Daily Wisdom

March 30, 2007

Which Is 'The Real War'?

By Charles Krauthammer
From The Washington Post:

"Our bill calls for the redeployment of U.S. troops out of Iraq so that we can focus more fully on the real war on terror, which is in Afghanistan."
-- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, March 8

The Senate and the House have both passed bills for ending the Iraq war, or at least liquidating the American involvement in it. The resolutions, approved by the barest majorities, were underpinned by one unmistakable theme: wrong war, wrong place, distracting us from the real war that is elsewhere.

Where? In Afghanistan. The emphasis on Afghanistan echoed across the Democratic side of the aisle in Congress from Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee to former admiral and Rep. Joe Sestak. It is a staple of the three leading Democratic candidates for the presidency, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards. It is the refrain of their last presidential candidate, John Kerry, and of their current party leader, Howard Dean, who complains that "we don't have enough troops in Afghanistan. That's where the real war on terror is."

Of all the arguments for pulling out of Iraq, the greater importance of Afghanistan is the least serious.

And not just because this argument assumes that the world's one superpower, which spends more on defense every year than the rest of the world combined, does not have the capacity to fight an insurgency in Iraq as well as in Afghanistan. But because it assumes that Afghanistan is strategically more important than Iraq.

Thought experiment: Bring in a completely neutral observer -- a Martian -- and point out to him that the United States is involved in two hot wars against radical Islamic insurgents. One is in Afghanistan, a geographically marginal backwater with no resources and no industrial or technological infrastructure. The other is in Iraq, one of the three principal Arab states, with untold oil wealth, an educated population, an advanced military and technological infrastructure that, though suffering decay in the later years of Saddam Hussein's rule, could easily be revived if it falls into the right (i.e., wrong) hands. Add to that the fact that its strategic location would give its rulers inordinate influence over the entire Persian Gulf region, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the Gulf states. Then ask your Martian: Which is the more important battle? He would not even understand why you are asking the question.

Al-Qaeda has provided the answer many times. Osama bin Laden, the one whose presence in Afghanistan (or some cave on the border) presumably makes it the central front in the war on terror, has been explicit that "the most . . . serious issue today for the whole world is this Third World War that is raging in Iraq." Al-Qaeda's No. 2, Ayman Zawahiri, has declared that Iraq "is now the place for the greatest battle of Islam in this era."

And it's not just what al-Qaeda says, it's what al-Qaeda does. Where are they funneling the worldwide recruits for jihad? Where do all the deranged suicidists who want to die for Allah gravitate? It's no longer Afghanistan but Iraq. That's because they recognize the greater prize.

The Democratic insistence on the primacy of Afghanistan makes no strategic sense. Instead, it reflects a sensibility. They would rather support the Afghan war because its origins are cleaner, the casus belli clearer, the moral texture of the enterprise more comfortable. Afghanistan is a war of righteous revenge and restitution, law enforcement on the grandest of scales. As senator and presidential candidate Joe Biden put it, "If there was a totally just war since World War II, it is the war in Afghanistan."

If our resources are so stretched that we have to choose one front, the Martian would choose Iraq. But that is because, unlike a majority of Democratic senators, he did not vote four years earlier to authorize the war in Iraq, a vote for which many have a guilty conscience to be soothed retroactively by pulling out and fighting the "totally just war."

But you do not decide where to fight on the basis of history; you decide on the basis of strategic realities. You can argue about our role in creating this new front and question whether it was worth taking that risk to topple Saddam Hussein. But you cannot reasonably argue that in 2007 Iraq is not the most critical strategic front in the war on terrorism. There's no escaping its centrality. Nostalgia for the "good war" in Afghanistan is perhaps useful in encouraging antiwar Democrats to increase funding that is needed there. But it is not an argument for abandoning Iraq.


At 3/31/2007 5:10 PM , Blogger NYkrinDC said...

Here's my response to Krauthammer's op-ed.

