One way to look at the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan
is to see them as one war with two fronts. Germany fought two-front wars twice
in the 20th century, and it was almost able to prevail because it
had the advantage of interior lines. The German Army could quickly shift divisions
and corps from the Eastern to the Western front or vice versa, using
the superb German rail system. Unfortunately, the US lacks the advantage of
interior lines in its ongoing two-front war. No railways run from Baghdad to
US commanders in Afghanistan have reportedly requested an additional
10,000 troops. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was recently quoted in the
Washington Post as telling the Senate Armed Services Committee, "I
believe we will be able to meet that commanders’ requirement, but in the spring
and summer of 2009…we do not have the forces to send three additional brigades
to Afghanistan at this point."
The only source for additional troops for Afghanistan is Iraq. The September
2008 issue of Army magazine quotes Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Michael
Mullen as saying, "I don’t have troops I can reach for, brigades I can
reach, to send into Afghanistan until I have a reduced requirement in Iraq."
Without railways running on interior lines, we cannot move three brigades from
Iraq to Afghanistan this week, then move them back to Iraq again a few weeks
later if the situation there demands them. That means any shift of forces requires
long-term stability in Iraq. Neocon voices in Washington are now claiming "victory"
in Iraq, which, if it were true, would release American forces stationed there
for redeployment. This appears to be what Secretary Gates is counting on when
he says we should be able to meet commanders’ request for 10,000 more troops
in Afghanistan next spring or summer.
But I fear this represents a falsely optimistic reading of the situation
in Iraq. In my view, the current relative quiet in Iraq is merely a pause as
the parties there regroup and reorient for the next phase of the war. Unless
we have the good sense to get out of Iraq now, while the going is good, we will
be stuck there when that next phase starts. We will not then be in a position
to shift forces from Iraq to Afghanistan, because without interior lines, any
such shift much be long-term.
While most of the stuff on the internet is junk, the junk pile does hold
an occasional diamond. One such is a daily report called "NightWatch,"
written by a retired DIA analyst, John McCreary. As quoted in the Washington
Post’s "Tom Rick’s Inbox," "NightWatch" for September
11, 2008 said that
"The US, as the most powerful faction (in Iraq), imposed power
sharing on the Kurds, the Arab Sunnis and the Arab Shiites…Power sharing
is deceptive because it always features reduced violence. It looks like
victory, but is not….
"Power sharing can last a long time, but it is not a permanent
condition and does not signify one faction’s triumph over the others. It
is never an end state, but rather a transitional period during which the
participants prepare for the next phase of the struggle….
"Thus, power sharing is always a prelude to violence."
If the next phase of Iraq’s civil war breaks out before spring 2009, Secretary
Gates’s promise of more troops for Afghanistan will go unfulfilled. Both the
Army’s and the Marine Corps’ cupboards are bare. We will in effect face enemy
offensives on both fronts simultaneously, with no reserves.
Even with the advantages of interior lines and excellent railways connecting
both fronts, Germany was not able to deal with such a situation from the summer
of 1944 onward. Lacking those advantages, our predicament will be worse. We
will find ourselves face-to-face with failure both in Iraq and Afghanistan,
with few if any options. If an attack on Iran has meanwhile brought that country
into the war against us, we will face a third front. Events in Pakistan could
create a fourth. It is the nature of long wars that they tend to spread.
Whoever the next President is, he is likely to find himself living in interesting