The biggest hurdle the U.S. faces in Afghanistan is American civilian indifference to victory in Iraq. If we can’t get excited about a victory in progress, where are we going to find the will to turn a losing situation into a future triumph? Especially once we start seeing the familiar and ugly images of ratcheted-up warfare. Right now, Nancy Pelosi and Charles Schumer say they are pleased to see national security refocused from Iraq onto Afghanistan, but their enthusiasm will be put to the test if Afghanistan casualties, IED’s, and suicide bombings become daily front-page fodder.
Barack Obama has said that even though the troop surge has worked in Iraq, he does not regret opposing it from the start. Nancy Pelosi would refuse to acknowledge Iraqi political progress even if that country successfully adopted the U.S. constitution as its own. When American leaders are this – what’s the word? — annoyed by American success, it’s only natural that American citizens shrug it off too. It is somehow inconceivable that — no matter the outcome in Iraq — the U.S. will ever see a victory parade for the troops who liberated millions. A new CNN poll shows that most Americans (52 percent) believe that the surge is a success, but success seems to be beside the point. A new Rasmussen poll shows that only around 35 percent feel the troops should stay until the mission is complete. A nation that doesn’t care about its military victories is going to have a hard time enduring further wars long enough to win.
Not surprisingly, the chorus calling for withdrawal from Afghanistan is already getting louder. Former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski said, “I think we’re literally running the risk of unintentionally doing what the Russians did. And that, if it happens, would be a tragedy.” Brzezinski added that U.S. operations carried out “with little regard for civilian casualties” in Afghanistan are beginning to turn Afghans against the U.S.
This is Iraqspeak and it’s music to the antiwar crowd’s ears. Predictably, Juan Cole writes,
If the Afghanistan gambit is sincere, I don’t think it is good geostrategy. Afghanistan is far more unwinnable even than Iraq. . . Afghan tribes are fractious. They feud. Their territory is vast and rugged, and they know it like the back of their hands. Afghans are Jeffersonians in the sense that they want a light touch from the central government, and heavy handedness drives them into rebellion. Stand up Karzai’s army and air force and give him some billions to bribe the tribal chiefs, and let him apply carrot and stick himself. We need to get out of there.
What’s more is when the redoubled fighting gets ugly, the antiwar folks will pull out a ready-made, polished off excuse for wanting to cut and run: the Bush administration’s “distraction” in Iraq has left the Afghanistan front to fester for so long that victory is impossible.
Americans don’t have to like what victory looks like in Iraq, but they ignore its importance at their own peril. Without the success of the surge, Iraq would not only have fallen prey to al Qaeda nihilism, but ultimately to Iranian control. If Americans are indifferent about deposing Saddam, breaking al Qaeda’s back, halting Iranian hegemony, and midwifing consensual government in the heart of Mesopotamia, it’s hard to imagine why they’d care about the Taliban, Hamid Karzai and peace in Afghanistan. (Why not just adopt Brzezinski’s plan — bribe warlords and flee?) It’s hard to imagine a fight Americans will ever consider “worth it” again.