The United States of America has decided to endure its longest war. It has made this decision not because it believes it will prevail against a native insurgency – the United States has grander geopolitical interests in mind. By continuing to occupy Afghanistan, America is ensuring it is not overlooked in this century’s ‘New Great Game’.
Trump does not possess much interest in governing, he never has. On most of foreign policy, he has boasted of deferring decisions “to the generals”. While separating an ill-informed, uninterested, impulsive president from perilous decision-making is undoubtedly beneficial to the United States’ interests, it must be noted that the consequence is a markedly more imperialistic state with a renewed interest in realpolitik. This observation is clearest when considering the American administration’s decision to continue America’s longest war.
The geopolitical importance of Central Asia
To India’s north, the Himalayas serve as a wall protecting India from foreign invasion. To the northeast, the Burmese jungles also present harsh enough conditions to shield India from advancing armies. It is from the northwest that India is most vulnerable. Here lies the Persian-Afghan plateau (a gradual incline rather than a divisive mountain range). It is from here that India has faced invading Greeks, Persians, and Mongols, because it is easier to march armies across a plain than over mountains or through jungle.
During the nineteenth century, the British Empire’s Indian holdings stood at the foot of the Persian-Afghan plateau. British officials, peering across this expanse, were concerned by an expanding Russian empire, fearing that Russian invaders would use the Afghan route to seize the crown jewel of the empire. Meanwhile, St Petersburg feared British commercial and military inroads into Central Asia. As such, Afghanistan was the key to security for each rival power – securing Afghanistan would counter each empire’s vulnerability. This rivalry was dubbed ‘the great game’.
The great game example illustrates a geopolitical reality of Eurasia: it is from Central Asia that all other Eurasian powers are most vulnerable. This reality was opined on by the geopolitical scholar Halford John Mackinder, who presented a paper titled ‘The Geographical Pivot of History’ to the Royal Geographical Society in 1904, and later published his book Democratic Ideals and Reality: A Study in the Politics of Reconstruction, which restated his ideas, in 1919. He summarizes his theory with overly quoted and simplistic maxim:
Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland [Central Asia]:
Who rules the Heartland [Central Asia] commands the World-Island [Eurasia]:
Who rules the World-Island [Eurasia] commands the World.
The first line of the maxim must be contextualized. Democratic Ideals and Reality was published during the Paris Peace Conference, and was meant to influence the statesmen at Versailles in their division of Europe after World War I – (the sub-title ‘A Study in the Politics of Reconstruction’ makes the book’s purpose clear). The Russian, Austrian, and Ottoman Empires had all collapsed, and Mackinder was making the case that it was a “vital necessity that there should be a tier of independent states between Germany and Russia”. This was a political goal rather than a geopolitical observation.
The second two lines are Mackinder’s maxim are more mechanical. Mackinder observed the world at a time when railways were opening Central Asia to trade, commerce, and conquest. Where once the area had been controlled exclusively by horse-riding nomads, it would soon be controlled by an industrialized power. Just as the Mongols had conquered all of Eurasia (and consequently terrorized medieval Europe) so too would Russia – and Mackinder was warning Britain and France that their navies would no longer allow them to command the World.
In one way, Mackinder’s maxim was proved right. After World War 2, Russia was able to project power globally because it controlled Central Asia, and most of Eurasia. Had it been preoccupied in Central Asia (for example, if it had to send armies to Siberia to counter Japan), Russia would have lost World War II. Instead, Russia could focus all its efforts on defeating, Germany, and in World War II’s aftermath, Russia asserted itself as one of the world’s great powers. By controlling Central Asia, Russia won World War II, and thereafter could project power as far away as Cuba.
On the other hand, Mackinder’s maxim was proved to be overreaching. Russia, even by controlling Central Asia, never commanded all of Eurasia, and never the World – it lost the Cold War. But it must be remembered that throughout the Cold War Russia remained vulnerable in Central Asia, China was often more of a rival than an ally, and in the Cold War’s final days Russia fought a prolonged War in Afghanistan. Moreover, I do not rely on Mackinder’s maxim as an empirical truth, rather it simply illustrates the geopolitical reality: it is from Central Asia that all other Eurasian powers are most vulnerable.
