There's been quite a bit of talk about what liberals' views of the War on Terror and it's evil twin, the War in Iraq, should be. I want to see if I can lay out a rational and logical framework for a left-of-center position on the Twin Wars. It's an ambitious task but bear with me. Let me start today with some retrospective observations - in what follows I will be as honest as it is in me to be.
1) The invasion of Afghanistan was a good thing done well and was part of the War on Terror.
The Taliban and Al-Qaeda were never going to be amenable to negotiation or reapproachment while they had this stronghold. While the nation and the world are doubtless better of without the Taliban regime, the occupation of Afghanistan is now in danger of turning into a bad thing because of the distraction and dissipation of resources offered by the invasion of Iraq. Increasingly, corruption, warlords, heroin trafficking and a resurgence in terrorist activity following failure to capture or kill sufficient members of the terrorists' leadership and cadre are all contributing to destabilisation in the region and worldwide. As the situation worsens again from great beginnings it becomes increasingly likely that the coalition will be unable to disengage for the forseable future or that the Afghani government will prove an effective stabilising influence.
All of this is fairly uncontentious to anyone who actually follows events in Afghanistan. However, I am aware of charges that those on the Left only favoured the invasion of that nation after the event. I wish to make it clear that I was never one of them - I heartily approved this invasion from word one. Indeed, when Osama binLaden was trapped with so many of his cohorts in the mountain wilderness, I would have cleared out the civilians and nuked Tora-Bora and it's environs, just to make sure. Those who favour the iron glove approach to Terrorism will be able to see what a message that would have sent to other prospective perpetrators of such as 9/11.
2) The invasion of Iraq was a good thing done badly, at the wrong time and for the wrong reasons and was not part of the War on Terror.
not part of the War on Terror
Nobody ever seriously thought that Saddam had offered any kind of assistance other than a few kind words to Al-Qaeda. Not one of the major intelligence agencies thought so and neither did any political figure. Weaseling insinuations that he did offer material assistance were entirely designed to associate Iraq with the War on Terror and were known to be baseless as they were uttered. The invasion of Iraq was an entirely different war with an entirely different mission and set of objectives.
Opening a second War before the first was won has weakened the War on Terror in Afghanistan - perhaps fatally. Troops, equipment, diplomatic capital, reconstruction efforts and other meagre resources including finance have been diverted en-masse to the War in Iraq which is why Afghanistan finds itself slipping backwards towards a drug-financed anarchy of warlords and resurgent terrorists. No-one who understands logistics could possibly argue this.
Likewise, Al-Qaeda and the Iraqi resistance have found themselves in the position of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend". This unhappy alliance is entirely the product of the Coalition itself, by their insistence on having two wars at once- the natural tendency is for the two wars to collide and become more like two fronts. Fighting on two fronts is never a good idea.
Calling the invasion of Iraq a part of the War on Terror has become a self-fulfilling prophecy of the worst kind. It could have so easily been avoided.
Spreading "freedom and democracy", neutralising a state given to atrocities against it's own populace, preventing future agression from a warlike government and preventing the proliferation or aggresive use of WMD - these are the reasosn given for the War in Iraq. None of these reasons, singly or together, were sufficient to pick Iraq for invasion instead of, say, North Korea or Pakistan.
We will now never know if sanctions would have done the job or whether an invasion would have proven necessary at the right time and for the right reasons. The fact remains, Iraq wasn't going anywhere and wasn't going to get lots worse within a few years or a decade. Even if one accepts that everyone thought Saddam had WMDs (a moot point - contrary intelligence was known to all the decision makers but brushed aside in the rush to war) so did other nations just as belligerent. In the case of the other nations the issue has waited an extra few years for diplomacy to run it's course. There was no compelling reason to invade Iraq right away other than that the Bush administration had decided it was going to do so and went ahead with the plan even after 9/11. Strategically, it was idiotic.
good thing done badly
Let me start by admitting that many who decried the invasion of Iraq, myself included, highly over-estimated the resistance the Hussain regime would afford. There were claims that Coalition troops would die in their thousands and the desert would be awash with blood. Much of the doom-saying was made redundant by a combination of high-tech edge and training from the Coalition forces and complete, cowardly ineptitude on the part of Saddam and his Generals. If I had been in command of the Republican Guard then I, like many US officers expected Saddam to do, would have emulated the Russians at Stalingrad and dug armour into every basement and collapsed building. We can all be glad he neglected his studies while at Sandhurst.
Whether the Coalition should have invaded or not, the fact is the invasion happened and we must deal with the aftermath.
As well as the actual invasion went, though, it has been mirror-imaged by the occupation. That occupation is what has been done badly. There has been much good and rather much more bad done in Iraq by the occupiers. If the Coalition had been more prepared for the actuality it could have turned out rather better. If the Coalition had waited to finish what was happening in Afghanistan it could have turned out rather better too.
There aren't enough troops, equipment, diplomatic capital, reconstruction efforts or other meagre resources in Iraq to do all that needs to be done. This is what happens when you split your forces and complicate the strategic, tactical and logistic picture - no surprise. Blatant profiteering and corruption from companies doing reconstruction work hasn't helped and is a direct result of inadequate supervision resulting, again, from splitting our forces. Iraqis suffer from lack of water, food, electricity, security and many have a lack of faith in the forces of occupation that could be greatly helped by better eforts in these areas. The battle for hearts and minds is also being inefficiently waged in such areas as abuse of prisoners, double standards of justice when it comes to crimes comitted by the occupiers, heavy-handed occupation rules which are holding back self-determination and even the resistance of the occupiers to the democratic process in the first place.
To sum up - there were Twin Wars, only one of which was launched for a good reason. However we are now faced with an entanglement of the two and must somehow plot a progressive path through the thorny tangle of issues and problems which results in the best possible outcome for both. Somehow, we must disentangle both again, solve the problems of Afghanistan, ensure the transition to self-determination and self-provided security of the new Iraqi government and it's people and then get on with winning the rest of the battle against organised terrorism worldwide.
Part Two deals with an actual plan for Iraq, rather than just being a retrospective.
Part Three deals with Afghanistan and a plan for the ongoing War on Terror, the war we should always have been involved with instead of the Iraq sidetrack.
Footnote It would be impossible to include a sufficiency of links to fully document all I have said here. I'm not even going to try. I have confidence in the ability of my readers to do Google or Yahoo searches and for the one or two at most who are too lazy most of the nitty-gritty has already been covered in Newshog posts - browse the archives.