Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Surge II: Afghanistan

The Surge in Iraq was successful in two respects. First, it did coincide, coincidental or causal I'm not sure, with a drop in violence in Iraq. Second, it injected new life into proponents of the war, who by now have very little to stand on in the way of rational thought. By throwing out the red herring of the Surge, the administration was able to point to its moderate successes as a way of directing attention away from the vast array of failures of its Iraq adventure, failures which persist regardless of the attention paid to them.

Where the Surge failed, however, was in accomplishing its stated goal. The tempering of violence was meant as a vehicle for achieving its true aim, which was stabilization of the government. From the American perspective, this meant allowing Maliki the time to push the undesirable political factions out so that democratic principles could not be applied to them in the upcoming (maybe) provincial elections. While the Surge did witness the return of Sunni politicians to Parliament, Iraq is no closer to ceasing to be a "collection of different fiefdoms controlled by warlords," thus signaling the Surge failed in achieving its central goal.

Luckily for the Bush administration, no one is paying attention to the political front, including the Messiah himself, who this weekend wiped his website clear of criticism of the Surge. Apparently, after 100s of thousands of Iraqis have met their demise, a slower pace over several months and all will be forgiven. Downturn in violence or not, those Iraqis remain deceased and the country's infrastructure remains ashambles, well after the taxpayers granted engineering firms billions to fix it. Pointing to the minor success of the Surge is to disregard all the miserable failures that came before, and to grant the term 'success' to simply a slower pace of devastation seems a misuse of the term.

Both Presidential candidates are so enamored with the blinding PR victory that they're calling for a reprise in Afghanistan, which for anyone paying attention has regressed to the point it was circa October 2001. To Obama's credit, he has continuously pointed to Afghanistan as "the real front in the War on Terror," so his call for 10,000 more troops comes as a natural offshoot of his campaign.

McCain, however, made today his first acceptance of that point, his first attempt to perhaps admit that Iraq never was about terrorism and was always an economic endeavor. This change of direction of course comes only after the administration signaled it was okay by insinuating it may do the same last week.

But spoiling the self-congratulatory party are some pesky facts, differences between the two situations. If the most abject failure of American foreign policy is to apply cookie-cutter policies to the world as if its inhabitants were a homogeneous sample and transposable over any region, both McCain and Obama exhibit similar failures in attempting to apply the same tactics used in Iraq to Afghanistan.

The most glaring difficulty is that the Taliban stronghold they seek to root out is not in Afghanistan, but Pakistan. Thus, regardless of the number of troops stationed in Afghanistan, whether increased by 10 or 50 thousand, the same issue of Pakistani sovereignty exists. The Pakistani government has shown no willingness to allow NATO forces to conduct cross-border raids, so any suggestion that the Surge forces would do so would come as an affront to the wishes of our 'ally.'

Musharraf's hold on power grows weaker by the day, which has led to the Pakistanis remaining lax on raids in the FATA and NWP in order to avoid stoking a fire which might drive him from the seat of government. Allowing NATO to conduct itself in Pakistan with autonomy would surely be unpopular among the populace and put Musharraf in greater peril.

The other wrench thrown into the rhetorical cog is the ISI, Pakistan's Intelligence force. Karzai's government is convinced that the ISI is interfering in his country, and responsible for the attempts on his life as well as several bombings, including the recent bombing of the Indian embassy. In other words, Pakistan is engaging in everything Iran is chastised for in Iraq. These are no small obstacles for McCain or Obama.

Unless the two are willing to address the tangible differences between Iraq and Afghanistan, any suggestions involving a Surge in Afghanistan should be regarded as mere rhetorical flair. Neither has illustrated any effort to address Pakistan's role in the deteriorating situation, and until such time as they do, the Surge is a promise without hope for fulfillment.


Pakistan Stops Fighting Militants
, May 18
Nir Rosen: Iraq a Collection of Fiefdoms, April 5
GAO: US Lacks a Plan in Afghanistan, April 20

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