Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Quagmire

Thomas Powers has written a fine piece on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He gives a fine overview of the wars, how we got into them, how we screwed them up and how the U.S. has shifted from international diplomacy to military intervention.

I found this to be a frightening assessment on Afghanistan:

The CIA officer Anthony Arnold, who was stationed in Kabul before the Russian invasion, thinks the penalty of failure [for the Russians after they invaded Afghanistan] went beyond immediate losses and humiliation to include the actual collapse of the Soviet state itself. They were weaker than they knew, Arnold thinks, but the Russians did not give in easily: they killed more than a million Afghans, bombed villages to rubble, machine-gunned herds of sheep from the air, and drove as many as a fifth of all Afghans out of the country, across the border into the safe haven of Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas. Nothing worked and the war ended when the last Russian troops and trucks drove back across the Friendship Bridge into Tajikistan in 1989. It is true that the mujahideen got plenty of material help from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United States, but it was the Afghans who fought the Russians to exhausted frustration, and have gone right on fighting among themselves ever since.
This is the nut the U.S. is up against in Afghanistan.

The real point of Powers review is that we're in a quagmire that seems to dictate one of two solutions, without much in between:
We are committed in Afghanistan. We are not ready to leave Iraq. In both countries our friends are in trouble. The pride of American arms is at stake. The world is watching. To me the logic of events seems inescapable. Unless something quite unexpected happens, four years from now the presidential candidates will be arguing about two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, one going into its ninth year, the other into its eleventh. The choice will be the one Americans hate most—get out or fight on.
Ugly huh? I think he's right. The next President will be faced with cleaning up Bush's mess, and enduring consequences put into motion by Bush. Like everything else in George Bush's life, someone else will have to be the adult and clean up after the brat. If it's President McCain, I think the outcome is precisely as Powers describes. The remaining question is will President Obama have the guts to get out?

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