Iraq & Afghanistan: Lost on the Road to Victory

by Laura Snedeker

Is the way out of Iraq through Afghanistan? There is no end to the war in sight: mercenaries run amok, troops commit war crimes with impunity, and hardly a day goes by without news of another roadside bomb or deadly airstrike. The commandant of the Marine Corps, taking matters into his own hands, has devised what may be the only solution acceptable to the bickering government factions.

General James T. Conway proposed to the Joint Chiefs of Staff that Marines join the fight in Afghanistan after leaving pacified areas of Iraq. Rather than augmenting the Army forces in command, the Marine Corps would assume responsibility for the ongoing war, indicating a growing belief that harsher methods are needed to deal with the increasing violence in Afghanistan.

Marines who originally fought in Afghanistan in 2001 were re-assigned to Anbar Province in Iraq beginning in 2004, when the towns of Fallujah and Ramadi exploded into violence that could only be curbed by massive airstrikes that left an unknown number of civilians dead and created a refugee crisis as Fallujah residents fled their homes.

Iraq’s future becomes more uncertain the longer the war drags on. The Bush administration proposed drawing down the levels of American troops by perhaps 30,000 and Defense Secretary Robert Gates suggested cutting troop levels to 100,000, well below troop levels during the so-called surge. That President Bush has only 15 months left in office means that whatever decisions he does not make will be left to his successor. The top contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination have not promised that the U.S. will completely withdraw by 2013, and the Republican candidates are committed to funding the war for however long is necessary.

At the same time, any increase in violence between now and January 2009 could drastically alter the policy of Bush's successor. Withdrawing chunks of the Marine Corps before the elections puts General Conway in good standing with military families who would prefer not to see their relatives’ fate subjected to the whims of politicians. That also works to Conway's credit with officers who dislike civilian meddling in military affairs.

Couching the removal of Marines from Anbar Province in terms of aiding the fight in Afghanistan rather than withdrawing from Iraq avoids the language of defeat. The Iraq War is lost militarily and politically and Afghanistan is heading in the same direction. But the redeployment of troops from Iraq to Afghanistan hides the admission that Iraq is a lost cause and that Afghanistan is no less a failed state than it was in 2001.

The failure to win Iraq makes victory in Afghanistan even more urgent for advocates of American hegemony. If Iraq was yet another illegal war based on false pretenses, and continues only because defeat is dishonorable, then Afghanistan is our Just War. To lose the Just War would be to admit not only that the world’s most technologically advanced military is useless against roadside bombs and stolen sniper rifles, but also that the U.S. cannot win the hearts and minds of people in the Middle East and South Asia.

An undisputed victory in Afghanistan would put the lie to claims of a broken military, and more importantly, would dispel doubts that the War on Terror can be won militarily. If Americans can be made to believe that the Iraq War was just a fluke then there is nothing to stop future wars in the Middle East.

(Photo of U.S. Army and Air Force operations in Abd al Hasan, Iraq from June, 2007 by Staff Sgt. Dallas Edwards. The photo is from the U.S. Air Force and therefore is in the public domain.)

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