Iraq, Afghanistan and what does 'the deadliest month' really mean?

We know that August was the deadliest month for American soldiers in Afghanistan since we invaded that country in 2001. 46 was the final total.

We also now know that August was the deadliest month for Iraqis in thirteen months. 465 Iraqis were killed. 1,592 civilians, 129 police and 20 soldiers were also wounded, according to AFP. (Only 7 Americans were killed, though, the lowest monthly casualty total of the war for Americans in Iraq.)

In Afghanistan, even George Will now agrees that shit is really fucked up. (I wouldn’t be surprised if others in the pundit herd start slinking over to this position in the coming months…)

Yet in Iraq, there’s been a (somewhat delusional) Post-Surge consensus that what we achieved “a quasi-victory.” (To quote ex-Senator Slade Gorton.)

We’re in the habit of measuring our success by the number of Americans killed. That sounds strange, I know. But this can give us a misleading picture of events–in August, it tells us that things in Iraq are going quite swimmingly when they’re clearly not.  In Afghanistan, it says “things are really bad there now”–when things have been really bad there for at least the last two years, except that there just weren’t as many Americans there to kill(and/or the Americans hadn’t been engaging in as much combat.)

The other off-shoot of our ‘lack of American deaths=victory’ attitude is that our military commanders and political leaders know that the American public doesn’t really care too much about how many Iraqis or Afghans die. Or, I should say, they understand that the U.S. public has a much higher tolerance for large number of Middle Easterners and Central Asians dying than Americans. Only natural. So from a U.S. military/political point of view, we end up adopting “band aid” strategies, like the surge in Iraq and what’s going on now in Afghanistan. Temporary solutions that get the country in question just stable enough, to a point where Americans can duck for cover and get out. (Those temporary solutions require a spike in U.S. deaths to pull off, but the goal is to cut down the number in the long run.) It’s a strategy of pretending to win wars.

This is what annoys me, in a way that seems cynical at first, but isn’t actually as cynical as what’s taking place. Knowing that Americans don’t give a shit about foreign populations, really, it seems we could save more lives of American soldiers by just leaving both places sooner rather than later. If Iraq goes to hell? Americans won’t really care if we’re not there. If Afghanistan goes to hell? Americans won’t really care if we’re not there–in fact, Afghanistan has been in a constant state of going to hell for about two hundred years or more…  (But what about the terrorists, you say, what about preventing another 9-11! As I’ve said before, military occupation, and large scale military adventures, are probably the least effective way to eliminate terrorist groups.)

In Iraq, we’ll see if our band-aid strategy will pay off: if we can leave and not get sucked back in as another civil war(or mini-civil wars) break out. In Afghanistan, we’re now helping Hamid Karzai consolidate his power by fighting the Taliban for him, so he can then be in a stronger position to eventually negotiate a political settlement with the Taliban. Once this political settlement is reached, we can start to trying leave there, whereupon Afghanistan will go back to being its old fucked-up self.

Ah, yes, it’s all worth fighting for!


About michaelhastings

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