Ivan | October 7, 2003
It has now been two years since bombing in Afghanistan began the United States’ “war on terrorism,” and just over six months since the start of the war on Iraq. Much attention is focused on Iraq right now: the costs to American taxpayers, the risk to members of the US military, and the prospects for democracy. Afghanistan, for most people, has slipped off the radar. Yet a quick look at the situation there provides striking parallels to the conflict right now in Iraq.
In July, the author of the comic strip Get Your War On recommended that Donald Rumsfeld be locked up “until our ‘Countries-Destroyed-To-Countries-Rebuilt’ Ratio is closer to ‘1.’ ” When Iran is being given a “last chance” to cooperate on nuclear proliferation, Libya is threatened with “every tool in our nonproliferation toolbox” (and we know what the sledgehammer is in that box) and US reaction to Israel’s attack on Syria—the first in 20 years—is “muted,” it’s time to take a look at just how successful this war on terror(ism) has been.
The United States entered Afghanistan seeking to capture or kill Osama bin Laden and to dismantle a terrorist network based there. While we managed to overthrow a weak government in the process, we were neither able to find bin Laden nor make a significant capture of a single Qaeda deputy, American converts notwithstanding.
The United States entered Iraq seeking to capture or kill Saddam Hussein and to dismantle a program for weapons of mass destruction. While we managed to overthrow a weak government in the process, we were neither able to find Hussein nor evidence that such a program had existed since the early 1990s, “mysterious trailers” notwithstanding.
In Afghanistan, portions of the country are under Western or Western-sponsored control. Democracy is provisional at best, with warlords still in charge of vast swaths of land. In Iraq, the country is under Western military occupation. The provisional government is directly overseen by the United States military. In two countries with no history of liberal institutions or ideals, democracy is being imposed by force without any constitutional or supranational restraint.
Humanitarian crises abound in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Afghans are increasingly imperiled as Western aid fails to materialize, not that it could be delivered by humanitarian organizations “fleeing in terror.” Charity organizations in Iraq have evacuated their personnel due to the continuing danger there. Basic human needs such as food, water and clothing have yet to be met after more than four months of “reconstruction.” What is needed is not time alone — as experience in Afghanistan has shown — but the will to help.
In Afghanistan, attacks on the government set up by Western powers are becoming more frequent and more deadly. Political groups that have never had the same goals are being grouped into a single “coalition” and expected to coexist. In Iraq, attacks on the occupying forces or their puppet government are becoming more frequent and more deadly. Political and religious entities are openly rebelling against the provisional government. Gains against a (real or imagined) “global terrorist network” are inflated at best.
In Afghanistan, large sums of money are still needed for the rebuilding of infrastructure destroyed under years of debilitating military incursions and war. This money has yet to be approved (especially when the White House forgets to request it). Heroin production, briefly interrupted by the US war, is skyrocketing.1
In Iraq, large sums of money are still needed for the rebuilding of infrastructure destroyed under years of debilitating economic sanctions and war. This money has yet to be approved by US officials. The Iraqi oil system, long argued as the main financial base from which to repay war loans, is in tatters.
This final aspect is one that should swing the most weight in domestic politics (as all politics are local): Washington’s options short of raising taxes in an election year are at present to continue borrowing until the international monetary system defaults or to defund the federal government—not an unwelcome prospect to many in power. Far from using the war to distract Americans from domestic concerns, the Bush Administration is creating a situation in which domestic priorities have become faits accomplis as the budget is increasingly diverted to military actions.
How much has the war in Iraq cost thus far? Conservative estimates from the Congressional Budget Office equal the average salaries for one million schoolteachers for a year, or healthcare for nearly 24,000 children, or close to 800,000 units of affordable housing. The Bush Administration is forcing us into an impasse: either programs are cut or taxes rise—a winning strategy until the effects of the cuts begin to be felt, by which time the Republicans will have consolidated their power beyond any qualification.
News outlets have been awash over Afghanistan and Iraq as “tests” of the Bush Doctrine’s pre-emption and unilateralism. But the real tests are occurring in places like Israel, which legitimates campaigns in Syria and Lebanon using ideological backing from the United States; Indonesia, which fashions repressive “anti-terrorism” laws in the style of John Ashcroft; and the Philippines, where the capture of terrorists now trumps any ideas of human rights.
Continued occupation, ideologically and militarily, of Afghans and Iraqis without so much as the pretense of reconstruction or aid and a world in which we are categorically less safe—these are the accomplishments of the war on terrorism to date.
1) Bush at War, by Bob Woodward, Simon & Schuster, 2002.
3) The Neoconservative Persuasion, by Irving Kristol, Weekly Standard, August 25, 2003.
5) We'll Win This War, by Michael A. Ledeen, The American Enterprise Online.
6) The Future of War and the American Military, by Stephen P. Rosen, Harvard Magazine, May-June 2002, vol 104, no 5.
7) Michael A. Ledeen, quoted by Jonah Goldberg in Baghdad Delenda Est, Part Two, National Review, April 23, 2002.
8) Beware of Bolton, by Ian Williams, May 30, 2002.
9) America's Imperial Ambition, by John Ikenberry, Foreign Affairs, 2002.
