Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Iraq-Afghanistan Contradiction

Most of the country still supports a withdrawal from Iraq on a very short timescale. Most of the country also has rather ambivalent leanings towards staying in Afghanistan "until the job is done." Why?

Iraq has shown serious progress for the last year--violence is more than 80% lower than when the surge started, the Sunnis in the west are our closest allies, Al-Qaeda in Iraq is being obliterated by the combined Sunni Awakening, Iraqi Security Forces, and Multinational Forces. The government is making slow political compromise progress, and more is likely to be made after the fall elections equalize representation in parliament. The Iraqi Army's stand-along capabilities are increasing... but the majority of forces still need training. The Iranians are finally starting to help curb the violence among Shiite militias. The American people support withdrawal.

But at the same time, Afghanistan is an increasing disaster. More and more American troops are dying each month--last month, 40 died, compared to 29 in Iraq. The Taliban's /Al-Qaeda's virtual safe haven in Northwest Pakistan makes it impossible for US troops to competently fight them; if the Pakistani government continues to be as unhelpful as they have been since 2001, there is little that US and Afghani troops can do to stifle the growth of the Taliban except try to invade Pakistan's northwest. Without help from Pakistan, this venture is becoming a complete waste of time, and a useless shooting ground for American troops. Americans support staying.

Do we think Pakistan is going to buck up and start fighting the Taliban soon? Or are we, as Americans, so wrapped up in our preconceived notions of morality that our military presence does not depend on results? The military situation in Afghanistan is bad, and getting worse--and there is little our military can do about it without violating Pakistan's sovereignty and possibly setting off another war. But in Iraq, our troops and General Petraeus have shown that smart leadership and good policy can lead to lasting results. Iraq's economy is booming, and its people feel increasingly safe. The end of a US presence in Iraq should come when the Iraqi Security Forces are able to operate independently to keep the security that the US has gained. The end of the US presence in Afghanistan is the one that shows "no end in sight," with a situation slowly and painfully degrading into oblivion.

So why the inconsistency?
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