Monday, March 16, 2009

Flachback: From Iraq to Afghanistan: Out of One Occupation and into Another

January 5, 2009

From Iraq to Afghanistan: Out of One Occupation and into Another

Patricia DeGennaro

by Patricia DeGennaro
- USA -

Barack Obama promised Americans that he would move to withdraw American troops from Iraq once he takes office as President of the United States. As troops were "freed" from that war, he would send them to Afghanistan. "That's where the real war needs to be fought," said (then) Senator Obama. As President, however, Mr. Obama may find it difficult to keep his campaign pledge.

"It is easy to leave," says a military colleague of mine, "but the real question we need to ask is, 'What is our primary mission?' If it is just leaving Iraq, we could do so at a deliberate pace in 18 months; if it is to set up a sustainable transition, it could take years."

Centuries of conflict have shaped Afghanistan's history. Photograph courtesy of the Asia Foundation.

The U.S. entered Iraq with a shortsighted mission, and is now planning to exit without a clear transition plan. On November 17, 2008 – after a year of prolonged negotiation – the Iraqi and U.S. governments agreed on a timed withdrawal through a "Status of Forces Agreement" (SFA), a term coined by the Bush Administration. According to the SFA, troops will be out of Iraq's cities and villages by June 2009, and out of the country by December 2011. The final departure will require just seven more months than the 16 promised by Mr. Obama during the campaign.The agreement comes on the heels of a UN Security Council resolution that would have mandated the retreat of military forces by December of this year. Such a hasty departure is out of the question. Therefore, the accord will allow U.S. troops to plan, orchestrate and prepare their departure in a way (one hopes) that will ensure minimal repercussions. Iraq's Parliament and Presidency Council approved the agreement, however, the SFA is not final until a public referendum is held. No matter what the outcome, it seems that the process of removing U.S. troops from Iraq has begun, after almost six years of senseless conflict. On the other hand, leaving a country that is still at war will not prove as trouble-free as we Americans would like.

Obama has declared that the U.S. will "responsibly withdraw." Now, his team must define and execute "responsibly," despite an agreement that fails to outline anything more than a handover of current U.S. bases and, ultimately, the Green Zone – a very large area in the center of Baghdad where most occupation employees live and work.

On the military side alone, the U.S. must evacuate "more than 50 brigade equivalents, for a total of 146,000 troops, including service and support personnel." Basically, America needs a post-surge exit strategy from Iraq that will lead to a pre-surge expansion in Afghanistan. At the moment, it seems to have neither.

At first glance, the negotiated SFA appears to be a good thing, but a closer inspection tells a different story. The conditions under which Iraqis will "stand up while we stand down" are far from established, with no clear mechanisms for attaining or keeping the peace. This would almost suggest that the U.S. goal is simply to flee the country, leaving Iraq in disarray.

Specifically, the SFA assigns the accountability of forces to a "joint committee for military operations," but gives no explanation of what that is, who will be included or what milestones for transition should look like. In addition, there is no discussion of a "joint committee" for civilians, governance, or even the repatriation of the millions of dollars that America still has on lockdown.

As much as we want to rid ourselves of the Iraq catastrophe and bring U.S. troops home, there are still three significant battles looming, and no indication of how the U.S. will hand them off.

A market in Kabul - Afghanistan's infrastructure is fragile and its people impoverished, illiterate and fractured. Photograph by Patricia DeGennaro.

First, there is still an insurgency, largely backed (according to many sources) by Iran. Second and third: sectarian violence remains, and elements of Al Qaeda linger.

Before departing, Americans must consider their responsibility for creating a broken state, and ponder their duty to just war principles. According to the doctrine of jus post bellum (justice after war), issues such as peace treaties, reconstruction, war crimes trials and war reparations must be addressed.

Accordingly, "cut and run" is not an option, but clearly defining "responsible withdraw" and "mission" is a must. In this context, and to ensure regional (perhaps even world) security, the U.S. has no choice but to assemble a coalition of the "willing and able" to deal with Al Qaeda.

The U.S. faces very different issues in Afghanistan, and redeploying tired troops from their third, fourth or fifth tours in Iraq may be more trouble than it's worth. (Last year, one soldier told me that Afghanistan is a "cake walk compared to Iraq." Maybe that was true in 2005, but the security situation has worsened considerably since then.)

Afghanistan already suffers from immense coordination and collaboration problems, and inserting more troops without an overall mission would only add to the mayhem. After seven years, there is a NATO force and an American force, several military Provincial Reconstruction Teams, little common foundation for operations, and negligible civil or national cooperation. Despite Defense Secretary Robert Gates' repeated statement that the U.S. "must focus our energies beyond the guns and steel of the military, beyond just our brave soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen. We must also focus our energies on the other elements of national power that will be so crucial in the coming years," America plans to throw more troops into a situation before developing a comprehensive approach.

Afghanistan is not Iraq. Its people remain poor, illiterate, traumatized and fractured. They need polio vaccines, food, shelter, electricity and water. A noticeable improvement in the quality of life could make all the difference. More troops equals more war - not a major change for Afghans who have been fighting for centuries. Afghans are brilliant warriors; bringing peace to their many communities is where they could use some direction.

In a speech this year at Kansas State University, Mr. Gates called for a "dramatic increase in spending on the civilian instruments of national security – diplomacy, strategic communications, foreign assistance, civic action, and economic reconstruction and development."

The U.S. national security team must take his advice.

It will require extreme commitment and skill for the international community to make any gains in the region. Most importantly, extensive and progressive diplomacy, law enforcement and the development of functioning institutions are needed to win the conflict within Afghanistan's borders. Meanwhile, the perpetuation of the war by groups inside Pakistan must be stopped – with U.S. support, but under Pakistani law. A significant Afghan and regional undertaking must be shared by all involved parties, not just some.

Experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan have revealed that those who govern can no longer afford to operate through shortsighted self-interest. Overall, the United States must take a more pragmatic approach to foreign policy, based on the strategic utilization of all its foreign policy tools – civilian and military – to ensure comprehensive, holistic and successful global engagement. A successful foreign policy requires proper support for both military and civilian security-related agencies. More importantly, it requires development of coherent, real-world strategies to maximize positive impacts and minimize counter-productive efforts.

U.S. foreign policy tools must be integrated. Redeploying troops to Afghanistan will change nothing unless the best of intentions are clearly stated, crafted with care, and methodically and holistically implemented. Any goals must be based, not just on the intervening nations' self-interests, but on the interests of the people who live there. Otherwise, U.S. troops will not be leaving Iraq any time soon, and the new Administration will not be able to help Afghanistan move beyond the war.

About the Author
Patricia DeGennaro is a professor, writer, analyst and consultant based in New York City. Patricia's extensive experience in international relations and economic development makes her a sought-after source on U.S. foreign policy and national security topics. Within the last year, she has spent time working in Afghanistan on provincial governance, capacity building, parliamentary reform and public policy development in the Office of the President of Afghanistan.

Currently, Patricia serves as a Senior Fellow at the World Policy Institute, Senior Research Fellow for the Center for the Study of Democracy at Queens University in Canada and an Adjunct Assistant Professor at New York University's Center for Global Affairs. She also guest lecturers at several universities including the US Military Academy at West Point. She holds an MPA in International Security and Conflict Resolution from Harvard University and an MBA from George Washington University.


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