A key fact about the recent history of Iraq is absolutely critical to the nascent debate about Afghanistan: There was more to the Iraq "surge" than sending additional troops. So, if folks are going to justify sending more troops to Afghanistan on the grounds that sending more troops "worked" in Iraq, we should be talking about the other elements of US policy in Iraq that changed after November 2006, not just about more troops.
Analysts say elements of the real policy changes that took place in Iraq – changing the troops’ mission from offense to defense, increasing support for indigenous forces and stepping up diplomacy within the nation and among its neighbors – could be very relevant for Afghanistan, The San Francisco Chronicle reports. They say the mission of troops should shift from hunting insurgents to protecting civilians, and focus money on Afghan rather than US troops. "You can get 70 Afghan soldiers for the price of one American soldier deployed to Afghanistan," noted one analyst. Empowering local leaders may require political reforms – such as allowing governors to be elected locally instead of appointed by Kabul, which would require reform of the Afghan Constitution.
In particular, regarding "stepping up diplomacy within the nation," the US made deals in Iraq with insurgent groups that led to a dramatic reduction in violence.
So, if you want to "replicate the success of the surge in Iraq" in Afghanistan, it seems pretty clear that you are going to have to come to some arrangements with some armed groups that are currently considered "Taliban." If you’re not talking to Taliban, you’re not replicating the Iraq surge.
But another key element is missing with regard to Afghanistan that was present in 2006 to 2007 with regard to Iraq: public and Congressional debate. An escalating sequence of political events, including the Lamont Senate campaign, the recapture of the Congress by a Democratic majority, the Congressional fight in the spring of 2007 over a timetable for withdrawal – all sent a clear message to the Bush administration, the US military, the Iraqi government, Parliament and Iraqi society generally that time was running out for the US occupation, and that was a key cause of the change in policies. Even Defense Secretary Gates, while opposing a timetable for withdrawal, acknowledged that Congressional pressure was helpful in bringing about change in Iraq.
This public and Congressional pressure is missing today. President Obama has ordered more troops to Afghanistan. But while Obama administration officials have made suggestions in the direction of other elements – working to get the assistance of Iran and other neighbors, working with elements of the Taliban – the actual change we’ve seen so far in Afghanistan is: more troops.
If there were more pressure, the Obama administration would be moving more quickly to put these other elements in place. If there were a public and Congressional debate about an exit strategy, about a timetable for withdrawal, about blocking the Pentagon from building permanent military bases in Afghanistan, real change in US policy towards Afghanistan would be happening faster.
Robert Greenwald’s Brave New Foundation is working to spark that debate. They’ve produced a ten-minute "mini-documentary" questioning the wisdom of sending more troops in support of the same failed policy. Help spread the word by watching and sharing the video.
Robert Naiman is senior policy analyst at Just Foreign Policy.