Winning Isn't Everything
) – When the United States "wins" the war in Iraq, the Bush administration and war advocates, ranging from the naively
idealistic neocons to former pseudo-lefties like Nat Hentoff, better hope it's not the kind of victory enjoyed in
Afghanistan. Because if it is, in 18 months time American youngsters will still be dying there, and the country will be
in a state of virtual anarchy.
Overzealous war critics, including even such mainstream voices as Maureen Dowd of the New York Times, have repeatedly
alluded to quagmires and Vietnam-like scenarios in Iraq. This is unlikely, to say the least, as any comparison to
Vietnam is historically inaccurate and references to quagmires avoid the obvious reality that if the U.S. were truly
"bogged down" and taking heavy casualties, they would simply wipe the country of Iraq off the face of the earth. The
U.S. military will never wallow in a protracted, significant conflict again.
Countering this view, giddily optimistic war advocates often mention the success of the invasion of Afghanistan,
pointing to the fact that that war, too, began with setbacks and doubts, which naysayers pounced on in the early days of
the conflict. At this point, the authors often trail off into a factless world liberally doused with rhetoric of
"liberation" and such. The reader is left to assume that Afghanistan is still the topic of discussion, and one can only
deduce that the authors feel they've just made a succinct and telling point. Of course, any review of what's been
happening in Afghanistan since its "liberation" is nowhere to be found. Though, perhaps, this is as indicative of
Americans' attention span, as it is a fact that Afghanistan is far from "liberated."
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has just been extended for another year amid rising and
renewed security concerns as Islamist activity continues to increase once again. Many warlords and those with any kind
of military or political power openly deride interim president Hamid Karzai by calling him the "mayor of Kabul."
As noted previously on YellowTimes.org, Afghanistan's poppy production has now returned to astronomical levels following
the ouster of the Taliban. The reason for this is twofold: the Karzai administration is too weak and decentralized to
actually physically enforce any kind of written law concerning the matter, while the commitments from outsiders are too
impotent; poppy remains the only truly viable cash crop in a country greatly affected by decades of warfare and a
concomitant lack of sincere rebuilding efforts.
The latter model continues to this day. Karzai recently traveled to Washington before the invasion of Iraq pleading not
to be forgotten once the "new" war was underway. While admitting that much has improved -- like an increase in the
number of media outlets and the return of many refugees -- his desperateness is almost palpable as he talks about the
increasingly militant and recalcitrant warlords as the biggest problem facing his country. And Karzai is no fool. He's a
Western-educated, privileged Afghan who is not unfamiliar with the fate of other "interim governments" in "war-torn
countries." He knows very well Afghanistan could easily slip into another significant civil war and that his own days
may be numbered. Indeed, this is already taking shape as fighting has increased in many areas of the country. The United
Nations has even curtailed some of its aid work in the past several weeks due to such unpredictable and insecure
All this despite a few thousand international "peacekeepers," 10,000-plus U.S. troops, and a couple billion dollars in
aid with which to work. Of course, the question has always been not whether it is truly an enigma to stabilize this
keystone Central Asian country but whether this is what those most responsible for its rebuilding actually desire -- a
stable, secure, economically competitive (at least regionally) Afghanistan.
So it is with great accuracy that many critics have pointed out that the Bush administration's most daunting task is not
the aerial bombardment of fleeing or entrenched Republican Guard units but the incredibly intricate and delicate
rebuilding and restructuring of not only Iraq's infrastructure but its society and culture. And it shouldn't even be
considered sarcasm to say that these nuances far exceed the cultural and socio-economic understanding and appreciation
of anyone in the current U.S. administration -- individuals more suited to the running of a fraternity house than
reconciling differences in Iraq that are hundreds of years old.
Afghanistan was the first country on the U.S.' list in the Bush administration's new "war on terror." They've now moved
on to their second target, Iraq, before really finishing or even securing the first. If this continues, and in 18 months
both Iraq and Afghanistan are unstable, insecure, and unpredictable as ever, what will the administration's solution be
then? Will they just leave a string of destabilized countries in their vengeful wake? Isn't this what they are trying to
solve in the first place? We may never know the answers to these questions and many more like them as the headlines in
the Western media may very well be obsessed with the next target on the list. Whether it be Syria, Iran, North Korea, or
Saudi Arabia is of little importance.
Whether it takes 200 coalition troops or 2000, two weeks or two months, there is no doubt that the U.S. and its
unflinching junior partner, the U.K., will "win" this current war, but as any historian worth their salt can tell you,
this is the least of their concerns.
[Matthew Riemer has written for years about a myriad of topics, such as: philosophy, religion, psychology, culture, and
politics. He studied Russian language and culture for five years and traveled in the former Soviet Union in 1990. In the
midst of a larger autobiographical/cultural work, Matthew is the Director of Operations at YellowTimes.org. He lives in
the United States.]
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