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Iraq the Model

Iraq is starting to realize its potential. How can Afghanistan replicate that success?

4:27 PM, Mar 3, 2010 • By JOHN NOONAN
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This Newsweek article was touched on yesterday, but -- considering the source -- it's worth revisiting. A choice quote:

And yet it has to be said and it should be understood — now, almost seven hellish years later — that something that looks mighty like democracy is emerging in Iraq. And while it may not be a beacon of inspiration to the region, it most certainly is a watershed event that could come to represent a whole new era in the history of the massively undemocratic Middle East.

President Bush's detractors were right: Iraq will define his legacy.

This transformative process can also happen in Afghanistan. Compare the nay saying since 2006, when Iraq was in a state of chaos, to the nay saying about Afghanistan now. Skeptics claimed, with almost pompous certainty, that Iraq's population is too factionalized, too uneducated for democracy. Vice President Biden talked of splitting the nation along religious and ethnic lines, while leading pundits screamed quagmire and Vietnam.  

Now we hear the same shouts about Afghanistan -- that the tribes are too poor, too backward for a functional parliamentary system. These are the same critics who said the surge wouldn't -- couldn't -- work, and it would only heighten violence and waste resources. They were wrong.

But amazingly, before President Obama announced his surge into the Hindu Kush, the same failed arguments materialized -- there were howls of unwinnable wars and demands that the only strategy is an exit strategy. The criticisms weren't grounded in military reality or anthropological experience, but rather it was an expression of annoyance that Obama's grand vision of hope and change was being scarred by two ugly wars. Now Iraq is proving what a little security and stability can accomplish, with an Iraqi Army --once thought to be hopelessly backwards-- both earning accolades as a competent combat force and earning the trust of the Iraqi citizenry.

A similar, not identical, strategy is being employed in Afghanistan. And like Iraq, it can work. If the population is stabilized, guarded, and freed from Taliban oppression, their attention can turn from self protection to politics. President Bush courageously laid out a roadmap for successful prosecution of a 21st century counterinsurgency. President Obama is wisely following in his footsteps. Should we avoid the rash demands for premature exit, Afghanistan will share in Iraq's success.

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