Cole in Salon: Obama’s Surge and the Iraq Fallacy

See my just-published article, “Obama’s surge: has the president been misled by the Iraq analogy?”


‘ President Barack Obama’s just-announced plan for Afghanistan seems modeled less on Lyndon Johnson’s Vietnam strategy than on George W. Bush’s Iraq exit strategy. Or, at least it is modeled on the Washington mythology that Iraq was turned from quagmire into a face-saving qualified success by sheer indomitable will and a last-minute troop “surge.” But Afghanistan is not very much like Iraq, and the Washington consensus about its supposed end-game success in Iraq is wrong in key respects. Are think tank fantasies about an Iraq “victory” now misleading Obama into a set of serious missteps in Afghanistan? ‘

Read the whole thing.

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9 Responses

  1. This is, as always, a very thoughtful and thorough article. I think it is especially important to give Americans the understanding that Pashtuns are not going to view troops as "Afghan" because they are wearing Afghan uniforms ("Afghan" comes from the Persian/Dari/Tajik word for "Pashtun", does it not?)

    What I don't get from this is what Barack Obama is to do; I mostly see an argument that there is no hope whatsoever, and that we have to let the Taliban–whom we armed in the first place–take over the country?

  2. Tragically the money pit is our bane and we find it as a cannibal eating all sanity on earth.

    Time for the American population to sit it out, like Gandhi. Stop consuming and the wars end, period.

    Trouble is we have bioengineered humans doing the "god's work" for those who manufacture toilet paper to purchase the national sovereignty of countries such as Russia.

    Great writing Juan, as always!

    THANK YOU, inspirational is always a double-edged sword.
    Biloxi Marx on facebook xoxo

  3. I found the Obama speech appalling, simply an excuse for what is modern American imperialism. President Obama was being President Bush with more polish. I was appalled.

  4. I would rather think that the President is trying a strategy, and when that fails, will have enough troops in theater to pressure the gorilla in the room (Iran).

    If the south Pashtun areas become unstable, they may retreat into Iran, and with evidence tracking AQ around the Gulf, there will be enough troops to give us a hammer, when the carrots fail.

  5. ref : “In the year ending September, one in four [western-trained Afghan troops] had quit or deserted. Only ten percent are literate. One in every six Afghan soldiers is alleged to be a drug addict… [Thus some] observers find preposterous the prospect that [General Petraeus' COIN strategy ~ the basis of which is] a crash training program ~ could double the size of both the police and the army and turn them into effective, upright and independent security forces in the space of two years or so. otoh, President Hamid Karzai is said by U.S. intelligence to control only about 30 percent of the country, while ‘Taliban’ [guerrilla fighters] control ten to fifteen percent, [notable in that ‘Taliban’ terroir has been growing, even as NATO-American occupation forces have been reinforced by 20,000+ troops, and many new Afghan Army and Police have been trained per that program directed by their new commander, General Stanley McChrystal]. The rest [of the battlespace] is in the hands of [a tapestry of] warlords [and their irregular (dissociated) local militias]. Which begs the question: Given these same Afghan raw recruits, how are these ‘Taliban’ guerrilla forces being so effectively trained? — their being so apparently superior to our western-trained Afghan troops, and so effective a force against our own, finest assault troops ~ even with our forces' leverage of armor and air power.

    Isn't it interesting, Professor, that the essence of this epic conflict is not the calculus of combat firepower capital, per se, but the ability of two competing cultures, acting as teachers: to rapidly educate and motivate their students to become "effective, upright and independent security forces" labour?

  6. At least the 'surge' in Afghanistan makes US participation in an attack on Iran less likely.

    Less troops available to follow up the bombing raids. More US troops exposed to cross-border raids by the Revolutionary Guards.

    True that the Pashtun Sunnis and the Iranians don't go well together. But there'll still be plenty of opportunity round Herat.

    Indeed I would say the 'surge' is a definitive block on Israeli plans.

  7. Except that Iran doesn't nearly have enough influence as Pakistan in Afghanistan, isn't a threat to the US, that aretreat into Iran would be unlikely (given the fact that Afghanistan under the Taliban and Iran didn't exactly have the best of relations-or any, for that matter), and that Iran has never had any link to the Wahabbist Al Qaida, and that opening a third theatre of war, other than pleasing the neocons, would be disasterous and bankrupt the country sooner than this neo-imperialst adventure already will..other than that, anonymous, it's a great strategy.

  8. Prof. Cole's Salon article does a fine job of presenting the daunting problems of Afghanistan. He is correct, of course, about how different that country is from Iraq. Still, we are facing insurgency in both cases, and we are better off bringing along lessons that do transfer than we would be if we just went back to conventional warfare, or fleeing the scene.

    To take just one element of Professor Cole's critique, in Iraq the US managed to staunch the flow of honest Sunni resistance fighters into the hands of the radical core on the other side. Part of this was that the radicals eventuall showed themselves to be so brutal. Part of it was that US troops broke into Iraqi prisons and saved Sunnis from very abusive treatment (how the American officers got away with that when our own policy was exemplified by Abu Ghraib, I do not know). Money and tribal diplomacy sealed the deal, but the Sunnis knew they could trust us in Anbar, if not in Baghdad.

    In Afghanistan, people already know they do not like the Taliban. In the "graveyard of empires" giving a deadline for withdrawing makes honest resistance a waste of effort. We promise to go, and they can rebel later if we lie. For the US, if we can't do this job in a couple of years, we can't do it at all.

    To me the big difference is in what the people want the government to deliver. Iraqis were largely willing to settle for better order. From what we hear about the success of the Taliban, adjudication of local disputes is the cutting edge of meaningful governance in Afghanistan.

    I do not expect a "strong" Afghan state, and do not see that as especially desireable. It does need to deliver on what the Pushtun villager needs from a government, and that may not be much: get rid of the Americans, Arabs, Chechens, and fanatics, and help moderate the local feuds on a basis other than bribery.

  9. Some of the information displayed here is new, at least to me. Nevertheless the whole pictures is not.

    Anybody that follows minimally what is going on in Afganistan and Iraq knows that they are efectively very diferent society.

    I am not a fan of Obama but to think that he does not know that and the implication for his ´surge´ is at best naive…

    In reality, Juan Cole is disapointed with Obama. This article is an expression of this disapointment.

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