Barack Obama inherited two wars. The war in Iraq should never have happened, of course, but it did and George Bush kicked the bloody can down the road and into the lap of the new president. After 9/11, the war in Afghanistan inevitable, but Bush starved it of boots and resources to feed the neocon beast that had pushed him into the first war.
The upshot is that despite the military successes of the Surge, Iraq is thisclose to descending into another orgy of sectarian violence as U.S. troops pretty much remain in barracks and prepare to withdraw.
It is probable that the country will devolve into chaos when the last troops are gone, leaving the situation in the Middle East more chaotic than before the ill-fated invasion to topple Saddam Hussein became the Occupation From Hell and wasted over 4,300 American lives. Thanks, neocons.
If possible, the situation in Afghanistan (and neighboring Pakistan) is even more volatile as the U.S.-led NATO force death toll ticks ever upward. There have been 1,330 deaths since the post-9/11 invasion, small potatoes compared to Iraq, but the pace has picked up considerably and August will have been the bloodiest month by far and 2009 the bloodiest year by far.
As was the case with Vietnam, public opinion has been observed in the breech when in other post-World War II conflicts, but it is kind of sad that a majority of Americans now oppose the Afghan war when you consider that it is the main theater of the War on Terror. Two reasons for this: Americans are a distracted and war weary people and it's pretty obvious that the Taliban are winning.
If NATO forces are ever to succeed in Afghanistan it will be through a counterinsurgency campaign. While the U.S. military learned belatedly in Iraq that traditional symmetrical warfare was a non-starter and the Surge strategy was built on the classical tenets of asymmetrical warfare, such a campaign in Afghanistan will take years and there simply may not be the money, let alone the will power.
Add to this the fact that seeming signs of progress such as the national elections last week, growth of the Afghan army and infrastructure improvements are illusory.
There is deep contempt for a central Afghan government that is abjectly corrupt and incapable of defending its people. Afghanistan remains a safe haven for the Taliban and other terror groups that are expanding their turf. There are too few troops, they are too widely dispersed, do not have the support of the locals, and too slow to adapt to counterinsurgency tactics, and then there is presence of those Iraq war bogeymen, the hired thugs of Blackwater.
There is another seldom remarked on aspect of the bathos of Afghanistan: Unlike Vietnam, which had rubber and oil during that war, and Iraq, which has oil and more oil, Afghanistan has zero natural resources to export. (Opium doesn't count.)
If Afghanistan is a failed state, then what does that make Pakistan? A failed state with nuclear weapons and an intelligence service that works hand in glove with the Taliban and other terror groups.
The AfPak policy shared by President Obama and Prime Minister Gordon Brown, whose British troops are only outnumbered by Americans, is democracy building and a strong Afghan state. If that sounds depressingly familiar, as well as a recipe for making the same mistakes all over again, it is.
Top photograph by Goran Tomasevic