These two US military strategies are mutually dependent.
Le Monde, France; 1 Sept 2010; By Zaki Laïdi; Translated By Allison Ahlgrim; Edited by Sam Carter
The United States has begun its countdown towards troop withdrawal from Iraq with a deadline of December 2011. Meanwhile, they are effectively redeploying 30,000 supplementary troops for a surge force in Afghanistan. These two military strategies are mutually dependent, which provides ample opportunity to reflect both on the consequences of the war in Iraq and on the possible repetition of those consequences in Afghanistan. The political connections between these two arenas are, in fact, much stronger than we think.|
The Iraq war has been the most significant event in the region since the Suez Crisis in 1956. Its main consequence was diminishing the Arab world’s influence in the region a bit further. This had been the objective of American neoconservatives, even if it did not have the desired effects. This decline benefited two countries: Iran and Turkey.
Iran benefited because the first Shiite Arab state was born at its boundaries with American aid. Turkey was astute enough to profit from the new opportunity by liberating itself from the United States, which from then on was more of a partner than a feudal lord. Turkey took advantage of three assets that the Arab world lacked: an Islamic identity supported by a prosperous economy, a democratic political system and a growing diplomatic energy.
The war in Iraq exposed once again the full extent of the Arabic tragedy: societies dominated by inefficient, authoritarian regimes of landowners, and peoples who are incapable of taking care of their own leaders and forced to put themselves at the mercy of foreign powers, whom they hate even though they must depend upon them. Barack Obama has no effect here.
The conflict has a second consequence: The United States ended up with a wholly insignificant conquest. After seven years in Baghdad, the Americans succeeded only in reducing their influence. The Iraqi political class has taken over the political sphere, and they seem to purposefully exclude the Americans from their most sensitive affairs: the Arab-Kurdish balance, the redistribution of petroleum resources, the degree of provinces’ autonomy from the central power and the social and political integration of Sunnis in a political system restricted to Shiites.
The United States is now lacking any local alliance since no Iraqi leader, particularly not a Shiite, will recognize them politically. However, this defiance of the United States, a symbol of patriotism in Iraq, is far from serving Iran. After all, it is not a coincidence that the two political coalitions at the front of the latest legislative elections appear also to be the most nationalistic factions. The departing prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, belongs to the Shiite nationalist party, while his rival, Iyad Allaoui, also a Shiite, is supported by the Sunnis.
The other element is inherent in the emergence not of a Jeffersonian democracy in Iraq, but of a fragile, corrupted electoral ethno-democracy. Here the sectarian divides prevail, yet they don’t encompass all of the political energy. The Shiites united to retain power, yet they don’t remain so to exercise it. So, do these lessons hold true in Afghanistan, where Barack Obama is caught up in a difficult game? The answer is yes.
The first analogy we can draw concerns the political legitimacy of American interventions when their cost defies all understanding. Since 2001, the United States has spent more than one trillion dollars between Iraq and Afghanistan, which makes it the most expensive military venture since World War II. Still, the end results of these funds seem to be limited. After seven years of war and devastation, the quality of life in Iraq is hardly better than it is in the Gaza Strip. And after ten years of foreign presence in Afghanistan, the country continues to experience record-breaking poverty rates and corruption.
Naturally, the national elites have a fundamental hand in these failures, but that does not absolve the responsibility of the outside aid. In fact, even the official American foreign policy and their economic aid to Iraq and Afghanistan are a burden. There is a lack of coordination between different American organizations created to do everything except rebuild the state. Once offered, foreign aid is difficult to absorb, leading only to chaos and corruption. National state structures are destroyed even as they are reportedly built, and they are replaced with parallel networks unauthorized to organize or distribute resources.
In Afghanistan, the problem is exacerbated by the silent bribing of warlords and their militias in exchange for their protection of American convoys. This only eats away at the national state and encourages desertions from the Afghan police, which currently has an impressive desertion rate of 50 percent. From this point of view, the calls to Washington for more moral policies are naïve, and almost indecent, when you consider the number of Afghan officials and warlords who earn their salary from serving Americans. How else could it work?
A second lesson is added to the first, concerning Iraq and Afghanistan equally, which the American administration is bravely facing: the absence of local partners who wish to join in their political game. This was true in Iraq, and it repeats itself in Afghanistan. The former poster child of the struggle against terrorism, Hamid Karzaï, is now distancing himself from Washington. He knows that the Americans won’t hang around forever, and he has determined that he must distance himself from those who helped him to power in order to reinforce his political position.
All these signs and signals are meant to oppose the United States, buttress Karzai’s family and clan in Kandahar and pledge fidelity to the Taliban. The political intelligence of Barack Obama lies in discharging the ideological Manichaeism of Karzai’s predecessor, who put the good Mr. Karzai up against the malicious Taliban. However, the connections between the party in power in Kabul and certain fringe insurgents are clear: The Hekmatyar faction is represented in the Parliament as well as in the provinces. How can you put your faith in an ally when all mutual trust has disappeared?
There is another essential player in Afghanistan who makes the equation all the more complex: Pakistan. The Obama administration has once again realized that no possible solution will be found without the help of Islamabad. But, despite the massive $7.5 billion in aid, given over five years, and the heavy threat of the Pakistani Taliban to the regime, the Pakistan military will never forsake its support of the Afghan insurgency, which is an essential tool in their continued struggle against India. For this reason, Washington finds itself in the unspeakable situation where Pakistan is both its best asset and its most serious obstacle.
Since January, 90 percent of American drones launched in the tribal regions of Pakistan have been aimed toward North Warizistan, the support base for the Haqqani faction of the Afghan insurgency, which is one of the most violent factions with close ties to al-Qaida and the Pakistani special services. Barack Obama is weighing the Americans’ isolation as they form strategies without reliable, loyal local allies. He is also weighing his own isolation now as he faces the rebellion of his generals, who would be denied a victory with the withdrawal from Afghanistan beginning in July 2011.