To grasp the full madness of the policy we’re pursuing in Iraq, you need to look toward Afghanistan. Consider Gregory Warner’s observation in The Washington Monthly that “according to the RAND Corporation, the American-led nation-building effort in Afghanistan is the least-financed such effort in sixty years.” Now why on earth would you think that’s a good idea?
And note that it’s not because of a shortfall in overall spending on defense-related matters. Lorelei Kelly notes that when you add together the DOD budget with the military programs in the Department of Energy and the special war supplementals we’re spending about $700 billion on defense this year. That’s a ton of money. In the context of such extravagant spending there’s simply no excuse for the vital military mission in Afghanistan to be getting shortchanged in this manner.
There’s no excuse but there is a reason: Iraq, where it seems that no amount of spending is too much, no duration of the war too long, and no amount of patience too much to ask for whether or not the war has any kind of clear strategic rationale. And beyond the money and manpower, there’s the crucial issue of attention: what preoccupies the top officials in Washington? Where have we sent our best-regarded commanders? All to Iraq rather than to a theater of more strategic importance to the United States, where our operation has more legitimacy, and where there’s a real chance we could secure more international assistance with our efforts if we were willing to make them a bigger priority. But rebalancing in that way would require people to implicitly admit that they’d made a strategic error in the first place by moving attention out of south/central asia and to the Gulf, and we can’t have that!