The West has been tinkering with Afghanistan for six years, Iraq for four, and all we have to show for it are two, Top Ten Failed States. Now, to be fair, Afghanistan only ranks #8. Iraq, however, comes in at a strong #2 trailing only Sudan.
The 2007 Failed State Index, published in Foreign Policy magazine, noted that conditions have steadily worsened in both Iraq and Afghanistan:
"Iraq and Afghanistan, the two main fronts in the global war on terror, both suffered over the past year. Their experiences show that billions of dollars in development and security aid may be futile unless accompanied by a functioning government, trustworthy leaders, and realistic plans to keep the peace and develop the economy. Just as there are many paths to success, there are many paths to failure for states on the edge."
Compounding the worsening state of these two nations is the fact that the people of the Western states whose armies are propping them up are growing impatient and want their forces out. This is a reality already impacting on the conflict in both countries. Let's face it, the bad guys know we're lost our zeal for this half-hearted effort.
While the Afghan and Iraqi people may pay the price for our foolishness, there are valuable lessons to be learned by Western leaders with no understanding of war and little military knowledge.
Don't wage war unless it's absolutely essential.
Don't wage war without the means and the commitment to see the fight through to real victory within a reasonable time. Go Big and then Go Home. Wars without end don't sell for long.
Fighting a tactical war isn't enough. You must also fight a strategic war.
Don't take public support for granted. Explain clearly what the war is about and how you intend to achieve your goals. You can't wage protracted war on a foundation of platitudes. Be honest and completely candid. Your people have to know and they have to approve. Don't make promises you can't fulfill. There is no surer way to undermine public support.
Never underestimate the size of the war you're undertaking to fight. Go in prepared for the worst case and, once in, focus your attention and your forces on winning the fight.
One reason that the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq are going so poorly while public support for our intervention evaporates is that our leaders - Bush, Blair and Harpo - have ignored these basic principles. They never went big, they went small. They've been waging their war on a foundation of platitudes. They haven't explained what these wars are truly about or how they intend to win because they don't know. In both cases they woefully underestimated the size of the fight, causing the conflicts to drag on inconclusively. In many respects their lack of planning and shortage of resources has allowed the tactical initiative to fall to the bad guys. They've saddled their forces with a tactical war and no means to fight, much less win, the strategic war.
When these wars are consigned to the history books there will be plenty of blame to spread around but the lion's share will have to go to an utter and chronic failure of political leadership. Today's Afghanistan and today's Iraq are very much the product of inept Western leaders.