Seven Senators on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee left nothing to chance in a letter to the chairman, demanding hearings with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke and U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry. Having heard the Pentagon's side of the war, it's time to hear the civilians.
Perhaps Kerry’s first round of questions should zero in on Iraq.
With no compromise in sight between de facto Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Ayad Allawi, whose Iraqi National Movement (INM) party secured two more parliamentary seats than al-Maliki in the March election, Iraq is not the post-civil war environment America had hoped to leave in peace. Sporadic but high-profile terror attacks, electricity and water shortages, and the government’s deadlock is grinding down Iraqis on the streets.
Their officials apparently aren’t happy either.
The Los Angeles Times reports, “they had detected a lack of direction even before Obama tapped Petraeus to replace his commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal... The Iraqis describe U.S. Embassy officials in Baghdad as obsessed with bringing an end to the large-scale U.S. troop presence in Iraq. They believe the embassy's single-mindedness has often left the United States veering from crisis to crisis here.”
At the macro level President Barack Obama has left oversight to Vice President Joe Biden. “Obama has not chaired a meeting on Iraq since last year, and according to one prominent Iraqi political figure, many Iraqis are worried that Biden does not have the clout to coordinate U.S. policy.”
“We hear about the responsible withdrawal of Obama,” says former Iraqi National Security Advisor Mowaffak Rubaie, “but not a lot of things are happening with soft power, and that is creating a vacuum of Western presence, if you like.”
Washington’s single-mindedness is leaving America stumbling from war to war.
"Afghanistan is heating up,” admitted a senior U.S. military officer. “With such a high [profile] U.S. general, he will be sucking all resources to Afghanistan that he brought to Iraq. It does affect the balance of things in Iraq right now."
The first of many questions then:
- How can a proper withdrawal be executed from Afghanistan, whether starting in July 2011 or four years from now, when the process is difficult enough in Iraq, a state generally presumed stable by Washington?
- How plausible is a surge in Afghanistan when Iraq’s surge, considered the easier counterinsurgency, may leave the country unstable, divided and vulnerable to outside interference - exactly the opposite of America’s goal?
Iraq as a whole cannot feel as though America forgot it like it does now - losing control of ground conditions and perceptions severely threatens US efforts in Afghanistan. Not only did Obama pledge a responsible exit from Iraq and victory in Afghanistan, he predicated one on the other. As the anonymous US official said, troops and equipment are being transferred all the faster with Petraeus swapping insurgencies.
Any delay in Iraq’s withdrawal could negatively impact Afghanistan’s operations.
But the far greater danger is the possibility of two failed wars. Iraq was supposed to be the easier conflict, relatively speaking, and pay dividends. If left broken little hope can be held out to Afghanistan. Obama expected victory in Iraq to propel him to victory in Afghanistan. Iraq’s reversal could all of a sudden leave him with two defeats by 2012, making re-election that much more challenging.
And of course draining America and its allies of resources while leaving gaping power vacuums in the heart of the Eastern Hemisphere.