Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Did We Win? - Part II

In my last blog posting I asked the question “Did we win?” in Iraq. The relevance of the question is that it informs our ongoing involvement in Afghanistan. The “Part II” question is “Did we win in Libya?” The stated mission was to protect civilian lives and remove Kaddafi. Both were accomplished at virtually no cost to the U.S. treasury, no U.S. service member’s lives lost and no cry from the international community to spend a trillion dollars to rebuild Libya. President Obama was criticized for leading from behind and allowing NATO to do the heavy lifting. Leading from behind looks pretty smart.
The relevance of asking this question regarding Libya is that today some are calling for the U.S. to intervene in Syria to protect civilians and oust an autocrat…sound familiar? I would suggest that what we learned about winning through our experiences in Iraq and Libya should be used to inform our decision regarding Syria.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Did We Win?

We Americans are a fundamentally competitive people. Part of that competitive culture is the concept of winning and losing. We ask, “Who won?” regarding everything from Little League games to legal battles and Super Bowls to presidential primaries. This national competitive spirit has served us well and produced great achievements in commerce, diplomacy, national security, and athletics and contributed to the belief in American exceptionalism.
Given this strong belief in competition and its byproduct of winning and losing and our recent withdrawal from Iraq after nine years of war at a cost of more than 4500 American lives and $2 trillion, I find it interesting that no one is asking whether or stating that we won…or lost. No officials in the Obama administration, no Republican presidential candidate, no talking head on television and no newspaper editorial writer has broached the question or offered and answer. If we did win, what did we win and was it worth the cost? I will not bias your answer to this question. “Did we win?” by offering mine, but I will state that I feel strongly that there were four clear winners in Iraq: China, Iran, the Iraqi Shehites, and Halliburton/Blackwater.
One might ask why it is important to engage the question of winning and losing in Iraq. The war is over for the US and our troops have left the country. The importance lays in the fact that we are still choosing to engage in a war in Afghanistan that is costing us $2 billion per week and generating American causalities every month as a result of commitment that is to last through 2014. Between now and 2014 we expect to lose hundreds of American lives and spend a quarter of a trillion dollars (borrowed from the Chinese and others) in Afghanistan. Many of the same questions regarding ends, ways and means that would frame the question of winning and losing in Iraq apply to Afghanistan. The difference is that Iraq is over and Afghanistan rages on. By declining to engage the question of winning or losing in Iraq, we forego the learning it might provide regarding Afghanistan. Perhaps that’s what we want since it’s a tough, potentially embarrassing question. We take this easy road though at the cost of US lives and treasure and create a new set of winners: Pakistan, the Taliban, a corrupt Afghan government supported by the U.S. and of course, Halliburton. If we ask today what a war in 2014 in Afghanistan would look like we should ask if its worth hundreds of American lives and a quarter of a trillion dollars today…in 2014 it’s too late.