The simple equation in politics today -- at least according to many Democrats -- is that the war in Iraq is a bad war and the war in Afghanistan is a good war. But if a congressional timetable forces a pullout of U.S. troops from Iraq, will Afghanistan go the way of Iraq?
My fear has been that a pullout from Iraq will further imperil Afghanistan.
Having succeeded, jihadists who have gone to Iraq to martyr themselves instead would go to Afghanistan.
Also, if U.S. troops withdrew from Iraq precipitously, there would be a vacancy for the "bad war" slot. Antiwar activists in North America and Europe would push for their countries to withdraw their troops from the NATO coalition in Afghanistan. In short order, they could succeed in undermining the effort.
Afghan Ambassador Said Tayeb Jawad has seen his country suffer from roadside bombs and suicide bombers, which he noted are a "foreign phenomenon in Afghan culture" inspired by terrorists in Iraq. The diplomat visited The San Francisco Chronicle last week, which gave me the opportunity to ask him what he thought would happen if U.S. troops left Iraq as per the wishes of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Jawad had a rosy response. U.S. support for Afghanistan is strong and bipartisan, he answered. He does not think an Iraq withdrawal would affect his country and that "support for Afghanistan will be stronger."
In a follow-up e-mail, Jawad explained that, "Terrorists are opportunistic and constantly trade one battleground for another, moving from Chechnya to Uzbekistan to Afghanistan to Pakistan to Iraq." If terrorists do "find their way to Afghanistan, with additional resources becoming available, better training and equipment, and a robust and unified international front consisting of the United States and NATO, the Afghan government will be able to counter them."
Bob Ayers of Chatham House, a London-based foreign-affairs think tank, gave a different answer as to what is likely to happen in Afghanistan if U.S. troops pull out of Iraq a la Pelosi: "We will see an ever-increasing level of radicalization, coupled with a return to more localized government based on tribal loyalties with a commensurate decreasing hold on the country by the central government."
And: "There would likely be a period of violence directed against the central government, but given the relative weakness of the central government, it is doubtful that such attacks could be resisted and stable government maintained for a protracted period of time."