Iraq, Afghanistan, and 9/11

September 11, 2008

I’m not that enthusiastic about writing on the September 11th attacks, but the contrast between the hopes of the present administration, and today’s picture is too striking to spare mentioning.


A lot has happened during these years. President George Bush had great support among all layers of the American public when he launched a number of military operations to deal with those who were responsible for the catastrophic events of that day.


The outcome of those operations appears unclear at the moment: while Afghanistan is not heated enough to catch the attention of the American public, Iraq is much calmer than it was some months ago. In neither country has the US suffered a defeat, but it doesn’t appear to have achieved a victory either.


My opinion on Afghanistan is that the result of success or failure will not be evident in that country’s situation, but in the perceptions of the wider, impoverished and discontented masses of Asia and the Middle East.  In sum, whether Afghanistan is a poor country or a less poor one under American guidance is of little consequence in the wider scheme of events. Needless to say, keeping Afghanistan in check denies America’s sworn enemies an important sanctuary, but considering the side effects of American presence there, I’m not convinced that direct military action, stationing of US troops in that country provides more benefits than the harm it does.


My reasoning is based on the effects of the Afghanistan operation on the mood and attitude of Pakistan, a nation of immensely greater importance and power in comparison with the wretched country to its north. Pakistan is much more populous, much more powerful and, arguably, as chaotic as Afghanistan nowadays. The Bush administration’s attempt to create an ally of Pervez Musharraf has had the unwelcome consequence of turning the US into a player in Pakistan’s internal politics, and coupled with the continuous stream of bad propaganda that is readily available to the radicals there, one cannot help but doubt whether direct US action in Afghanistan has created more harm then good in the long run.


Pakistan is unstable. And no one has enough leverage with the political groups there to convince them to reconsider their ways. The more civilians die in Afghanistan, the more unstable Pakistan becomes, since, in fact, even if the US were only killing militants there, it would still be of little consequence: the Pakistanis are more likely to trust their extremists than the US, whatever the arguments of both sides.


The situation is a bit rosier in Iraq, but that is mostly because the massive influence of the US in the beginning has now been replaced by the growing power and prestige of Iran. It seems that the US has given Iran a new ally by taking out Saddam Hussein’s regime, and failing to replace it with any government coherent or strong enough to resist the allure of shiite brotherhood. The attitude of the Iranians also should elicit some praise, as they have been able to act calmly and patiently when faced with the dire developments on their western border. Iran’s regime could have seen the “New Iraq” as a mortal enemy, a puppet state created by the US, a potential foe that would be a constant source of support for its internal dissidents. But they have chosen instead to cultivate better ties with the Shiites, and this attitude now seems to be bearing its fruits. It’s fair to say that if US was looking for an ally against Iran in the “New Iraq”, the most that it will now receive will be apathy.


The war against terror has many other fronts, naturally, comprising covert activity, and propaganda, along with actual theaters of conflict that are not as important as these two places in the wider scheme of events. My belief is that these efforts have a course to run, and so it’s a bit too early to draw conclusions on them. But one has the expectation that if a new democratic government is elected in November, more emphasis will be given to soft power, and maybe that will create different results.


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