Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Afghanistan and Iraq

by Tom Bozzo

In the previous discussion of Ann Althouse's reader poll on the connections (or lack thereof) Bush and Kerry draw between Afghanistan and Iraq, and the implications for voter decision-making, I deferred discussing whether the majority of her readership was actually right on the merits. As promised or threatened, here goes. Afghanistan first.

Afghanistan was the war nearly everyone (including the two Johns) would have fought, had it been someone else's decision, as there was an obvious causal nexus between the Taliban rule and al Qaeda terrorism. It's also obvious that the administration, in trying to wage the ground war at low financial and political cost by relying heavily on indigenous surrogates in the early going, has yielded a situation that's not obviously better than the mess in Iraq and, of course, has evidently failed to bring either Osama bin Laden or Mullah Omar to justice.

A silly economist illustrates the basic problem. James Miller of Smith College suggested last month that the free market might get OBL if the U.S. bounty for his capture were raised from $25 million to $1 billion. The larger reward would, he argues, "motivate firms to join the hunt for Bin Laden." And the magic is that the taxpayer wouldn't be out a dime in the absence of success. I'd have sworn that some major blogger(s) had some fun at Miller's expense, but Google isn't cooperating in my efforts to figure out whom.

The obvious flaw in Miller's reasoning is that we might have caught bin Laden but for (one supposes) considerably less than a billion dollars' worth of publicly financed ground offensive in December, 2001. Consider this Washington Post lede from April, 2002:

The Bush administration has concluded that Osama bin Laden was present during the battle for Tora Bora late last year and that failure to commit U.S. ground troops to hunt him was its gravest error in the war against al Qaeda, according to civilian and military officials with first-hand knowledge.

and, among other things,

[Gen. Tommy Franks] misjudged the interests of putative Afghan allies and let pass the best chance to capture or kill al Qaeda's leader... corrupt local militias did not live up to promises to seal off the mountain redoubt, and some colluded in the escape of fleeing al Qaeda fighters.

The Bush "Agenda for America" effectively treats the Afghan war as won. (See here for reality check.) The Kerry plan emphasizes the need to finish the job, including expanding ISAF control outside Kabul and restraining Afghanistan's burgeoning opium trade. Advantage: Kerry.


Meanwhile, Brad DeLong's (must read) Sept. 21 daily reason not to re-elect the president says just about everything I could on why Iraq is different:

Edward of Obsidian Wings asks a straightforward question: "What have our 1,000 [currently 1,040 U.S. and 135 other coalition -ed] troops died for?"

This question has a straightforward answer. The first 100 [139 U.S. and 33 U.K.] died (and the first 500 were maimed) to liberate Iraq from a dreadful tyrant who had no operational ties with Al Qaeda, no weapons of mass destruction, posed no threat to the U.S., and posed little threat to his neighbors.

And to add some icing on the cake he draws the connection between the administration's "catastrophic success" in the initial campaign and the increasingly quagmire-like present situation:

The next 900 died (and the next 4500 were maimed) because:

1. Cheney and Rumsfeld wanted to show that we could conquer, occupy, and control Iraq with a small force all by ourselves so that the Syrians and the Iranians would be scared of what we could do with the rest of our army.
2. Nobody in the White House dared propose any change in policy when it became clear to everybody that Cheney and Rumsfeld were wrong.

Further conclusions to draw from this straightforward answer are left as an exercise for the reader.

What DeLong said.
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