as long as their pockets are full from the looting of today's gold ie. oil. But their plan has turned against them, they are losing big time both ways. Alhamdulillah!

    Btw, I found this article to contain statements that smelt odd... and no islamic purpose. It shouldn't have appeared in an Islamic website, we should have instead keep praying to God for the Mujahideen. The time is near, Inshallah.

  3. Romesh Chander from USA

    Is Afghanistan a repeat of Iraq? No. Afghanistan and even Pakistan have no geo-strategic importance to the West; Cold War is over and Russia is not interested in Cold War anymore. US could walk out of Afghanistan and will have no loss at all; all the chaos caused by fundamentalists and Taliban in Afghnaistan & Pakistan will be the local problem, not of US/Canada & Nato.

    Iraq has oil and is suurounded by oil countries. So, Iraq is very significant. Walking out of Iraq will create havoc in the region. Unfortunately, US staying there will create even bigger mess on which neither the US nor the middle eastern countries will have any control. Will the US leave? Not in the near future (probably not till 2012 or 2013). If US economy goes to hell (and there is good likelihood that it will pretty soon), and US $$$ becomes funny money, then US will be forced to bug out of Iraq and leaving the mess for others to worry about. In any case, situation for both Iraq and Afghanistan is hopeless (and so is the situation for US).

    It will probably be the external factors, like crashing of US $$$, bankruptcy of some major financial instiutions, stock-market crash, severe and long-term recession (just short of Depression), etc which will hasten the departure of US (without regard to geo-strategic consequences). Currently, there is no Draft and hence people don't care about casulaties which are quite small in number, compared to other wars.

    If US/Israel bomb Iran, then all bets are off; oil won't be available, people won't worry about gasoline for their cars, they will have to worry about keep themselves warm in the winter ("Baby, It could become very cold INSIDE").

    US has already been defeated in Afghanistan and Iraq; it is just very difficult to admit policy mistakes and admit defeat. After all, US still does not admit that it was defeated in Vietnam; same story in Afghanistan and Iraq (and probably Iran).