10) Should We Evict the UN? by Patrick Buchanan, New York Post, December 27, 1997, page 15.
11) Washington Post, January 31, 2003.
12) The Guardian, March 21, 2003.
13) Why America Still Needs the United Nations, by Shashi Tharoor, Foreign Affairs, Sept/Oct 2003
14) The End of the American Era: US Foreign Policy and the Geopolitics of the Twenty-first Century, by Charles A. Kupchan, Knopf, October 29, 2002.
15) The Real Crisis Over the Atlantic, by Dominique Moisi, Foreign Affairs, July/August 2001.
16) Propaganda Isn't the Way: Soft Power, by Joseph S. Nye Jr., The International Herald Tribune, January 10, 2003.
17) Wolfowitz Stands Fast Amid the Antiwarriors, by Eric Schmitt, The New York Times, September 22, 2003.
18) Thomas L. Friedman, The New York Times, June 2003.
19) The National Security Strategy of the United States of America, The White House, September 17, 2002.
20) But What's the Legal Case for Preemption? by Bruce Ackerman, Washington Post, August 18, 2002.
21) The National Security Strategy of the United States of America, The White House, September 17, 2002.
22) Law unto Themselves, by Richard Norton-Taylor, The Guardian, March 14, 2003.
23) UN Resolution 1441, The Security Council, November 8, 2002.
24) Selective Intelligence, by Seymour M. Hersh, The New Yorker, May 5, 2003.
25) The Economist, October 4, 2003.
26) A deafening silence, by Gideon Levy, Ha'aretz, October 6, 2002.
27) Bush's Unreliable Intelligence, by David Corn, The Nation, November 12, 2003.
28) Rice: Iraq trained al Qaeda in chemical weapons, CNN, September 26, 2002.
29) President Bush Outlines Iraqi Threat, by George W. Bush, Cincinnati, October 7, 2002.
30) Saddam Hussein and the Sept. 11 Attacks, Washington Post Poll, September 6, 2003.
31) We're Taking Him Out, CNN, May 6, 2002.
32) May 9, 2003 interview of Paul Wolfowitz by Sam Tannenbaus, published in Vanity Fair, July 2003.
33) Iraq Said to Have Tried to Reach Last-Minute Deal to Avert War, by James Risen, The New York Times, November 6, 2003. Original article.
34) Stumbling into War, by James P. Rubin, Foreign Affairs, September/October 2003.
35) Charlie Wilson's War: The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History, by George Crile, Atlantic Monthly Press, April 2003.
36) Bush's Faustian Deal With the Taliban, by Robert Scheer, Los Angeles Times, May 22, 2001.
37) Iraqi Democracy Is a Pipe Dream, by Nicholas D. Kristof, The New York Times, October 19, 2002.
38) UN Resolution 1441, The Security Council, November 8, 2002.
39) Thomas L. Friedman, The New York Times, July 7, 1991.
40) A War for Oil?, by Thomas L. Friedman, The New York Times, January 5, 2003.
41) US Diplomatic and Commercial Relationships with Iraq, 1980 - 2 August 1990.
42) US Support for Iraq in the 1980s, Center for Cooperative Research.
43) The Ghosts of 1991, by Peter W. Galbraith, Washington Post, Saturday, April 12, 2003.
44) Thomas L. Friedman, The New York Times, June 2003.
45) Making of a Monster: How the US Helped Build Iraq's War Machine, by William P. Hoar, The New American, September 1992.
46) A Hard Look at Iraq Sanctions, by David Cortright, The Nation, December 3, 2001.
47) Iraq surveys show 'humanitarian emergency, Unicef Information Newsline, August 12, 1999.
48) Columbia News Video, by Prof. Richard Garfield, March 03, 2000.
49) Cool War, by Joy Gordon, Harper's Magazine, November 2002.
50) Squeezed to death, by John Pilger The Guardian, Saturday March 4, 2000.
51) Cool War, by Joy Gordon, Harper's Magazine, November 2002.
52) Iraq 'smart sanctions' derailed by Russia, by Anton La Guardia, telegraph.co.uk, April 7, 2001.
53) Pew's Global Attitudes Project, June 2003.
54) Andrew Kohut's Senate Testimony, February 27, 2003.
55) Jihad: Expansion et declin de l'Islamisme, by Gilles Kepel, Gallimard, 2003.
56) Terror and Liberalism, by Paul Berman, Norton, 2003.
57) Jerry Falwell, September 13, 2001.
58) General William Boykin, 2002-2003.
59) State of the Union Address to Congress, by President Carter, January 21, 1980.
60) Thomas L. Friedman, The New York Times, May 4, 2003.
61) Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power, by Niall Ferguson, Basic Books, 2003. Critics of US policy are racist, says Rice, by David Rennie, telegraph.co.uk, September 8, 2003.
62) Iraqi Democracy Is a Pipe Dream, by Nicholas D. Kristof, The New York Times, October 19, 2002.
63) Critics of US policy are racist, says Rice, by David Rennie, telegraph.co.uk, September 8, 2003.
64) A World Transformed, by Brent Scowcroft and George H. W. Bush, Knopf, September 1998.