Iraq Versus Afghanistan
Christopher Hitchens sums up the war effort nicely:
The situation is bad and possibly deteriorating. In spite of open elections with wide participation, and in spite of the promulgation of a federal-type constitution that controversially privileges Islam, attacks are on the increase and the number of American soldiers already killed in 2005 is almost double the number for last year. Suicide bombers, often recruited from beyond the borders but also generated internally, demonstrate increasing ruthlessness and sophistication. Kidnapping and hostage-taking suggest an overlap between jihadism and organized crime. Warlordism and sectarianism remain toxic. No obvious end is in sight. The situation in Afghanistan, in other words, is giving rise to mounting concern.
Not enough concern, however, to prompt many calls for a date for withdrawal from Kabul.
True enough. So, why then, the difference? (Aside from the fact that Afghanistan has been almost entirely forgotten.) After batting down several plausible alternatives, Hitchens contends,
The real difference is this, if one is permitted to mention such a coarse thing as interest: Iraq is enormously more important, geopolitically, than Afghanistan. It sits beside one of the choke-point sea lanes of the global economy, and it occupies a keystone position between the Wahhabist theocracy of Saudi Arabia and the Shiite theocracy of Iran. One may despair of the stupidity of the Bush administration’s “drug war” in Afghanistan (“just hold still while we liberate you and burn your only crop and make sure that all profits go to gangsters”), but it is a bagatelle when compared to the gigantic stakes of Iraqi oil. If anything like a federal and democratic Iraq emerged and was able to recuperate its ravaged and corrupted oil fields, it could undercut the Saudi and Iranian duopoly as well as provide a modern standard of living to a people immiserated by three decades of war and fascism. This would be a prize of historic proportions.
But this would be a good thing, no?
Regardless, his conclusion is right:
It would be wonderful if an elected Iraqi government and parliamentÃ¢€”which is thinkable after this DecemberÃ¢€”took the decision to thank the coalition and to invite it to fold its tent and depart. But anyone who thinks that this would stop the madness of jihad need only look at Afghanistan, where a completely discredited and isolated minority continues to use suicide-murder as a tactic and a strategy. How strange that the anti-war left should have forgotten all of its Marxism and superciliously ignored the fact that oil is blood: lifeblood for Iraqis and others. Under Saddam it was wholly privatized; now it can become more like a common resource. But it will need to be protected against those who would shed it and spill it without compunction, and we might as well become used to the fact. With or without a direct Anglo-American garrison, there is an overwhelming humanitarian and international and civilizational interest in defeating the Arab Khmer Rouge that threatens Mesopotamia, and if we could achieve agreement on that single point, the other disagreements would soon disclose themselves as being of a much lesser order.
That is, however, a big “If.”