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Iraq, Afghanistan: lessons from the Pros

The Iraqi and Afghan military interventions have caused the death of over a million people, have cost trillions of dollars, have greatly weakened the US military, have increased the budget deficit, have hurt the dollar, have resulted in much greater terrorism in the Middle East (now expanding into Pakistan), have fortified Iran’s position as the strongest regional power determined on its quest for an atomic bomb. In short it´s been a disaster. As a result while calling to an end of the intervention was the home of “the weak” (i.e. the Dems according to the Republicans) now “the brave” as well are asking for withdrawals. As criticism of the US and European policies in the Middle East grows this article looks at how the failed policies in the region could be reshaped by learning from those who have managed to do suprisingly well for themselves in this troubled part of the world: the Israelis, the Iranians and the Afghan drug lords.

Lessons from Israel

First allied forces should emulate the strategy of Israel to deal with terrorism by ending occupation in South Lebanon and Gaza, by ending occupation in Afghanistan and Irak while keeping key bases in the region from which to retaliate should it be necessary. Israel tried and failed with occupation. It found it too costly, inhumane and inefficient. In the end it withdrew or separated with a wall from all occupied territories. Israel’s new strategy is to stay away from areas where terrorists are but to always stand ready to retaliate when attacked from them. As controversial as it is, retaliatory, short lived invasions as the ones of Lebanon and Gaza, rather than permanent occupation, work best at deterring Hamas and Hezbollah. Israel has not solved the conflict with Hamas and Hezbollah but the death toll has dwindled to the lowest levels ever on both sides in 09. History has shown again that military interventions are much easier than occupations. Why insist?

Lessons from Iran

Secondly US/EU should learn from Iran and emulate their tactics but of course, in favor of peace. What Iran does best is to influence Middle Eastern nations by proxy. Iran provides key donations and training in areas that improve people’s lifestyles and wins their approval for their own objectives which unfortunately are not peaceful. Many Lebanese and most Palestinians now love the Iranians for the help they receive for schools, hospitals, job creation and a vision for the future. We should emulate the Iranians but finance an alternative Muslim lifestyle that is compatible with peace. We should also fund better schooling, housing, jobs and health but along the proposals of Jordan not Iran. Our opportunity here is to work with the very able King Abdullah II and Queen Rania of Jordan. If we only endowed a foundation led by the King and Queen with a fraction of what we are spending in the war efforts we could outspend and outsmart the Iranians at their own strategy and win good will for a future based on cooperation. The GDP of Iran is a third of that of Spain. We can do much better if we help our allies in the region help everyone else.

Lessons from the Drug Lords

Lastly and sadly, in Afghanistan we must learn from the Afghan drug lords who are the only ones who seem to thrive in this horrible conflict. Allied forces in Afghanistan must understand that the war in that country is mainly about drugs which make 1/3 of the country´s GDP. We should also accept the unfortunate truth that if it were not for Europe and USA drug consumerism, drug lords would have no income. It is our mental health problems that finance their drug traffic. We are mainly responsible for it. Drug lords finance their wars against us with our money. How? They buy drug crops at very low prices and collect market prices from our consumers of drugs in Europe and USA through their mafias. What is the solution? What we should do is buy all the drug crops from Afghan peasants directly from them outbidding drug lords and cutting them out of the value chain. After we have the crops we should simply destroy them. Interestingly peasants in drug producing nations such as Colombia or Afghanistan get a tiny fraction of the end value of drugs, drug lords make a living by collecting the spread between what they buy the crops at and what they sell them for as drugs in our markets. But we must get in that market and neutralize their income without hurting the peasants. Another similar solution that is costly but “very European” is to imitate the Common European Agricultural Policy of subsidies to Afghanistan. By paying a surplus for each Afghan sheep and cow we will make it more profitable for Afghans to raise cattle than growing drug crops. This would have the appeal of ending the drug crops altogether. But whatever we do we can’t fight the livelihood of most of the population if we want to stabilize the country. People must make a living and the drug lords provide one.

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Anand Bala on September 5, 2009  · 

I do not get it. America and Israel are both terrorist nation states. The only thing they can and should learn is a) stop occupying countries that do not fall within your jurisdiction b) do not impose your ideology c) nobody gave you (US and Israel) the moral authority to kill innocent civilians.

The biggest lesson that both these countries have to learn is – proliferate peace NOT oppression.
PS – How many more children have to die before god blesses America?

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Martin Varsavsky on September 5, 2009  · 

Anand, America and Israel are not terrorist nation states and as much a pacifist that I am I traveled the Middle East long enough to know that Israel would not last a week as a country if it gave up its army.

