Realism Vs_05

Realism vs. Humanitarianism in Afghanistan and Iraq

Thanks to [TM] for further comments.

He wrote:

>Does Mr Cole believe that the current war in Afghanistan, and the coming

>war in Iraq, are “humanitarian” interventions? One is a search-and-destroy

>mission against the terrorists who attacked us, the other is to finally

>remove the danger from an avowed enemy who is not only a demonstrated

>threat to peace but also seeking nuclear weapons. That sure doesn’t seem

>like Somalia Redux to me.

My point with regard to both Afghanistan and Iraq is that they are not in fact merely military operations.

The search and destroy portion of the Afghanistan campaign is now winding down, but success in Afghanistan in the long term will be measured by the degree to which it is denied to al-Qaida and al-Qaida-like groups as a base of training and operations in the future. Even the early search and destroy operation required that the US ally with the Northern Alliance and maneuver it into a coalition with US-created Pushtun anti-Taliban forces such as those of Hamid Karzai and Gul Agha Shirzai. That is, one of the things the US has been doing in the past 9 months in Afghanistan is creating a state. The creation of that state is an ongoing process to which the US is now committed in the long run.

Moreover, the US has pumped and cooperated with the pumping into that country of vast amounts of humanitarian aid, forestalling a famine that was projected to kill 5 to 7 million persons as late as last summer. It had to do so, because otherwise the famine would have been (quite inaccurately) blamed on the US war effort. The US is training an Afghan army, intervening in local Afghan politics on a daily basis, and generally engaging in all those “state-building” and “humanitarian” activities that George W. Bush campaigned against in 2000. US AID has a huge mission in Afghanistan, and the next phase of its activities will be finding ways of restoring the country’s agricultural base, which has shrunk to 50% of its former dimensions under the impact of a 4 year long drought. (I read the Afghan newspapers in Dari, by the way).

An attack on Iraq that removed the Baath party from power would require an even larger investment of US resources in post-war state building and humanitarian activities. Iraq is unlike Afghanistan in being a densely populated and complex modern urban society. A US air war against it would greatly disrupt the functioning of Iraqi water treatment and other essential services and provoke a spike in infant and other mortality owing to drinking non-potable water and the resultant diarrhea and dehydration, along with sporadic cholera outbreaks. After the Gulf War, it took several years to restore such services. This time the US will be in charge of doing so. The Wolfowitz plan for Iraq would certainly involve creating a new Iraqi state, overseeing elections, attempting to get Sufi Kurds, Sunni Arabs and Shi`ite Arabs to work together politically, rebuilding industrial capacity, etc., etc. That is, the US will be required by this impending war to expend lavishly on state-building and humanitarian activities in Iraq. (I have written about Iraqi history and know Arabic).

These post September 11 wars have as part of their premise the long-term removal of terrorist or WMD threats to the US. Since it is failed and rogue states that produce these threats, the wars willy-nilly entail removing such states and building different ones, indeed, involve attempts to re-engineer entire political cultures.

I am personally a strong supporter of the War on Terror and know something serious about al-Qaida and its constituent elements. My remarks about state-building are not a criticism of that effort but simply an acknowledgment of what it entails. It is my analysis that realism and humanitarian considerations are now dove-tailing in US political discourse, which is why I do not believe the distinction, if it was ever politically salient, is a useful one for viewing the current crisis.

With regard to the Pentagon, of course this is an inexact synechdoche. The civilians in the upper echelons of the Department of Defense do of course change with administrations. I was speaking of the military men, equipment, strategic planning, and so forth, which are less sensitive to changes in administration. My point was that the persons in charge of prosecuting the war in Afghanistan–the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, the heads of the various services, the CINC, the commander of the US forces in the region, the planning staff in the Pentagon, and the various sorts of military weaponry, the tactics, and logistics considerations, do not change dramatically with a change in the party in charge of the White House. (It is true that under Clinton the number of divisions was reduced from 16 to 10, but in a post-Soviet environment it is not clear that a Republican administration, say that of Bush, could have mustered enthusiasm for a 16 division military).

And, although it is a counterfactual proposition, I personally cannot see any way in which it would have mattered materially with regard to al-Qaida and Afghanistan whether a Democrat or a Republican had been in office. I believe the events of September 11 would have required a war of any sitting president, and that once a war was entered upon, the options for fighting it would have been the same.

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