January 26, 2005

The Unwinnable War

by Jeremy Brown

With that immensely important election coming this Sunday in Iraq, the optimist in me is feeling a strong urge to look back toward the frankly startling success of the recent election in Afghanistan.

I'm not pretending that Afghanistan's problems are all fixed now, nor am I expecting Iraq's election day to be anywhere near that peaceful (though genuine peace has not been on the table in Iraq for decades and won't ever be, unless of course the country starts down the road to democratization this Sunday).

There's at least one way, however, in which the war in Afghanistan tells us something that very much applies to Iraq. Let me bring you back a few years to a time when a great many people — many of them very reasonable and reasonably intelligent (I was very briefly one of them way back then) — predicted that a war in Afghanistan, whether justified or not, would result in a quagmire that would rival Viet Nam or, more to the point, Russia's Afghan war. Remember that? Here, by way of random example, is the Christian Science Monitor in October 2001:

“Afghanistan is a quagmire that is easy to enter and very hard to leave,” says Irina Zvegelskaya, an Islamic expert and vice president of the independent Center for Strategic and Political Studies in Moscow. “If the US commits itself to changing things there, or propping up a particular government, it will be the beginning of a long, painful and very costly story - just like it was for us.”

[…]

Russian experts say that if the US is determined to engineer change in Afghanistan, it should make sure the United Nations is involved, and not commit American troops. “If the US acts unilaterally, it will look like a war on Islam, and all Afghans will unite behind the Taliban…

And that was just the well reasoned pessimism. Various fish in assorted barrels predicted far worse. Noam Chomsky, for example, would have had us believe that the U.S. was self evidently on the verge of a “silent genocide” that was going to kill several million afghan civilians.

As awful as any war inherently is, why didn't the Afghan war of 2001 go the route of Russia's atrocious war in that country?

I think the answer is clear: all those warnings about the impossibility of successfully invading and conquering Afghanistan presupposed an invading army attempting to defeat the will of the entire Afghan people. But the U.S. goal of toppling the Taliban regime, it should be perfectly obvious, was entirely in concert with the will of the majority of Afghans.

An important question to ask about the war in Iraq, then, is: which side, if any, is struggling to achieve an end that reflects the will of the majority of Iraqi people. Anyone who denies, however much many Iraqis may dislike being occupied by Coalition troops, that the majority of people in Iraq want democratization to succeed and the 'insurgency' to fail, is just not paying attention.

So it's important to remember, in the face of the brutal bombings and kidnappings that will probably continue for some time, that the Coalition troops not only represent the superior military power in this war but more importantly, because they are advancing the interests of the Iraqi people, they are on the winning side. You are probably aware that 80 percent of the Iraqi people are planning to vote. Which side of that equation would you rather be on?

The Baathist and Islamist 'insurgents' know what hurts Iraqis and how, if it can be done, to spark a civil war. But the inescapable fact is that, because they are fighting against the majority of the Iraqi populace, they are struggling hopelessly on the losing side of this war.

Once Iraqis have had this first taste of their democratic future, it will be damned difficult for anyone to steal it back from them.

Though the struggle to stop the killing will continue, in other words, the 'insurgency' is screwed.

I can think of no better rallying cry for this Iraqi election than Zarqawi's own words as reported just two days ago:

''We have declared a fierce war on this evil principle of democracy and those who follow this wrong ideology,'' the speaker said in an audiotape posted Sunday on an Islamic Web site. ''Anyone who tries to help set up this system is part of it.''

Let me repeat that last line for emphasis:

“Anyone who tries to help set up this system is part of it.” That's an offer the Iraqi people cannot afford to pass up.

Posted by Jeremy Brown at January 26, 2005 9:50 PM
Winner, The 2007 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

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