And as far as USA is concerned it is hard for anyone to argue that before 9 11 USA had any plans for military action in the Middle East.

Anand on September 5, 2009  · 


What the American Army is doing in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and has done in countries like Nicaragua and Panama is proof enough that America is a terrorist Nation State and is no different from the Taliban in terms of the use of violence as means of oppression. 4 million civilians have died at the hands of American soldiers in the last 50 years.

Fact 1) The International court of justice has convicted the Government of the United of War Crimes in Latin America. Fact 2) America has bombed over 20 countries in 20 years Fact 3) 9/11 was tragic, however it is NO excuse for the invasion of Iraq where close 100,000 documented civilian deaths have taken place since the American occupation.

I do not think Israel needs to give up it’s army. It need’s to start treating people in Gaza like they were human beings and not like stall fed pigs. Maybe if America lost it power of Veto in the UN – some sanity would prevail and there would be a more equitable solution to the crisis. The excesses of Israel in Palestine are well documented. The apartheid and Bantus that they are creating are shocking. The fact that the US government supports these bantustans as solutions is even more shocking.

This American excuse of using 9/11 to bomb the living daylights out “perceived threats” while consistently ignoring it’s own funding of terrorism borders on sadism. (e.g.- The Taliban was funded by the CIA during the Carter regime, rhe CIA still supplies weapons to the Balooch rebels etc, etc etc)

* Regarding your comments on Iran…enlightening and I need to read more, if you have links from non-American media please do share. (the part of Iran building hospitals etc)
* Regarding what America can do- withdraw from all military bases in Asia and withdraw from all countries that it has occupied.
* America in particular needs to stop proliferating/trading in arms and ammunition.
* Europe, US and China seem to be massive drug markets. They need to clamp down on their drug markets as well (it is not an Afghan problem alone)


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Martin Varsavsky on September 6, 2009  · 

Even though I am in bed recovering from Swine Flu you seem to have more times in your hands than I do Anand. The short story is that America risks its own money and its own people to try to make the world a better place. Sometimes it succeeds e g Nazis, Imperial Japan, Soviet Empire, the Balkans, China, and sometimes it fails, Chile, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan. Overall though I much prefer the world we have now than the one we would have had if the Nazis or Soviets just to give two examples. would have gone around the world undeterred. Having said this while I supported the invasion of Afghanistan with the specific objective of eliminating the danger that Osama Bin Laden and all the Al Qaeda related organizations operating out of Afghanistan represented I opposed the invasion of Iraq and strongly argued that it would not achieve its objectives.

Amine on September 8, 2009  · 

Hi Martin
Nice post indeed, but I definitely cannot concur with you on your statement about Israel.
1- “should emulate the strategy of Israel to deal with terrorism by ending occupation in South Lebanon and Gaza”. Right. But why doesn’t Israel itself learn from it and withdraw from (all) other occupied territories? Why only Lebanon & Gaza? Do you really think that by maintaining the occupation of all other territories (yes occupied, even the UN call it as such), they are dealling adequately with terrorism?
What about East Jerusalem? … and to be logical, all territories “occupied” (not to say worse) since 1967?
I regret to tell you Matin that this is very biased to advocate any learning from Israel’s behaviour on this matter, this is totally IMMORAL.
2. “Israel’s new strategy is to stay away from areas where terrorists are (…) “.
So they can stay away from what does NOT belong to them “only” when there is a danger of terrorism.? Otherwise they can “plan” there terrorists themselves on other areas with “limited” danger to them?
This is preposterous!
P.S.: Happy to read you overcame the wine flue. Good recovery.

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Martin Varsavsky on September 8, 2009  · 

Amine I am Jewish. I am not Israeli. In this blog I started Jews for Lebanon and raised money for the civilian victims of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. I believe that invading a whole country because some people in it are attacking you, is wrong. Having said this I was very surprised to see that it worked. That after the invasion the rest of the Lebanese somehow convinced Hezbollah to stop attacking and since then we have peace.

In this blog I also wrote against the construction of the wall. I thought it was another horrible move on the side of the Israelis. But again, it turns out that there is a lot of proof that the human bomb attacks against Israeli civilians, school children and the like were greatly decreased by the construction of the wall. I also found interesting that there are millions of Palestinians living in Israel and who are Israeli citizens and those which could become human bombs any day of their lives never do. Moreover they also have an opportunity to move to the Palestinian areas and they don´t. The wall had a suprising effect by the way. It convinced the Israelis who had a dream of building a multi ethnic country in Israel kind of like Lebanon in which both Israelis and Palestinians lived in the same country that whatever was on the other side of the wall was not Israel. And I travelled around Israel, Lebanon, Palestine, been to Ramallah and the wall is seen from most of Israel. So Israelis now can see how tiny their country is. So the wall, as barbaric as it sounds, for now its made the whole area safer.

