The sophists of ancient Greece were known for their ability to prove that anything – however demonstrably false – was true. Today's equivalents are the neoconservative prognosticators. Just look at their record in the run-up to the Iraq war: from an imagined "mushroom cloud over New York" to WMDs to a "cakewalk," then to "mission accomplished" and Iraqis greeting U.S. troops with flowers.
Iraq turned out to be anything but what these imagined experts said, and they neglected the impact of a host of practical concerns: the Mideast peace process (now in shambles); the Iran situation; and, how Iraq could even be run without Sunnis participating (hence all the experts needed to run the country were initially fired!). And this idiocy may cost the U.S. in excess of $2 trillion, thousands of dead, and over 50,000 disabled for life in varying degrees – to say nothing of the horrors inflicted on Iraqi citizens.
Now these same prognosticators are out with a new deadly variant. One hears them on the airwaves intoning that history will look kindly on G.W. Bush because he made the "right move" in invading Iraq. That Iraq has become a "success" because "violence is down." We have attained victory in Iraq and now, they tell us, it is time to win a similar victory in Afghanistan…where we had supposedly already won. And they blithely neglect a host of concerns, like the spillover of the conflict into Pakistan, the risk of further destabilizing Pakistan and a regional war involving India, Iran, Turkey, Kurdistan, Syria and other powers, real nuclear weapons and missiles (in the hands of India, Pakistan and Israel) and the like. Further, the same people who thought we could occupy Iraq with 50,000 troops, think we can do the same thing in Afghanistan but fail to tell us how many it will take to occupy, say, Pakistan and Iran as well.
Reading the commentary "A Winnable War" by neoconservative Max Boot in the Los Angeles Times of Feb. 15th, I am convinced that the sophist school of philosophers is alive and well and trying to "gin up" yet another war for a cabal of international financiers and arms brokers, plus Israelis seeking to create a "greater Mideast" aka Eretz Israel. (Boot, it should be remembered, has at various times advocated seizing Saudi oilfields and favored the Iraq invasion as beneficial to Israel.)
"For years, opponents of the Iraq war claimed it was an unwinnable waste of resources that wasn't worth fighting anyway," Boot leads off in his Times op-ed. The clear implication here is, firstly, that something has been won. What? Close to a million Iraqis are dead, yet their country is still a pale shadow of what it was even during the deepest period of sanctions under Saddam Hussein. And Iraqi oil – rather than flowing to America – remains largely bottled up.
Not a waste of resources? The U.S. faces virtual bankruptcy after collapse of investment bubbles the government turned a blind eye to in order to have sufficient liquidity for its multi-trillion dollar war. One legislator recently estimated a $1-billion/day cost in interest alone over the next four years for some of the bailout plans now being foisted on taxpayers!
As a justification for a "surge" troop buildup in Afghanistan, Boot cites "heartening progress" allegedly produced by this strategy in Iraq. In fact, I have seen little evidence that the "surge" produced any result. Rather, Sunni factions that had initially been excluded from government were brought in and paid to control the situation. And Iran has been placed under extreme duress in order to restrain the activities of Shiite factions believed to be under its aegis. Further, U.S. forces have tended to stay within their bases and function more as a reactive force, thereby lessening the number of attacks they are subjected to. On the other hand, there has been quite a spate of bloody civilian bombings.
"Is it quixotic to try to build democracy in Afghanistan? The same thing was said of Iraq," Boot continues. Once again, he implies that what has been built in Iraq is a real democracy in the sense that India has a democracy. And that the real goal of what has been done in Iraq and Afghanistan is to "build democracy"! Iraq was invaded because of alleged WMDs that turned out not to be there. Afghanistan was allegedly invaded because it refused to surrender Bin Laden (without any proof that he, a guest at the time, actually had anything to do with the 9-11 terror attack). Further, the U.S. funded the Taliban – one of the least democratic forces in the region – with hundreds of millions of dollars virtually up to the time it invaded Afghanistan.
And, in Iraq, there have been numerous reports of election irregularities, including the inability of voters hostile to the U.S.-supported government to get to the polls. Does anyone seriously believe that Iraqi voters would be allowed to vote for a government hostile to the U.S. or Israel? Does anyone seriously believe an Iraqi government would be allowed that called for immediate U.S. withdrawal?
In true sophist fashion, Boot (a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations or CFR) ridicules calls to partition Afghanistan much as there were once calls to partition Iraq. This is hypocritical as several CFR members, years before the Iraq war, called for partitioning Iraq (as a security benefit for Israel) and saw that as a major goal of the then future war. Some of these have flip-flopped over the years with members such as CFR President Emeritus Leslie Gelb (who once advocated partition) now calling for decentralization into multiple states under a federal system.
Boot asserts (without substantiation) that, in Iraq, the "surge" was "welcomed by a populace concerned above all by pervasive insecurity. The same thing is likely to happen in Afghanistan as U.S. troop numbers rise."
Actually, in independent polls I have seen, Iraqis seem to favor immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops – and have felt that way since they were invaded. Probably because their "pervasive insecurity" was caused by an unprovoked aggressive attack on their country and the destruction of all vital services, including police and military protection! Boot seems to imply that the populations of both countries will readily forget the deaths of family members and close relatives and years of misery and privation. The recent shoe-throwing incident involving former-President Bush, I feel, is just the tip of the iceberg.
Boot goes on to downplay civilian casualties last year in Afghanistan saying they were less than a tenth of 2006-2007 civilian casualties in Iraq. But, since Afghanistan is spread out, has few population centers, and has people more connected by clan structures than Iraq, even Boot's minimalist assessment means the casualty numbers are significant. Furthermore, the U.S. is largely confined to areas around Kabul, much as the Russians before them were, and relies on drones, airstrikes and other technological mechanisms to wage war in the wider region.
In conclusion, Boot attempts to put a ramrod up the backbone of President Obama, who just upped troop strength there by 17,000: "But if President Obama doesn't lose his nerve, the odds are that a classic counterinsurgency strategy, supported by adequate troop levels, can turn around another failing war effort."
Boot, like earlier prognosticators during the Vietnam War, feels he can see "the light at the end of the tunnel"!
What Boot doesn't mention is that these tactics will increasingly bring nuclear-armed Pakistan into the fighting since regions overlap and Afghani clans and the Taliban live on both sides of the border. Pakistan, itself, faces internal challenges and the threat of disintegration – to say nothing of the potential for war with India – and could be destabilized by these actions. Boot doesn't mention the million troops that might be necessary to stabilize Pakistan, occupy key military sites, and protect Israel from the fallout of dimension to the conflict, as well as fighting with Iran and Turkey vs. Kurdistan (Kurdish Iraq).
World War I started from a very small beginning. Sophist Max Boot fails to anticipate that his "winnable war" could turn out to be the spark for World War III.