The purpose of this blog is to get readers to think about the complex (or perhaps simple) issues I write about.

The primary topics will revolve around politics and society as a whole, but a mixture of sports opinion may be thrown in from time to time.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Iraq, Not Afghanistan, Was The Right War to Fight

Let me preface all words hereafter by saying that the branch of political science I studied while at the University of Kansas largely focused on political ideologies and public policy. I did not study or take one class in foreign relations, or foreign policy.

However, haven spent the formidable years of the Bush Presidency in college, and the remaining years since working in politics and public policy at the national level, I am at least somewhat qualified to provide an opinion.

After all, I am not completely severed from foreign policy interests. Many, if not most of my "colleagues" who now happen to be friends, spent their time at the University of Kansas studying foreign policy and I continually speak with them about these issues.

I'm prompted to write about this now because the "War in Afghanistan" has become such a quagmire that the line between success and failure has become so blurred that just about no so-called "expert" can advise as to what we should be doing there next.

One idea however has taken hold with me. That is that we need to let our soldiers do what they do best, and that is be soldiers. 

On Presidents Day I took the time to watch an excellent documentary on HBO called "The Battle for Marjah." It chronicled the United States Marines mission in February of 2010 to capture the Afghan city of Marjah, one of the largest insurgent strongholds in the country.

What struck me dumb was the knowledge that our Marines (and all soldiers, for that matter) cannot fire upon suspected enemies until those suspected enemies have committed hostile acts against them.

Even more striking was that after the mission had been somewhat "completed"--the insurgents had primarily fled the city, the mission was only about a third of the way completed.

The next two thirds surrounded two things. Gaining the trust of the citizens of Marjah, and once that had been accomplished the Marines could only then start "nation building."

The documentary led me to conclude several things about the current war in Afghanistan.

First, there is absolutely no end to the type of "war" we are currently fighting there. Second, if our soldiers, who are trained to do battle with guns and ammunition, are all of a sudden supposed to be "nation builders" there is something seriously wrong with our training programs.

While every soldier was absolutely cordial with the Afghan people in the documentary, anxieties about what a "Marines' job is" were also well documented.

There is a stark contrast between Afghanistan and Iraq. The primary difference is the proximity of each nation to the 21st century.

While Iraq has a lot of steps to take before they are 21st century literate, Afghanistan could literally be mistaken for a country set in the 9th century A.D.

There are zero natural resources in Afghanistan save the poppy fields, which have been primarily cultivated for the production of heroin, and the profits from its sale go largely to the bad guys, not the Afghan government.

Afghanistan is largely a tribal nation, and after getting invaded by Russia in the latter stages of the 20th century, Al-Queda were allowed to form and take control of the otherwise vulnerable nation once it had ridden itself from Russian attacks.

It is without question that our early efforts in Afghanistan were noble, but that was when the objective was trying to find, capture, or kill Osama Bin Laden.

After not being able to find him, the Bush Democracy Tour, which has worked very well in Iraq given all circumstances, and despite the large hiccups along the way, decided it'd try the same model in Afghanistan.

It was the Bush Administration who planted the seeds to the current failure we're experiencing in Afghanistan-now roundly critiqued as "America's longest war."

Bringing Democracy to Iraq, while not easy (as we saw) was going to be a much easier process given the sacrifice because it had a firm footing.

Iraq sits on massive oil fields, and can actually produce an economy, when combined with a stable Democracy will ultimately allow Iraq to grow and become a leader in the Middle East a decade down the road.

Afghanistan is a completely different story. With next to no national resources, or societal infrastructure, the job to bring freedom and help Afghans execute a democracy is essentially impossible.

Early on, the Bush plan seemed to work. A government was installed after the country had been rid of nearly all Al-Queda, but by the end of the Bush presidency, Afghan leader Karzai was seemingly being influenced strongly by the Taliban.

Now, with Karzai still "leading" the country yet conveniently being of no help to our soldier/nation builders, Afghanistan has become a quagmire.

President Obama wrongly saw Afghanistan as the "right" war to be fighting, simply because that was where Osama Bin Laden was operating from around the time of 9/11.

And he mainly supported the efforts in Afghanistan because the left had roundly equated our efforts in Iraq to America's problems as perceived by the world.

To President Obama's credit though, he did act with conviction in Afghanistan, proposing a troop surge that worked so well for President Bush in Iraq.

The problem for the Obama Administration is the reality of the situation in Afghanistan. The war there is literally not winnable--if a win means the Afghans are free from fear (of the insurgents) and a ruling democracy.

The Afghan people simply hunger for civility, and whether that means being ruled under the iron fist of the Taliban, or if its a pseudo democracy like the one Karzai supposedly heads.

While nation building is a part of our strategy in Afghanistan, it is wasting the greatest resources of our military. The warriors that make us the most powerful military nation in the world.

We no longer hear a peep out of Iraq because the nation has largely moved exactly how President Bush had envisioned it going from the beginning.

Now of course Iraq has its internal problems, but don't all infant democracies? We rarely even here about those problems.

The only time we hear anything out of Iraq is when a suicide bomber decides to blow himself, and the United States is living proof that even the strongest democracies aren't immune to terrorist attacks.

With the Bush policy in Iraq largely working, there is absolutely no incentive for the media to report on it, and the positive news that is made in Iraq has become so frequent that even Fox News doesn't report it.

It would be wise for us to draw down our troop levels in Afghanistan as soon as possible. Let the warriors we have (like the Charlie Company in the documentary) do what they do best--ridding Afghanistan of men who literally use children as human shields on the battlefield.

It would start to save our country billions of dollars annually. Our obligations in Afghanistan to find Osama Bin Laden failed to bear fruit, and while the early years of the operations saw some successes, the situation has become a quagmire that is senselessly costing American lives.

It's time for the leadership in Washington to start looking at the big picture. A functioning democracy in Iraq is imperative to relations in the Middle East.

A functioning democracy in Afghanistan will do nothing to rid the country of the tribal forces that enable the Taliban. Nor will it do anything to stop the terrorist elements of Pakistan from conflicting with Afghanistan and American interests for years to come.

It's time to face the music. We need to re-organize once again in Afghanistan and start withdrawing troops sooner than the planned date.


  1. I'm surprised you still left this blog up after the killing of Bin Laden. Although he was hiding out in Pakistan, I think he was likely pushed out there from the military forces that were in Afghanistan. I hope the death of Bin Laden pans out in the fight against terror and proves that Obama made the right decision in continuing to hunt down the mastermind of 9/11.

  2. Of course I left it up. Just because Osama Bin Laden (who was almost universally believed to be in Pakistan) was captured doesn't make my argument invalid. The point I was trying to make is that the geography, topography, economy, civilization and just about everything else about Afghanistan and its history makes it the wrong war to have fought.