Modern geopolitics in Central Asia
The tectonic forces of geopolitics are reawakening in Central Asia. Where once the Soviet Union had dominated the region, new forces are asserting themselves: the rising powers of China and India, a Russia that hopes to claw back its Central Asian losses, and an invigorated Iran. China, in particular, deserves some further analysis.
Whereas Russia has always coveted access to the ocean, China is a similarly sized land power with a coastline in both the tropic and temperate zones. Therefore, according to Mackinder, China is theoretically in the world’s most geopolitically advantageous position, in that it can both control Central Asia and project power from Eurasia.
China is asserting itself in the former Soviet sphere of influence. It has become the leading trading partner for all the former Soviet republics (apart from Uzbekistan), as well as the region’s largest investor. Currently China is spearheading its “belt and road” initiative, in which China plans to invest billions of dollars in Central Asian infrastructure – ostensibly to project economic power.
The American Top Brass’s realpolitik
The result of all this is clear. The balance of power in Central Asia is changing. China is asserting itself. Russia is vulnerable. Iran (who no longer has the regional rival Iraq to worry about) is projecting power as far away as Syria and Yemen – it could just as easily turn east. Whichever power controls Central Asia (in the end, most likely China), can then control Eurasia.
Serendipitously, it is at this time that America finds itself with an outpost right in the heart of Central Asia: Afghanistan. Why would America squander the opportunity to have its thumb on the scale during this ‘new great game’? Another president may have overridden his (or her) generals’ focus on the geopolitical forces in favour of domestic or even global humanitarianism, but this president is happy to cede such decisions to the military. The result is a renewed realism. Security is paramount. Any opportunity to influence the dynamic forces of Central Asian geopolitics must be seized because he who rules the Heartland commands the World-Island, and he who rules the World-Island commands the World.
The Economist, What is China’s belt and road initiative? https://www.economist.com/blogs/economist-explains/2017/05/economist-explains-11
The Economist, Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin behave like the best of buddies, https://www.economist.com/news/china/21725611-suspicion-between-russia-and-china-runs-deep-xi-jinping-and-vladimir-putin-behave-best
Kaplan, Robert D., The Revenge of Geography. New York: Random House, 2012.
Mackinder, Sir Halford J., Democratic Ideals and Reality: A Study in the Politics of Reconstruction. Washington D.C.: National Defense University Press, 1942.
Jean Chrétien’s post 9/11 foreign policy decisions were essentially the right ones. Canada’s involvment in Afghanistan was both a necessary and legitimate. Keeping Canada out of Iraq was a critical achievement, and cemented Chrétien’s legacy.
The terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001 led to two subsequent American-led wars. I will argue Jean Chrétien’s foreign policy decisions during this time guaranteed that Canada would be remembered as a strong asset of the NATO alliance by participating in Afghanistan while also as a country that would not follow the Americans into a unnecessary an illegitimate war in Iraq. I will demonstrate the 2001 war in Afghanistan, was both a necessary and legitimate for both the Canada and the United States. This means that an invasion of Afghanistan had to occur (it was necessary) and that the war was approved of internationally (it was legitimate). I will demonstrate that the Iraq mission did not meet the goals American government, it was therefore unnecessary and a mistake. Subsequently, not only did Jean Chrétien’s post 9/11 foreign policy decisions guaranteed Canada would be remembered both as a strong asset to NATO and not a country that would commit the same mistakes as the US, by speaking out publicly about the Iraq war Chrétien solidified his legacy as a in the liberal tradition exemplified by Lester B. Pearson wherein Canada could act as a voice of restraint for American aspirations. Essentially, Chrétien’s post 9/11 foreign policy decisions were the right ones, in this way both Canada and Chrétien remained on the right side of history.
