Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Look Back at Hard Questions on Iraq and Afghanistan

I'm back, then. Returned after an extended hiatus to finish a film adaptation of a Raymond Chandler novel, and to support the release of "The Garden of Eden."

I'd like to start by taking a look back at some hard questions I rhetorically posed in July 2008, during the run-up to the presidential election, on my Standpoint magazine blog to then-Senator Obama. Time changes one's perspective. Iraq is now comparatively stable and may, with its scrappy educated population and its untapped oil wealth, have a promising economic future. Afghanistan continues to be a challenge in terms of conflict, politics and especially development. With both countries there should be no easy answers. Here are the hard questions I posed in July 2008:

1. Why does Senator Obama advocate a surge of troops in Afghanistan though he considers a surge of troops in Iraq to have been a mistake?
2. Why is a stable Afghanistan crucial to US interests while a stable Iraq is not?
3. How long does Senator Obama expect to keep troops in Afghanistan?
4. Why is an open-ended commitment in Afghanistan manageable while the same in Iraq is not?
5. How much does Senator Obama expect to spend rebuilding Afghanistan?
6. Why is rebuilding Afghanistan affordable while rebuilding Iraq is not?
7. Why does Senator Obama consider the ethno-sectarian issues in Iraq to be nearly intractable while in Afghanistan they are something we can overcome?
8. If leaving Iraq will make the Iraqi government behave more responsibly, how will an increased presence in Afghanistan affect the Afghan government?
9. Why does Senator Obama advocate a "surge in diplomacy" and multilateralism in Iraq while simultaneously advocating unilateral action in the Pakistani tribal areas?
10. How large of a "residual force" will be left in Iraq and for how long?

UPDATE: Some of these challenging questions are addressed in a new book I've just run across by Bing West entitled "The Wrong War: Strategy and Way Out of Afghanistan." A comprehensive review, admiring with caveats, is offered by Andrew Exum HERE.

No comments: