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Exiting Iraq and Afghanistan



Jonathan Power
TFF Associate since 1991

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October 7, 2008

LONDON - What is the exit strategy for Iraq now?, asks Leon Sigal in a prescient article in World Policy Journal. He goes on to tell the tale of how George Aiken, the Republican senator from Vermont, in a speech on the Senate floor in 1966, said the way to U.S. involvement in Vietnam was to declare victory and get out. Having declared victory in 2004 and not got out, it is too late for President George W. Bush or his successors to do that now.

But Aiken had a riposte for that contingency too. A few years later, when it was impossible to declare victory, he was asked how to get out of Vietnam. "In ships", he replied.

Both the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are moving towards the only solution that will work - leaving. In Iraq, surely this is what Barack Obama, if president, must do, despite all the heavy advice trying to persuade him to drag it out until......until a miracle happens and the killing stops, the legal system functions and the 'democracy' works. But the killing in this very disturbed society will go on for decades. U.S. tallies of the Iraqi death toll, supposedly sharply falling, do not even count non-sectarian killings. Nor do they account for the rate of kidnapping, rape and pillage. The U.S. authorities live in a cloud of self-deception.

In Afghanistan, we had this past weekend the senior commander of the British military presence in Afghanistan, to the White House's alarm, telling a newspaper that the war could not be won - and which army on earth will keep up its morale and fighting edge when the boss says that? "I will not lay down my life if we are going to pull out", is the natural reaction of a serving soldier in these circumstances. Every commander of the various national forces in Afghanistan, if not yet the rank and file, must know by now what the British ambassador has told London's Foreign Office (thanks to a leak in Paris) - that the war is not winnable, that peace must be made with the Taliban, and the West should accept that some dictator (hopefully a reasonable one) is going to come power. Democracy does not have a chance of coming into being, he argued.

Afghanistan will go back to severe but reasonably honest Taliban rule, which once again will stop the mass killing of innocents and will keep the poppy crop under the strict control - which at the moment is doing incalculable harm to consumers in the West. Only the march of time will dilute the harsher edges of Taliban rule. If the Western NGO's want to do something useful they can push to allow their schools and clinics to keep functioning, which over a generation or two might lead to the quiet subversion of Taliban rule, just as mission schools in Africa subverted colonial rule.

The Taliban, if no longer pushed, are unlikely to give succor to Osama bin Laden. They don't want to be massively bombed again. Right now in Saudi Arabia the Taliban are negotiating with the Afghanistan government on how to diminish the conflict, with the Taliban saying they are cutting their links with Al Qaeda.

Iraq, if its lucky, will summon in the peacekeeping and administrative help of nearby Arab neighbors (mainly Sunnis) and, to balance them, those of Shiite-ruled Iran, so that they are all forced to stake a stake in the unity and well-being of the country. Faces familiar by religion, language and race should have an easier time than the 'infidels' from America. Some mainly Muslim, Indonesian, Malaysian, Nigerian and Bangladeshi soldiers operating under the UN flag wouldn't go amiss either. The UN itself could play a supervisory and arbitrating role.

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Obama should beware. Too many of his foreign policy advisers are pushing him hard to stay longer in Iraq and increase the American firepower in Afghanistan. But this will tarnish his presidency badly. As president, Lyndon Johnson had to stand and watch as his marvelous 'Great Society' social reform crashed onto the rocks, destroyed by his decision to pursue a major war in Vietnam (one which some of his prominent pro war advisers have now belatedly recanted). Likewise, Obama could see all his hopes for health care, employment retraining and the creation of a fairer distribution of income, come to naught.

We shouldn't forget that just before the U.S. went to war in Iraq that George Bush Sn's former Secretary of State, James Baker, urged the younger Bush to take the Iraqi problem to the UN. Lawrence Eagleburger, his successor, said that an invasion of Iraq would jeopardize, not advance, American interests and Brent Scowcroft, Bush Senior's National Security Adviser, published an article in the Wall Street Journal entitled, 'Don't attack Iraq'.

On Afghanistan the 'nay' forces were quieter but many of the wise and experienced will now admit that America got carried away by its wrath at 9/11 and didn't think through what the U.S. would have to do after the initial massive aerial bombardment.

Time for a major re-think. Time for getting out?

Copyright © 2008 Jonathan Power


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Jonathan Power can be reached by phone +44 7785 351172
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Jonathan Power 2007 Book
Conundrums of Humanity
The Quest for Global Justice

“Conundrums of Humanity” poses eleven questions for our future progress, ranging from “Can we diminish War?” to “How far and fast can we push forward the frontiers of Human Rights?” to “Will China dominate the century?”
The answers to these questions, the author believes, growing out of his long experience as a foreign correspondent and columnist for the International Herald Tribune, are largely positive ones, despite the hurdles yet to be overcome. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, London, 2007.

William Pfaff, September 17, 2007
Jonathan Power's book "Conundrums" - A Review
"His is a powerful and comprehensive statement of ways to make the world better.
Is that worth the Nobel Prize?
I say, why not?"


Jonathan Power's 2001 book

Like Water on Stone
The Story of Amnesty International

Follow this link to read about - and order - Jonathan Power's book written for the 40th Anniversary of Amnesty International



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