Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Afghanistan War and "The Surge" in Iraq

Josepb Stiglitz warns that At All Costs, We Must Avoid a 'Surge' in Afghanistan 09/13/08. He begins by looking at the problem that, in my mind, was largely created by the inadequate efforts by the Democrats both Presidential and Congressional to keep the Iraq War as a central issue in the 2008 campaign:

The Iraq war has been replaced by the declining economy as the most important issue in America's presidential election campaign, in part because Americans have come to believe that the tide has turned in Iraq: the troop "surge" has supposedly cowed the insurgents, bringing a decline in violence. The implications are clear: a show of power wins the day.

It is precisely this kind of macho reasoning that led America to war in Iraq in the first place. The war was meant to demonstrate the strategic power of military might. Instead, the war showed its limitations. Moreover, the war undermined America's real source of power -- its moral authority. ...

To be sure, the reduction in violence is welcome, and the surge in troops may have played some role. Yet the level of violence, were it taking place anywhere else in the world, would make headlines; only in Iraq have we become so inured to bloodshed that it is a good day if only 25 civilians get killed.
This doesn't mean that the Iraq War has become more popular.

Only that the Republicans have been able to, shall we say, put lipstick on the pig and convince a significant number of people that the end is in sight. Which it will not be if McCain is elected President.

In particular, the Democrats have failed to articulate the real results of The Surge. And that affects the unfounded optimism about the Afghanistan War:

The belief that the surge was successful is especially dangerous because the Afghanistan war is going so poorly. America's European allies are tiring of the endless battles and mounting casualties. Most European leaders are not as practiced in the art of deception as the Bush administration; they have greater difficulty hiding the numbers from their citizens. The British, for example, are well aware of the problems that they repeatedly encountered in their imperial era in Afghanistan.

America will, of course, continue to put pressure on its allies, but democracy has a way of limiting the effectiveness of such pressure. Popular opposition to the Iraq war made it impossible for Mexico and Chile to give in to American pressure at the United Nations to endorse the invasion; the citizens of these countries were proven right.

But back in America, the belief that the surge "worked" is now leading many to argue that more troops are needed in Afghanistan. [my emphasis]
If the US under either McCain or Obama tries to escalate the war by simply adding more US troops and escalate the bombing of villages and assassination-by-drone tactics, which is turning the Afghan public even more intensely against the Americans, that the European NATO contingents will either leave entirely or restrict their operations to very limited areas, clearly delineated from the areas where the American approaches are being applied.

Two world wars and the collapse of the British and French colonial empires have given European leaders - and apparently the European publics, too - an understanding that pulling out of wars in which the costs have become much greater than any possible benefits isn't shameful or dishonorable: it's good sense and good policy.

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