The Forgotten War

Rep. Ike Skelton's office sent me this smart statement on Afghanistan the other day:

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told the House Armed Services Committee today that ‘In Afghanistan, we do what we can; in Iraq, we do what we must.’

This striking statement highlights the strain Iraq is placing on our force and how this affects our ability to achieve strategic victory in Afghanistan, the primary front of the fight against Islamic extremism. I find it troubling that our ongoing commitment in Iraq prevents us from dedicating resources in Afghanistan beyond what is necessary to prevent setbacks, as opposed to what is required to realize success.

I have often said that Afghanistan seems like the forgotten war. I was assured by our witnesses today that the war in Afghanistan isn’t forgotten, but it’s clear that the stress on our military elsewhere has limited our ability to succeed in Afghanistan and has taken our attention away from this critical operation.

All true. The Iraq debate often proceeds as if Iraq just exists in a universe all its own, hermetically sealed off from events inside the United States and around the world. Thus, while the specific structure of the Iraq debate whirls this way and that with the course of events, the basic thrust is that we always need to try one more thing or just wait a few more months and hope something better's around the corner. In the real world, though, this endless patience with Iraq has real costs. I liked Matt Stoller's observation that there's something odd about this: "After going over thirty pages of polling data at Polling Report on Iraq, I noticed that the lines of questioning are mostly organized around military tactics and strategy - are we winning, should we pull out troops, is Bush doing a good job.