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The US, not winning in Iraq and losing in Afghanistan

By Bashdar Ismaeel - posted Tuesday, 24 March 2009

To many, Afghanistan has long become a forgotten war. After the terrorist attacks of 9-11, Afghanistan became the primary focus of former US president George W. Bush’s new world order. The speedy and decisive manner of the US victory against the Taliban regime in 2001, afforded the US a perceived respite to concentrate on another more pressing foreign policy agenda item - Iraq.

While the US has been bogged down in a costly and protracted occupation in Iraq, its priority has been to battle against a raging insurgency and consequent insecurity in Iraq and to promote national reconciliation and a democracy that was hoped to serve as a beacon for the greater region.

Even though the US stationed thousands of troops in Iraq, at a cost of billions of dollars, the all elusive “victory” in Iraq has been unachievable. As the US became progressively entrenched in the Iraqi security nightmare and the embittered nature of the Iraqi political horizon, the focus turned to a much more relative concept of “success”.


US strategy and ideals on the Middle East have suffered as the beacon of light that they had hoped would emerge from the Mesopotamian plains has failed to significantly materialise, while other key factors in the region have been neglected.

Under new US president Barack Obama, the US appears keen to leverage time, money and resources across the Middle East. While they cannot win in Iraq in the manner they had at first hoped, they can not simply continue to invest heavily in Iraq and wait patiently while other parts of the region slip further from their grasp.

Losing the war in Afghanistan

While the US certainly has not won the war in Iraq, by their own admission they are losing the war in Afghanistan.

The US military, already stretched, simply could not accommodate the same intensity in Afghanistan as in Iraq that the new realities on the ground have demanded in recent years. The Taliban are very much resurgent in Afghanistan; and both in terms of the military capability of the NATO forces spearheading the Afghan mission, or in the sphere of political progress, the US and its allies have been fire-fighting for far too long in Afghanistan.

The ease of the victory against the Taliban meant that Afghanistan was seen as somewhat of a forgone conclusion. A mistake that was gravely repeated after the apparent ease by which Saddam Hussein was removed from power in Iraq - which was then followed by a brief episode of national euphoria.

Now with Obama at the helm, Afghanistan is set to come to the forefront of US foreign policy.


The whole is greater than the sum of the parts

Iraq has received much more attention for a number of reasons. Iraq has all the ingredients to destabilise the region en masse. Not only has the US been under internal pressure to stabilise and succeed in Iraq, but it also been further pressured by mindful Sunni neighbours as well as Turkey. The drastic implications of a failed Iraqi state - the risk of its disintegration, leading to an expansion of the war across its borders - was perceived to be more urgent than the reawakening of the Taliban threat.

Furthermore, with huge oil reserves in Iraq, stability and prosperity in Iraq had a global focus.

Bush’s tough adventure in Iraq has meant that ties with neighbouring countries have become difficult, and in the case of Iran has resulted in a proxy war. Furthermore, other historic problems such as attaining an elusive peace between Israel and the Palestinians and the growing threat of Iran, have been side tracked.

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First published in the Kurdish Globe on March 14, 2009.

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About the Author

Bashdar Pusho Ismaeel is a London-based freelance writer and analyst, whose primary focus and expertise is on the Kurds, Iraq and Middle Eastern current affairs. The main focus of his writing is to promote peace, justice and increase awareness of the diversity, suffering and at times explosive mix in Iraq and the Middle East.

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