Maintaining Commitments to Iraq and Afghanistan
Month to date there have been four U. S. casualties in Iraq. Each death remains a tragedy but that’s a far cry from a year ago or two years ago. Fatalities in the Iraqi security forces have declined, too, each month of this year seeing fewer casualties than in the corresponding month of last year. Things are far from quiet in Iraq but are clealry much better than they were and than they might have been. As U. S. casualties ratchet up in Afghanistan, largely proportional to the increasing U. S. forces in Afghanistan, we seem to hear less and less coverage of Iraq.
In today’s column, lest we forget about Iraq entirely, Tom Friedman warns of Iraq’s continuing significance and its strategic importance relative to Afghanistan:
Watching Iraqi politics is like watching a tightrope artist crossing a dangerous cavern. At every step it looks as though he is going to fall into the abyss, and yet, somehow, he continues to wobble forward. Nothing is easy when trying to transform a country brutalized by three decades of cruel dictatorship. It is one step, one election, one new law, at a time. Each is a struggle. Each is crucial.
This next step is particularly important, which is why we cannot let Afghanistan distract U.S. diplomats from Iraq. Remember: Transform Iraq and it will impact the whole Arab-Muslim world. Change Afghanistan and you just change Afghanistan.
I think he’s simultaneously right and wrong. Real change in Iraq in the direction of liberal democracy would have enormous significance. I’m not entirely sure whether that’s what’s happening or whether we’re merely seeing the emergence of Saddam Lite.
And I think that he’s largely wrong about Afghanistan through oversimplification. It is impossible to change Afghanistan at all in isolation. Afghanistan and Pakistan are the Corsican Brothers, each feeling the other’s pain, and their fates are inextricably entwined. I seriously doubt that we can prevail militarily in Afghanistan in the absence of a legitimate, decent government there and that will be impossible without a legitimate, decent government in control of the territory it claims in Pakistan, too. And that, in turn, would have tremendous implications for the entirety of south and central Asia.
And can whatever we see as the desired end state in each of Iraq and Afghanistan be maintained without an ongoing commitment to both countries?
Over at The Glittering Eye I muse in a related vein over the interrelationship between our military and our grand strategy. Is there an intrinsic conflict between nation-building and having the biggest, toughest military in the world? How should we be using our military and what are our interests?