Yesterday, Al Quaeda’s number two, Ayman al-Zawahiri, released a videotape where he asserted that the United States would soon be defeated in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He declared that the U.S. “Is caught between two fires. If they continue they will bleed to death, and if they withdraw they lose everything.”
The sad part is that Zawahri's almost certainly right. America is losing in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and George W. Bush"s claims that we’re making progress in the war on terror constitute pure bluster. No matter who wins in November, the United States will be out of Iraq before 2008. We will not leave a stable, democratic nation in our wake, but a Balkanized mess that will prove a breeding ground for terror.
When you are winning a war, or in Iraq’s case an occupation (which is NOT over), one good measure is how much of the country do you actually control. In the case of Afghanistan the Bush Administration can rightly point to the upcoming election, a mammoth political undertaking in a country with little or no infrastructure. If Elections succeed they will prove a real coup. There is little doubt that most Afghans do not want the return of the Taleban.
But the flip side is very dark. Afghanistan has always been a fractious country but in truth the Karzai government controls Kabul and very little else. Without 26,000 US and NATO troops they might not control that much. Assassinations and combat between the Taleban and US troops is increasing, not decreasing. Taleban threats and warning show up on doorsteps everywhere. International organizations such as Doctors Without Borders and the United Nations agencies are abandoning the country because they can’t afford to lose more people. A number of warlords operate in open defiance of the central government. One, Abdul Salaam Khan deposed the regional governor of Ghor when he became displeased.
Moreover the elections there are in question. They probably cannot be monitored because of persistent threats by al-Quaeda and the Taleban, who very much want them to fail.
If the elections occur and are widely seen as free and fair that will represent serious progress. Many see that outcome unlikely. Election monitors have warned that their work cannot go on because of persistant threats from Islamic extremists. Many Afghans believe the US has stacked the deck in favor of Hamid Karzai. All while the NATO officials and troops beg for more soldiers.
The situation is even worse in Iraq. In the Sunni Triangle strongholds of Fallujah and Ramadi US troops huddle inside fortified bases. An earlier agreement gave former Republican Guards troops authority over those cities and for a few weeks the situation seemed to work. No more. Instead those cities seem to have become bases for Sunni insurgents and Islamic terrorists. In the last few days US troops have begun operating there, but really the Iraqi central government or security forces do not control either city. If you can’t patrol, you don’t own the land, the other people do.
Yet with every day it seems more and more likely that the Shi’ite Muslims who make up the majority of Iraqis may join in the rebellion. The fact that Ayatollah Ali- al-Sistani was able to negotiate a cease fire and evacuate Moqtada al-Sadr's ‘Mahdi Army’ fighters out of the Imam Ali Shine. That bought some time. But most believe that Sadr came away stronger among the Shia, and Sistani weaker. Now US troopers fight Sadr’s men in the ‘'Sadr City’" area of Baghdad. The Mehdi Army, as always, is not doing well in direct combat. But the Shia of southern Iraq and Iran are watching. With each new casualty more and more move to Sadr’s side. Once again armed rebellion will spring up in southern Iraq, and like the Phoenix it will arise stronger
Simply put US and British troops barely control Iraq and don't control all of it. Because the Bush Administration chose to ignore the professional advice of it"s uniformed officers, America began this war with way too few boots on the ground. In the short run America can surge some more by rotating units to Iraq from Europe, Korea and the United States. But the US cannot keep the entire US Army and Marine Corps in Iraq all of the time.
Winning a war entails your side becoming stronger faster than your opponents. In both Iraq and Afghanistan, the opposite is the case. Islamic fanatics and Saddamist rebels are gaining strength faster than US forces on the ground. Simply put, America must man up in both countries if it simply wishes to maintain the status quo. A very large infusion of troops that do not currently exist will be required for victory.
America, of course, is quite capable of manning up. We’re a superpower. But to do so will open a major can of worms inside American domestic politics. I expect that both George Bush and John Kerry know that if America wishes to 'stay the course’ we will have to re-introduce the military draft and almost double the size of the Army. For both to make that announcement would precipitate a political crisis.
John Kerry would probably have an easier time getting the needed votes, but to ask for a draft will alienate a lot of Democrats who never agreed with the war. George Bush will have to eat a lot of crow. Democrats will make him pay every step of the way, starting with his beloved tax cuts and they will ensure the sons of both Wall Street and Flint, Michigan will fight, and die, together.
Bills authorizing the draft have been introduced already by two Democrats, Senate Bill S.89 sponsored by Ernest “'"Fritz”'" Hollings of South Carolina, and House Resolution H.R. 163 sponsored by New York’s Charles Rangel. Currently they languish in committee, but expect both bills to emerge after the election, with the draft to begin next summer. Even in 2003 Democrats saw the need for more soldiers, at the very same time Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and everyone else in the Administration was were pretending the war was over. H.R. 163 was sponsored primarily by members of the Black Congressional Caucus does not offer college deferments. Black representatives are betting that once the fortunate sons enter basic support for the war will dry up.
The problem is that even if we do begin the draft (early reports suggest the first inductions will take place in July 2005) results will not come quickly. It will take a year, minimum, before new troops can be fielded. Longtime troops will have to rotate out. So the question is, will things get really ugly in Iraq and Afghanistan before the reinforcements can be trained and equipped?
I fear they cannot. As I have written before, it all depends on the Shi’ites. If they stay cool until we get to 400,000 troops, (the numbers the Army wanted from day one) American soldiers may be able to complete their mission. If their rebellion really gains steam before 2006 American troops may be driven into enclaves, which would render our troops irrelevant. They may even be forced to fight their way out of Iraq.
If so, al-Jazeera will show the world what Osama bin-Laden’s smile looks like. America will taste humiliation.