I will disagree with Krauthammer here. First, he says that the assumption that “the world’s one superpower, which spends more on defense every year than the rest of the world combined, does not have the capacity to fight an insurgency in Iraq as well as in Afghanistan” is mistaken. I disagree, as this has been borne by events. Our commanders have in fact said that our armed forces are stretched thin, and that they are near their breaking point. This is particularly true of our ground forces like the army, marines and National Guard. Krauthammer makes much on the fact that we spend so much more on defense than the rest of the world, which is true. However, much of that spending has traditionally gone to acquire high end platforms and technology which has ill-served us in fighting insurgencies, such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan. We have not spent that money on our troops, either in on languages, cultural understanding or counter-insurgency training, nor on their health care as recent events have borne out (the Walter Reed debacle).

Krauthammer argues that those who want us to focus on Afghanistan as opposed to Iraq make a mistaken assumption, mainly, “that Afghanistan is strategically more important than Iraq.” His thought experiment, however, fails to prove his own assumption, that Iraq is more important than Afghanistan.

To begin, in bringing a neutral observer to decide, we would have to provide him with all of the facts. For example, we would have to tell him that it was in Taliban controlled Afghanistan, a place completely disconnected from the world, where al Qaeda not only trained, but planned for the 9/11 attacks. Furthermore, it is there (particularly among the Pashtuns) that radical Islam has found many advocates, and the fact that the Pashtuns are the most important ethnic group in the country. To this you would also have to add that these Pashtuns do not recognize the Durand Line which supposedly separates a nuclear armed Pakistan from Afghanistan. This means, that if al Qaeda were to reestablish itself in Afghanistan, with Pashto aid, could potentially destabilize Pakistan, or precipitate an Indo-Pakistani conflict, such as that which they attempted to initiate following the Sept. 11 attacks. Afghanistan is also en entry way into Central Asia’s former Soviet republics, where hundreds of caches of nuclear material are still readily available in the black market and where, due to the nature of the repressive regimes in the region is also ripe for jihad. Add to all of this the fact that Afghanistan is currently the largest producers of opium in the world, bringing it millions of dollars in revenue each year; revenue, which has gone directly to finance its Taliban insurgency.

To continue reading it, click here.

At 3/31/2007 9:28 PM , Blogger Hawkeye® said...

Why is it that so many liberals who cross my path seem to think that a plethora of words equals: 1) intelligence, 2) reason, or 3) success in debate?

One who dispenses words in quantity versus quality, is only interested in hearing himself speak. It is a sign of narcissism, not intelligence. With wit, a person can settle an argument using nary but a handful of words. I suggest you learn from the master... Charles Krauthammer.

P.S. -- I found nothing convincing in your reasoning.

At 4/02/2007 3:32 AM , Blogger camojack said...

Pure obfuscation...that's what it is. Apparently, it's quite contagious, too...

At 4/02/2007 7:30 PM , Blogger Hawkeye® said...

You got that right (about the left).

(:D) Regards...

At 4/11/2007 11:22 PM , Anonymous Purplehaze said...


Wudddya know, I come back after a long lay off, to see that your still goin' at it the same ole' way!?

"I found nothing convincing in your reasoning. "

Now, I admit that I can be short and sweet at times, but there are times when the simpleton of the conservative, needs to take a back seat to the complex mind of the rest of the world?

If you guys had your way, you'd be trying to convince us that reading the bible would be a direct asset to understanding particle physics, and Einsteins' theory of general and Special relativity.

At 4/11/2007 11:54 PM , Anonymous west coast liberal said...

With conservatives running the show, it's no surprise that the War on Terror is a bloody disgrace.

Conservatives make the argument that top Al Qaeda guys have consistently said that Iraq is THE PLACE. Isn't it a joke that the world's most powerful military is making decisions based on what the enemy says??? If Zawahiri comes out tomorrow and says that the route to world domination is thru poisoning all the ice-cream sold in the US, McConnell and Boehner would introduce bills putting Ben and Jerry's out of business.

Seriously Hawkeye, don't you feel stupid? Don't you know that the world is laughing at you conservative morons?

You know what the ironic thing is? We'll never know if the surge will work because for it to have any chance of succeeding, it will need AT LEAST one year or so to get any kind of results. Republicans are not gonna wait that long. If there is no significant progress in the fall, watch Republicans cave in to withdrawal demands.

Either way, the Iraq war is a foregone conclusion. The lives of over 3,000 US soldiers have been WASTED, yes, WASTED. They died for nothing.

At 4/12/2007 9:13 PM , Blogger Hawkeye® said...

Nothing to see here folks. Move along. Move along...


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