Lastly there´s the issue of the occupation. Israel used to occupy maybe 5 times the territories that it now has. It gave most up. But the results are mixed. I used to speak against the occupation of the Palestinian territories whenever I had a chance. But I was very surprised that when the Palestinians after so many years of struggle got Gaza independence and West Bank autonomy the mismanagement and corruption of those areas was so great. Moreover the continued attacks on Israel from Gaza until the last invasion were unbearable. Indeed I would argue that the average Palestinian citizen was better off when relationships were much better between Israel and Palestine than now. And Israel almost risked a civil war to return Gaza. So now as much as I am against occupation of the West Bank after what happened with Gaza it is much harder to convince Israelis that it is safer for their future to leave the West Bank. Hamas is committed to the destruction of the State of Israel. To withdraw from the West Bank and have the risk that Hamas and Hizbollah surround your whole country. Two organizations that are armed by Iran today with rockets, tomorrow with drones or more effective means of attack. It is a hard sell.

Has Israel committed atrocities? I have no doubt about that. Especially in the last invasion of Gaza. But have the Palestinians committed atrocities? I have no doubt about that either.

And in any case my article is not about Israel per se. It´s about recommending that we, EU and US get out of Irak and Afghanistan but stand ready to bomb any new efforts by Osama Bin Laden types that use those or any country in the region to plan attacks like 9 11 or the next generation 9 11 that could be worse. My proposal is to let those and any country live their lives so long as they are not a threat to their neighbors and to us. Occupation is not the way.

Amine on September 8, 2009  · 

Hi Martin

Thanks for the answer.
“Israel used to occupy maybe 5 times the territories that it now has” => shall we forget the Golan? We clearly don’t have the same definition of “occupied” territories.

But you are right, the focus of your article was not Israel, but rather the way(s) EU and US should inspire from to get out from Afghanistan and find a solution to the “Afghan case”.
Let’s then increase the bombings on Aghanistan and if we manage to kill 1 taliban out of 1000 innocent civilians, this will be fair enough? We will then withdraw from there, letting Chaos such as in Gaza. As for the Lebanese, with so many deaths in their families, you are right, Afghans will “somehow convince the Talibans to stop (acting as they do and stop nurturing terrorism) and from there we will have peace”?
Let’s do better, let’s build a wall isolating the Talibans (what a fiction!), a “natural” frontier between the Good and the Evil, this will certainly please George W Bush and embody his concept of “Axe of Evil” better than ever?
Oh my… this is a bad dream….
I can only disagree on learning from the Israeli “methods”. Not for me. I have too much respect for mankind, making no difference between the life value of an Israeli, a Palestinan or any other nationality, to accept such “methods”.

But I fully agree with you Martin, sincerely, on the fact that we definitely need to deal differently with Iraq (too late maybe) and most of all Aghanistan now! And Obama should really dare making a U-Turn in the US policy about Aghanistan simply because this is currently NOT working.

I subscribe to the lessons from Iran you mentioned, this makes sense indeed.
But I am not sure we can replicate something that worked (to be discussed!) somewhere else, into Afghanistan. This is a different situation, with different political, economic and geographical stakes. And interests.


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Anand Bala on September 8, 2009  · 

Amine – Well Said.

I realize that the argument becomes counterproductive when people start using Hiroshima and Nagaski as examples of American success. Some perspectives, sadly, are written in stone.

Maybe not in my lifetime, but there will be a time when the world collectively looks back and admits that in this period of history the United States of America was a ruthless terrorist Nation State who’s government deserves to be condemned for crimes against humanity.

The people of America have been misled by the government and the media. They are not to be blamed. They need to be sensitized. At the risk of being called a heretic, the USofA is not at the center of the universe and the sun does not revolve around the star spangled banner. I cannot fault the good people of America for their ignorance of this universal truth.

The only lesson to be learnt is to keep the American Government away at all and any cost. Blockade all arms from the United States. Boycott all business that have contracts with the US Government.


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Martin Varsavsky on September 8, 2009  · 

And how about the strategy I build you a school, I teach you hatred and you become a suicide bomber that the Iranians implement so well with Hamas? I am not saying that we have to like what the Iranians do. I am saying we should learn from the strategy but use it in our favor. Have the King and Queen of Jordan manage a foundation that builds alternative schools that the kids of Gaza to stop blaming the Israelis for all their misfortunes and build a better society around them when they grow up.

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