I was flipping through a new 238-slide PowerPoint by Anthony Cordesman titled “The Afghan-Pakistan War: A Status Report” when something caught my eye.
On slides 7 to 9, Cordesman compares the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan using such variables as population, territory and GNP, as well as what he calls sectarian, ethnic and tribal challenges.
It seems all too easy even for the most seasoned of observers to forget that in pre-invasion Iraq these “challenges” were largely non-existent, no matter what the country’s ethnic and sectarian makeup looked like.
I’m bothered by this collective amnesia and don’t see much point in Cordesman’s graphs, other than from a purely war-fighting point of view, and even then the comparisons are crude.
Lest we forget, Iraq before 9-11 was an Arab socialist country led by a secular dictator who despised religious fanaticism and only espoused Islam when it suited him politically. Afghanistan, on the other hand, was an Islamic state run by ultra-conservative militants who hosted foreign terrorists and didn’t mind exporting jihad globally. Despite wars and sanctions, the social fabric in Iraq was still intact; Afghanistan, on the other hand, was already a failed state with all the accompanying ailments.
And the wars? In Afghanistan, a legitimate intervention with wide international support; in Iraq, an invasion by a superpower with no plans to handle the aftermath. Both screw-ups for sure, but for different reasons. Let’s try not lumping them together, okay?
UPDATE: True to the title of this blog, I seem to have totally ignored the social and economic devastation caused in Iraq by 13 years of sanctions, not to mention Saddam’s religious revival post-1991.