Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Why I am more optimistic about Afghanistan than I am about Iraq

I’ve had this gut feeling for a few years now that in the long term, Iraq is going to be messier than Afghanistan. An e-conversation last weekend clarified the feeling for me, like hot ghee: In Afghanistan we haven’t fundamentally changed the situation. (Kabul has long been at odds with the provinces, Pashtuns have long ...

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I've had this gut feeling for a few years now that in the long term, Iraq is going to be messier than Afghanistan.

An e-conversation last weekend clarified the feeling for me, like hot ghee: In Afghanistan we haven't fundamentally changed the situation. (Kabul has long been at odds with the provinces, Pashtuns have long thought they should run the country, Pakistan still thinks it has to have control over who controls Afghanistan.) But in Iraq, we changed the game. We established the first Shiite-dominated Arab state in many centuries. That is true whether or not it becomes an ally of Iran (which I think it will, but who knows?). So I think it will take much longer for the dust to settle in Iraq.

Speaking of Iraq, Michael Knights had a good piece that I think runs counter to the Joel Wing view. Knights reviews the data and concludes that, "it is not a stretch to say that the incidence of Iraqi-on-Iraqi violence has doubled since November 2011." Al Qaeda is reviving and the insurgency is re-coalescing, he adds.

I’ve had this gut feeling for a few years now that in the long term, Iraq is going to be messier than Afghanistan.

An e-conversation last weekend clarified the feeling for me, like hot ghee: In Afghanistan we haven’t fundamentally changed the situation. (Kabul has long been at odds with the provinces, Pashtuns have long thought they should run the country, Pakistan still thinks it has to have control over who controls Afghanistan.) But in Iraq, we changed the game. We established the first Shiite-dominated Arab state in many centuries. That is true whether or not it becomes an ally of Iran (which I think it will, but who knows?). So I think it will take much longer for the dust to settle in Iraq.

Speaking of Iraq, Michael Knights had a good piece that I think runs counter to the Joel Wing view. Knights reviews the data and concludes that, "it is not a stretch to say that the incidence of Iraqi-on-Iraqi violence has doubled since November 2011." Al Qaeda is reviving and the insurgency is re-coalescing, he adds.

In a similar piece, Lt. Col. Joel Rayburn, one of the smarter people I ran into in Tell Afar, where I ran into a lot of smart people, writes about Iraq that, "the nation’s politics lie in disarray, with no clear route back to stability."  In addition, he observes, "the sectarian lines that divided Iraq’s communities in the civil war of 2005-08 are hardening once more." He thinks the country is heading toward soft partition.

"Historians will puzzle over how a nine-year American military campaign resulted not in democracy, but in an Iraq led by a would-be strongman, riven by sectarianism and separatism, and increasingly aligned with America’s regional adversaries," Rayburn glumly predicts.

(HT to JR)

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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