Sunday, November 11, 2007

Iraq Opportunity Cost Bites the U.S.

This past week’s events in Pakistan refocused attention on the region where Al Qaeda and the Taliban are the strongest. With America still mired in the Bush Administration’s misguided invasion of Iraq, it is abundantly clear that the nexus of training camps, hard-to-get too mountainous bases, and widespread popular support for Islamic extremists is still centered in Afghanistan, and to an even greater extent in its eastern neighbor, Pakistan.

In fact, Al Qaeda is not only operating exactly the type of training camps in Waziristan, Pakistan that spawned the 9/11 attacks, but the influence of the Taliban in the region is growing and threatens to spread to neighboring countries as well.

Some supporters of the Iraq War and President Bush’s policy claim that the problems in this area of the world run deep and would exist whether or not we had invaded Iraq. They assert that the U.S. military is large enough and strong enough to take on multiple adversaries at the same time. While no doubt there is truth to these claims, they are far from the whole truth.

America’s resources are not infinite, especially our political and diplomatic resources; our civilian leadership can effectively manage only so many crises at one time. Any sober analysis of the past six years must conclude that the Iraq War has imposed a tremendous opportunity cost, on top of its direct costs in Iraqi and American lives, dollars, and U.S. standing around the world.

It strains credulity to hold that the United States was better off invading Iraq rather than focusing on Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, and rebuilding that region of the world; had we done the latter, there is no way it would be the stronghold for our enemies that it is today.

One of the principle reasons that Musharraf declared emergency rule is because the Pakistani military has suffered a string of humiliating defeats at the hands of the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Waziristan. This is also the reason that the Bush Administration is loathe to criticize him too harshly and cut off aid; the threat in Waziristan is dire.

As much as I deplore Musharraf’s antidemocratic moves and believe that the he does not represent the future of Pakistan, it is not difficult to understand his motives. Pakistan used to be allied with the Taliban, but after 9/11 Musharraf decided to partner with the U.S. in its fight against extremists in exchange for aid; the close relationship with the U.S. would give him a counterweight to India. Ever since the Bush Administration bungled the job in Afghanistan and allowed many of the worst militants to escape into Pakistan (including bin Laden), these fighters have been routing Pakistani troops and gaining local support.

America’s inability to finish the job in Afghanistan has worsened Musharraf’s situation in his own country and now presents an existential threat to the nation. This is not meant to deflect attention from his many failings; it is meant only to point out that the situation has grown markedly worse due to American failures. These failures were not inevitable: they were the product of bad decisions and bad judgments. Choices have consequences.

The Bush Administration was quick to declare victory in Afghanistan and move on to Iraq, when in fact, the job was not finished. What is now unfolding in Pakistan threatens to spiral out of control and has dramatically increased the threat of terrorism in the most unstable part of the world, in an area which already possesses nuclear weapons (unlike Iran, where they are years away at the earliest).

If I were a consultant to the Democrats I would urge them to stress this narrative of poor judgment, which has left us less safe, day and night.

Jason Scorse

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