“Could someone smart convince me that the black flag of al-Qaida flying over Fallujah isn’t analogous to the Fall of Saigon?”
The Afghan War and the Second Iraq War are among the two longest wars fought in American history. Two of the key components of the ill-defined “war on terror,” the wars — in which, the United States is still engaged in operations in Afghanistan — have led to 6,521 U.S. military personnel dying in service, with another 50,422 being wounded in action. The wars have led to a civilian death count as high as 1,173,000.
More than two years after the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, a growing majority of Americans now feel that the U.S.’s involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan may have been flawed. According to a recent Pew Research Center/USA Today survey, 52 percent of those polled feels that the U.S. has mostly failed to achieve its goals in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is compared to 37 percent of respondents that felt that the U.S. mostly succeeded in Iraq and 38 percent that felt that the U.S. mostly succeeded in Afghanistan.
This represents a decaying of public opinion to the wars. In November 2011 — shortly after the U.S. completed its withdrawal from Iraq — Pew Research found that 56 percent of respondents thought that the U.S. has achieved its goals in Iraq. Similarly, in June 2011, following the assassination of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, 58 percent felt that the U.S. would achieve its goals in Afghanistan.
Reflections on whether it was a good idea to use military force in the Middle East also show a growing souring of opinions. While a majority — 51 percent — still feel that it was a good idea for the U.S. to use force against Afghanistan, this majority represents the lowest levels of support since the question was first asked. Fifty percent of the respondents felt that the use of force in Iraq was a bad idea, compared to 38 percent that supported the move.
While Republicans still feel that the idea to use force was a good one, there is no significant partisan difference in the opinion of the success of the missions.
“The biggest shift in attitudes toward the Iraq War came among Republicans and those who lean to the GOP,” the poll results read. “In 2011, 65 percent of them said the war had succeeded; now just 38 percent do. A double-digit gap between Republican and Democrat views in 2011 has now been largely erased.“
The Afghan and Second Iraq Wars remain controversial in the imaginations of Americans due to the gross amounts of misinformation and mismanagement that went into their planning and implementation. The Iraq invasion, for example, was sold to the American people on the basis that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and that the administration of then-Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was intentionally hiding the weapons from U.N. inspectors.
It turned out that Hussein was being honest when he said his nation had no WMDs. Not only was the U.S. intelligence on the situation proven to be incorrect, but it was later found out that the U.S. had two separate reports confirming that Iraq had no active WMDs. This revelation confirmed suspicions that the Iraq invasion was part of a planned five-year war campaign from the George W. Bush administration that would have saw the U.S. invade — in addition — Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Iran, Somalia and Sudan. This disclosure came from General Wesley Clark, the former Supreme NATO Allied Commander, in his 2003 book “Winning Modern Wars.”
This — taken with consideration of the fact that, almost immediately after the U.S. started its withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan and continuing to this day, a growing insurgency is developing in both countries — has given many the impression that the U.S. made the situation worse in these countries with its interference. As reported by Reuters on Monday, in advance of a possible assault on the Sunni-held city of Falluja, the Iraqi Defense Ministry reported that Iraqi troops and allied tribesmen have killed 57 members of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant — a jihadist group fighting in Iraq and Syria.
Iraq is a majority Shia nation with a Shia-led government. An increasing number of Sunni militant groups have sprung up to attack the Shia population and to force the Shia government into a crisis situation where it could lose the confidence of the people. Many of these militant groups have the support, encouragement and funding of neighboring Saudi Arabia.
In Afghanistan, a growing discomfort concerning U.S. attacks on Afghan civilians has led to Afghan President Hamid Karzai suspecting the U.S. of being involved in the rise of insurgency in Afghanistan. His suspicion is based on a growing list of American atrocities, including night raids — which allegedly killed a large number of bystanders, including the cousin of the Afghan President Karzai in 2011 — and unmanned drone strikes, including an incident in November that killed a child and two women and forced a rare American apology.
Most outside of the Karzai administration attribute the insurgency violence to the Taliban, who — after being pushed out of power by the American presence in Afghanistan — is slowly returning.
“Whatever claims we make, those are attacks that have genuinely been carried out by our forces,” Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in a phone interview to the Washington Post.
Rethinking American intervention
“Both wars will be viewed as failures; different from Vietnam, but failures still the same,”said Mark Tatge, the Eugene S. Pulliam Distinguished Professor of Journalism, to MintPress. “The wars contributed greatly to the national debt and were both a diversion from the main issues at hand both domestically and internationally. It is hard to argue what we really gained from being involved in either.
“The nature of American intervention has been changed. This is not so much because of the wars’ influence on this shift. It is more related to the actual cost of financing these two conflicts. Together they cost between $4 and $6 trillion (according to the Washington Post), when you add in the medical costs. And what did we gain? Very little. I think the American public is very confused about both wars and why we had to get involved in the first place.”
The hard realities of the American experience in Iraq and Afghanistan may be hard to ascertain. The nation’s justifications for the wars are muddy and may be based on selfish motivations such as protecting U.S. oil interests. The goals of the invasions were open-ended without a clear exit strategy. Arguably, little has been done to secure a lasting peace.
Former Army Captain Matt Gallagher asked on Twitter, “Could someone smart convince me that the black flag of al-Qaida flying over Fallujah isn’t analogous to the Fall of Saigon? Because. Well.”
Prior to the American invasion — despite the assertions of the Bush administration — there was no serious al-Qaida presence in Iraq. Now, the terrorist organization controls the province of Anbar. Increasingly, comparisons of Afghanistan and Iraq are being made to Vietnam, which was recognized as the U.S.’ first significant military loss.
The aftermath of Vietnam was a bottoming-out of the popular support of foreign military interventions.
“The U.S. will engage in wars in the future, but for at least the next ten years it will do so more rarely,” said Michael Boyle, professor of political science at La salle University, to MintPress. “The notion that a nation is forever done with war has been disproven many times, most recently when many thought that the U.S. would never fight again after the Vietnam war.
“The U.S. is also finding it increasingly difficult to fight wars due to casualty sensitivity in the American population. We like to believe that we fight and win wars, but the American public has no appetite for the kind of casualties that marked the World Wars, or even the Vietnam war. This means we increasingly have a cheap commitment to warfare – we like to fight and win, but only if it costs few lives and requires little in terms of sacrifice from the American people.”