Thursday, March 29, 2012

“Zugzwang” in Afghanistan


Twenty-five hundred years ago a Chinese military strategist named Sun Tzu warned against engaging in long wars. The Soviet Union learned the wisdom of this advice in 1988, when it was forced to abandon its disastrous nine-year-long campaign in Afghanistan. Weakened, the entire Soviet system collapsed in 1991.
Fast-forward ten years. To punish them for harboring al-Qaida members training for 9/11, the U.S. launched an attack on the Taliban in Afghanistan in October of 2001.
Today, in the eleventh year of an interminable war in Afghanistan, we are still being given empty assurances that success is within our grasp. Leave too soon, the warning goes, and the corrupt, graft-ridden country will descend into the kind of sectarian violence now plaguing Iraq.

In the game of chess, there is a concept called a Zugzwang (German for “compulsion to move”) in which a player gets into an untenable position. No matter what subsequent moves are made, the situation only becomes worse.
Afghanistan today presents the U.S. with a Zugzwang moment. Will our future actions there be seen as those of a bully or a friend?
Two unfortunate incidents--one involving the burning of copies of the Koran and the other the murder of 17 Afghan civilians by a mentally unstable American sergeant--have placed the safety of American troops and aid workers in jeopardy, and the future of the anti-terrorism operation and reconstruction in doubt.
Osama bin Laden is dead, but his message that the West wants to dominate the Middle East to subjugate its people, destroy its religion and exploit its resources has been given additional life by our continuing presence and by such incidents.

The Lessons of History 
In the lead-up to the short Iraq war and the long occupation of Iraq that followed, many wild predictions were made. In the end, the Muse of History separated the few seers from the many charlatans. Before embarking on any future course of action in Afghanistan, we should take counsel from what we learned in Iraq.
Only one realist saw Iraq in the proper light in 2003: Gen. Eric Shinseki, Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army. In his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Feb. 25, he was pressed by Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) to estimate the size of an allied occupation force that would be needed after victory in Iraq.
Weighing his words carefully, the general, a West Point graduate, offered his best professional military opinion that "something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers is probably the figure that would be required." He added, "We're talking about post-hostilities control over a piece of geography that's fairly significant, with the kinds of ethnic tensions that could lead to other problems."
General Shinseki knew whereof he spoke; he formerly commanded the allied peacekeeping effort in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Clearly irritated by the general's statement, within hours Pentagon civilians went into action to discredit him.
Deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz appeared before the same committee three days later and pooh-poohed the general's troop estimate as "wildly off the mark." Completely ignoring the underlying ethnic and religious factionalism viciously suppressed by Saddam Hussein, he claimed that Iraq had no history of the kind of ethnic strife that plagued Bosnia and Kosovo.
Iraqi civilians would welcome allied forces joyously, Wolfowitz predicted, and Iraq would generate $15 billion to $20 billion annually in oil revenue to pay for reconstruction.
General Shinseki’s boss, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, also retaliated by announcing the name of his successor as Army Chief of Staff more than a year before his retirement.

Iraq: How Wrong Were They?
Arranged in chronological order, here are opinions voiced by various pundits and politicians about Iraq:
1. "It is hard to imagine how anyone could doubt that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction." --Fred Hiatt, Opinion page editor, The Washington Post, Feb. 6, 2003.
2.  "I believe demolishing Hussein's military power and liberating Iraq will be a cakewalk. Let me give simple, responsible reasons: (1) It was a cakewalk last time; (2) they've become much weaker; (3) we've become much stronger; and (4) now we're playing for keeps." --Ken Adelman, former Rumsfeld assistant, in The Washington Post, Feb. 13, 2003.
3. "Iraq should become a democracy. After all, the president has repeatedly cast the impending war as an effort to bring democracy to a land that for decades has known only dictatorship. Having defeated and then occupied Iraq, democratizing the country should not be too tall an order for the world's sole superpower." --William Kristol, Editor, The Weekly Standard, Feb. 24, 2003.
4. "And I said on my program, if the Americans go in and overthrow Saddam Hussein and it's clean, he has nothing, I will apologize to the nation, and I will not trust the Bush administration again." --Bill O'Reilly on Good Morning America, March 18, 2003.
5. "So it turns out that all the slogans of the anti-war movement were right after all. And their demands were just. 'No War on Iraq,' they said--and there wasn't a war on Iraq. Indeed, there was barely a 'war' at all. 'Stop the war' was the call. And the 'war' is indeed stopping. That's not such a bad record." --Christopher Hitchens, Slate, April 9, 2003.
6. "We really don't need the Europeans. Anyway, they will be the first in line patting us on the back following our success and saying they were with us all along. Only fear will re-establish [Arab] respect for us." --Former CIA Director James Woolsey in the Glasgow Sunday Herald, April 13, 2003.
7.Mission accomplished.” –Banner displayed during Pres. George W. Bush’s speech aboard the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln, May 1, 2003.
8. "The failure of the Bush team to produce any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq is becoming a big, big story. But is it the real story we should be concerned with? No. It was the wrong issue before the war, and it's the wrong issue now. Why? Because there were actually four reasons for this war: the real reason, the right reason, the moral reason and the stated reason."  --Thomas L. Friedman, columnist, The New York Times, June 4, 2003.
9. "For bureaucratic reasons we settled on one issue, weapons of mass destruction, because it was the one reason everyone could agree on." --Paul Wolfowitz, former Deputy Defense Secretary, in Vanity Fair, July 2003.
10. "The war has been a magnificent success. Liberals carp about every bombing. We're not liberating Ohio here. After we won the war in 17 days flat, with amazingly few casualties, they complained about some museum pottery being broken." --Ann Coulter, speaking at Northwestern University, Nov. 21, 2003.
 11. [See comment 4] "I'm sorry." --Bill O'Reilly apologizes on Good Morning America, Feb. 11, 2004.
 12. [See comment 11]But then I go on Good Morning America yesterday and say that I'm personally sorry my analysis on WMDs before the war was wrong, and I'm angry about the CIA mistake. Well, that's dishonest. I still believe removing Saddam was the right thing to do and that history will prove it. And there's also the possibility that WMDs will be found, so I might have to apologize for my apology. I don't mind. I still hope they find WMDs. --Bill O'Reilly on The O'Reilly Factor," Feb. 12, 2004.
13. "With the capture of Saddam Hussein the war in Iraq is largely over." --Sean Hannity in his book, "Deliver Us from Evil," Feb. 29, 2004.
14. "The level of activity that we see today from a military standpoint, I think, will clearly decline. I think they're in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency." --Vice President Dick Cheney on Larry King Live, June 20, 2005.
15. "But, lest we build up the enemy into 10-foot-tall supermen, it's important to realize how weak they are. Most of the conditions that existed in previous wars waged by guerrillas, from Algeria in the 1950s to Afghanistan in the 1980s, aren't present in Iraq. “--Max Boot, columnist, Los Angeles Times, June 23, 2005.

The Cost of Being Wrong
After Iraq refused to provide legal immunity for U.S. soldiers, the last U.S. troops were gone by Dec. 18, 2011.Here’s what all the bad guesses, empty words and macho swagger cost us in Iraq:
A total of one trillion U.S. tax dollars, 4,486 U.S. dead (3,532 sacrificed in combat) and 32,223 U.S. wounded “officially” bearing the scars of war. Unofficial estimates of the emotionally wounded are much higher.

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