"How did it come to pass that an opposition's measure of a president's foreign policy was all or nothing, success or "failure"? The answer is that the political absolutism now normal in Washington arrived at the moment--Nov. 7, 2000--that our politics subordinated even a war against terror to seizing the office of the presidency." - Daniel Henninger - WSJ 11/18/05
"the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts." - George Orwell

Monday, July 23, 2007

Where Less Is More? Iraq is not Vietnam is not Afghanistan

Previously posted regarding lessons of history: "Shades of Vietnam...Which Lessons?"

According to Rory Stewart at The NY Times:

AMERICA and its allies are in danger of repeating the mistakes of Iraq in Afghanistan. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and even some Republicans are insisting on withdrawing from Iraq and sending more troops and resources to southern Afghanistan. The Bush administration’s gloomy National Intelligence Estimate last week on the fight against Al Qaeda will only lead others to make such calls.

But they should think again. The intervention in Afghanistan has gone far better than that in Iraq largely because the American-led coalition has limited its ambitions and kept a light footprint, leaving the Afghans to run their own affairs.”

This speaks to those that are calling for an increase in troops in Afghanistan or as some would have it “the real war on terror.” The Democrat candidates that Stewart lists are making their stances for largely political and not national security reasons. Iraq to many who prefer is a lost cause and those many don’t want to support what they feel is a losing horse. Clinton, Obama and the others have been calling for a “redeployment” from Iraq believing either that they don’t want the problem when they hope to enter the Oval Office (wishful no matter whether we are there or not); they need to be seen as correct/prescient on Iraq; they don’t have the stomach for a difficult yet winnable fight; or they just want to see Bush lose, which in their minds would be a victory for them.

In a somewhat unwieldy aside, note that according to an article regarding the “quagmire analogy,” “President Bush was first asked whether he could avoid a quagmire in Afghanistan four days after the start of the war there,” and “the quagmire metaphor also hanged over early coverage of Operation Iraqi Freedom (search). Eight days into the war, The New York Times and The Washington Post compared Iraqi fighters to the resilient North Vietnamese.

The analogy speaks more to the power of a metaphor than they do a real “quagmire.” If detractors had been heeded at those early dates what would the situation on the ground be now? We have no idea obviously, but I’m sure a number of “experts” would have something to say and more likely than not it would speak to the wisdom of not being in Iraq with the “surge” right now; based at the least in the media line today.

I cite the “quagmire” analogy, as the inaccuracy of making that statement so early is as inaccurate as comparing Afghanistan, or Iraq to Vietnam as it is to compare Iraq to Afghanistan as though both these theaters are exactly alike and should and can be addressed in the same manner.

“Those who do not learn the lessons of history are condemned to repeats its mistakes,” is oft quoted as reason not to be in first Afghanistan and now Iraq. Yet history can never repeat itself exactly, so it is necessary to learn the lessons, but which ones are the real lessons to be applied is the bigger question.

George Bernard Shaw has been quoted as saying: “If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must Man be of learning from experience;” then how are we to apply any lessons? Certain lessons are easy for most to learn and apply, for instance; stick your finger in a light socket and the majority will avoid doing such a thing again. Unfortunately, neither Afghanistan nor Iraq are enough alike, let alone like Vietnam that all lessons can be applied or if applied will even have the same effect.

Certainly we would not want to enter into any scenario oblivious of lessons learned, but just because something worked in one place does not mean it will work exactly as it did elsewhere. The lessons learned in Vietnam needed to be applied directly in Vietnam, although certainly it stands to reason that some of the lessons of that war should be applied elsewhere; as I’m sure they were and are.

Afghanistan was a nation under the regime of the Taliban, which was in power there for roughly five years and geographically it is different than Iraq are we to treat Mesopotamia as though it were no different? My simplistic approach to this question is really no different than the approach Stewart wants to apply in Iraq; that which has worked or is working in Afghanistan.

I certainly do agree the candidates should listen and not go nuts in Afghanistan just because it appears a surer bet, especially since it is most likely only because they don't want to appear soft; numbers of soldiers needed my ebb and flow, but applying the lessons of Afghanistan beyond Afghanistan and into Iraq isn’t going to do anyone any favors. Unless of course the lesson learned is to bug-out; then I think you know who the winners in Iraq would be.

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