Sunday, May 20, 2007

What to do about Iraq?

A friend from Afghanistan emailed me today asking if I felt the troops should leave Iraq immediately. I have a split opinion. If they leave immediately, there would be a genocidal bloodbath where millions would be killed. Afghanistan after the Soviet departure is a good lesson there—or maybe the major Iraqi factions could unite and oust all the trouble makers and criminals on their own. On the other hand, if the soldiers stay long enough in Iraq, some stability could be attained, though many thousands will be killed over several years by insurgents and those who profit from political instability—or maybe we’ll be stuck in a quagmire where 1,000 Americans will be killed each year on an impossible mission.

Above all, I feel the adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq have been terribly mis-managed. I can provide a reading list of well-researched books that support this point of view. My experience in Afghanistan clarified it. Kabul lacked so many basic services: sewerage, electricity, phone lines, trash collection, basic road repair, honest police and government. All these were simple things, but even after 4 years of international presence, there wasn’t even trash collection. If you can’t take care of the basic needs of the people, you invite insurgency. That’s how the Taliban came to power.

If the U.S. really wants to “win” the war against “terrorists” it needs to make a national commitment on the level of WWII, but not building HUMVEES and bombers. We need to build transit busses, hospital operating rooms, university libraries, fair judicial systems, street lights, water treatment plants, and well-paid and trained police forces. Our soldiers play a vital transition role to fight the gangs, but it is grossly unfair for them to shoulder the main burden of putting Iraq and Afghanistan together. Even 100,000 more soldiers cannot make peace in Iraq, as long as we fail the people’s basic needs there.

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