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Gauging US policy: Afghanistan and Iraq


In the past month there has been a string of bombings in Iraq, killings hundreds of people in all. About 100 died in a single day. Strangely, these have evoked almost no comment in the United States, though Iraq and Iraq policy used to be at the center of American foreign affairs concerns.

No government officials commented. No reporters asked questions at State Department briefings or wrote op-eds questioning the wisdom of current US policy in Iraq, which can be summed up as "Forgetaboutit." There is not much discussion of the Maliki government, or the implication of its growing ties with Iran.

Yet Iraq continues to exist and the events there will certainly impact United States policy and the future of US allies in the Middle East, particularly in the Gulf. To explain it to Americans in plain English, for those who do not understand, the price of oil will go up. Even if you don't care about the people who die or suffer, you probably do care about the price of oil.

But the U.S. media treat Iraq as though a black hole exists on the map there now, and it is of no concern to anyone. Iraq is not worth reporting about and not worth anyone's comments. Rightly or wrongly, it has been consigned by Americans to the same place as South Vietnam in 1975. Previous commitments and promises do not matter any more.

Ominously, another candidate for oblivion now appears in the horizon. The NATO action in Afghanistan, the favored war of the current administration, is opposed by 51% of Americans according to a recent poll. Only about 32 per cent support the war. The numbers are not going to get better, because all such wars are long, because the enemy in Afghanistan is even more elusive than the enemy in Iraq, and the strategy appears to be even more lacking. The commitment in Afghanistan is even more tentative than the commitment in Iraq. If the U.S. can't win a war with too few troops in Iraq, why not try using even less troops in Afghanistan?

Any news other than the rapid unconditional surrender of all the Taleban, not a likely event, will be treated as bad news and there is going to be a lot of bad news. As long as the war goes on, no matter who is winning objectively, there will always be setbacks and American deaths that can be reported, as well as kidnappings and reports about the incompetence, demoralization and corruption of the Afghan regime that is supported by the United States, a regime that is no model of democracy and progressive values.

Therefore it is inevitable that the usual chorus of people singing and yelling "bring 'em home" will grow in force. It is an argument that is airtight and does not admit of rational debate: If you stop fighting, less Americans get killed, at least for now. Never mind what happens later, and never mind what happens to foreigners. They are only foreigners right? The campaign has already begun. An op-ed by Richard Haass in the New York Times, subtly argued, has been portrayed as opposing the war in Afghanistan, though that is not quite what the article states. "Subtle" is not transmitted in polemics.

As was the case with Iraq, a completely baseless rumor is being spread about Afghanistan: that it is the cause of the "Zionists." Of course, if you believe 9-11 was the work of the Mossad or the FBI, you can believe just about anything. But the absurd accusation will slowly creep out of the neo-Nazi Web sites and into the mainstream of American political discourse as the war debate heats up. The Iraq anti-war groups now find themselves with organizations but no cause. Afghanistan, rightly or wrongly, will be the new cause.

The real force at work however is not anti-Semitism or any other blatant evil, but simply apathy. As the astute and observant Abdel Monem Said noted is Asharq Al Awsat

I went to Washington to learn about how the Americans intend to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict, but I found that nobody was interested in this issue, or should I say nobody except a small group of Jews and Arabs who have made a profession for themselves in the press and within research centres and television stations out of the never-ending conflict. I was thinking about whether it is possible to understand the wars going on in Afghanistan and Iraq and whether the war on terror still existed.

Americans are interested in health care and cash for clunkers as Said noted. They forgot all about 9-11 and won't remember that there is such a problem unless, heaven forfend, there is another big terror attack in the United States. The war in Afghanistan has become "a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing," as Neville Chamberlain said of Czechoslovakia in 1938.

Eventually, the British and the Americans were to learn a great deal of this quarrel in Czechoslovakia. They came to the Middle East and North Africa too in World War II. But when it was over, they mostly left and forgot all about El Alamein and the other battles, leaving the remnants of their guns, armor and mines to rot in the desert and get scavenged for use in the Israel-Arab War that followed. The same fate awaited South Vietnam, and now it is happening in Iraq. In Afghanistan, the US government is still there, but it can't hold on much longer unless it can change the attitude of its people. The Europeans are already looking for exit points. If things do not go well, the Karzai regime and the Pakistani allies of the US will find themselves in a status approximately equivalent to that of the wrecked armor of Viscount Montgomery of Alamein - they will be left to rot in the desert. Even the Soviet autocracy could not sustain their war in Afghanistan against the outrage of of the Russian people. There is no way to determine if such wars can be won if they would be fought, because the people may refuse to even try after a certain point.

There will probably be many more wars like Vietnam, Iran and Afghanistan, if only because the bad guys of the world have found a weakness of industrialized countries, especially democracies: the inability to sustain interest and support wars against enemies that do not seem to directly pose a threat to themselves at home. The industrial powers, collectively and individually, have to find new political and constitutional mechanisms to decide whether or not a war is worth fighting, and then to ensure that if the war is started, the effort will be sustained for the duration.

But this lesson will not be learned for the Afghanistan war, the war that started so brilliantly, and which everyone in the United States once agreed was absolutely necessary. On the one hand, it would be ironic if Barack Obama, who rose to prominence for his opposition to the Iraq "war of choice," were to find himself at the end of his tenure, in the same column of the historical ledger as Lyndon Johnson and George W. Bush, Presidents who supported an unpopular war and wasted American lives in a situation where victory, for objective or political reasons, could not be obtained.

On the other hand, the United States government, regardless of domestic attitudes, will have to consider the effects on its allies in Afghanistan, in Pakistan and in the Gulf area, if America simply "brings em home" - folds up or is defeated in Afghanistan, as well as Iraq.

Ami Isseroff

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000773.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

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Replies: 5 comments

A few comments:
"Yet Iraq continues to exist and the events there will certainly impact United States policy and the future of US allies in the Middle East, particularly in the Gulf. To explain it to Americans in plain English, for those who do not understand, the price of oil will go up. Even if you don't care about the people who die or suffer, you probably do care about the price of oil."

So tell me, Ami, how many of "those people" should we be allowed to kill to keep the price of oil low? How many should we be allowed to kill to ensure security for "US allies" (obviously code for Israel) in the Middle East?

How many is enough for you?

"As was the case with Iraq, a completely baseless rumor is being spread about Afghanistan: that it is the cause of the 'Zionists'."

Again, it was YOU who just made reference to future events in Iraq impacting "US allies" (obviously code for Israel) in the Middle East. Honestly, Ari, how stupid do you think we are?

"If you stop fighting, less Americans get killed, at least for now. Never mind what happens later, and never mind what happens to foreigners. They are only foreigners right?"

I should remind you when we stopped the war in Vietnam, NOTHING happened later. And when we entered into an armistice in the Korean war, NOTHING happened later.

As for foreigners, what foreigners are you talking about? Is that another one of your code words?

If you mean to make an example of the government of South Vietnam (which the US supported during the war), it was corrupt and caught up in it's own self interests, much as the government of Israel -which we support today. The GOI would do well to eliminate internal corruption and associated criminal activities like the Settlements if it desires to enjoy normalized relations in the future with it's neighbor countries in the mid east.

In the mean time, if you want fighting done, why don't you place an article in the Haaretz or the Jerusalem Post? Why don't you exhort the GOI to take up these wars with it's own army?

We both know the answer to that one, don't we?


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