In May of 2006, I posed the question: how could the United States allow the pointless and probably illegal war in Iraq derail the imperative and morally justified conflict in Afghanistan? Mine was not an up-to-the-minute, breaking news sort of analysis. It had long been clear that Mr. Bush’s war in Iraq was draining precious resources from the fight against the Taliban and al Qaeda, and, more importantly at that point, the reconstruction projects which would create the economic and social stability to allow the feeble Kharzai government to consolidate political authority throughout the county. The game had already turned by the time I wrote:
America failed to eradicate the Taliban, failed to deliver development aid in the amounts promised, and diverted troops which might have helped to secure the problematic southern provinces — all to focus on Iraq. Any reasonable semblance of a Marshall Plan for Afghanistan would have been cheap and easy, especially when compared against the invasion of Iraq. Now, Afghanistan is under siege by a resurgent Taliban and religious fundamentalism again dominates social behavior in Afghanistan’s cities. The appallingly corrupt Kharzai government has never been able to exert its authority much beyond Kabul. Opium production is at record levels. The people of the country are poor, hungry, and frustrated. Each day the situation gets worse.
What perplexed me, long before I finally took to writing it, was why the neoconservatives in the Pentagon and White House never saw Afghanistan as their perfect test case and allocated resources accordingly. My question was: Why Iraq?
Now, of course, Afghanistan is looking almost as uncontrollable for United States, allied, and United Nations forces as it proved for the Soviet Union. This represents an entirely avoidable strategic blunder, perhaps more significant than the fiasco in Iraq. It is not clear that the situation in Afghanistan is salvageable; and even less clear that the United States has the resources available to even make a valiant attempt, as long as Iraq sucks the air out of the military and reconstruction funding.
The mainstream media has finally picked up this story, years late, with an article in yesterday’s New York Times entitled, “How a ‘Good War’ in Afghanistan Went Bad.” Read it and weep.