Afghanistan, the necessary and legitimate war
The war in Afghanistan was a necessary reaction to the 9/11 attacks for both Canada and the United States. After the initial 9/11 terrorist attack, it immediately became apparent the 9/11 attacks were orchestrated by Osama bin Laden, the leader of the Al-Qaeda terrorist network. An American mission launched with Al-Qaeda as a target was necessary because Al-Qaeda presented a clear threat – it had attacked the American homeland. An attack on Afghanistan was necessary by extension because Afghanistan’s Taliban government supported Al-Qaeda. Osama bin Laden “supplied the Taliban not just with significant financial support, but also with cadres of fanatical, experienced fighters. In return, the Taliban ceded control of training camps in eastern Afghanistan to Al-Qaeda and provided the latter with the sort of secure base that was a terrorists dream.” Afghanistan, “the country where the 9/11 plot was hatched” was essentially a terrorist safe-haven – it was therefore necessary for the United States to invade. On October 4th 2001 George Robertson, the Secretary-General of NATO invoked Article 5 of the Washington Treaty for the first time in NATO’s history. Article 5 states that an attack on one member state would be considered an attack on all member states. Member states (including Canada, a founding member) were thus legally committed and obligated to come to the defense an NATO ally that was attacked. Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan was therefore also necessary – its NATO ally was attacked. Thus Chrétien’s decision to invade ensured Canada would be remembered as a strong NATO ally, and in this way Canada remained on the right side of history.
The invasion of Afghanistan was legitimate because it was deemed legitimate internationally by the United Nations. On September 12th 2001 the UN General Assembly issued a unanimous declaration of solidarity for the American people. Security Council Resolution 1378 which passed unanimously on November 14th 2001 called for a change in government for Afghanistan. Resolution 1383 – which passed unanimously – endorsed the Afghan Interim Authority (the new Afghan Government) on December 6th 2001. Resolution 1386 – which also passed unanimously – authorized the establishment of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to assist the Afghan Interim Authority (the government replacing the Taliban) to maintain security in Afghanistan. Even countries historically at-odds with American aggression, such as Russian and China who are both permanent veto-holding Security Council members, deemed legitimate a US and NATO intervention which would replace the Taliban.
Jean Chrétien, the Pragmatist
Jean Chrétien was a pragmatist – he never acted rashly when it came to foreign policy decisions. “Chrétien rejected the idea of a formal speech in favour of a routine scrum in the commons lobby,” he did not even call a full Cabinet meeting. In response to Blair’s visit to Washington, Chrétien stated: “‘I never thought of going to Congress to listen to a speech by the President. You know, it’s just not a normal thing to do.’” This displays a critical element of Chrétien’s personality. As Lawrence Martin, a prominent Canadian journalist and Chrétien biographer argues, “in crisis situations, Chrétien, aides noticed, had a tendency to under react. He wasn’t about to go along with the pack until he had stepped back and taken a long look.” This pragmatism would prove essential as Chrétien skilfully guided Canadian policy in reaction to the events of 9/11. He would invade Afghanistan when doing so was necessary. However Chrétien would not overreact, as the Americans inevitably would, and he would not commit the same mistake as the Americans, a mistake the British would make. Balancing these two forces ensured Canada remained on the right side of history.
Iraq, the mistake
The invasion of Iraq was seen as necessary by the Bush administration, but would prove to be unnecessary because it would end up working against American interests. The first way it worked against American interests is by evaporating the solidarity felt towards the US. The invasion of Iraq, in the words of French President Jacques Chirac, would “‘break-up the international coalition against terrorism.’” Countries like France, Germany, and Russia who all supported the war in Afghanistan would oppose American aggression towards Iraq.
The second way the Iraq war the worked against US interests is by creating a situation where Pakistan and Iran could harass American regional interests. The decision to invade Iraq allowed the Taliban to establish itself in the tribal areas of Pakistan, Iraq “was critical to convincing Musharraf that the US was not serious about stabilizing the region, and that it was safer for Pakistan to preserve its own national interest by clandestinely giving the Taliban refuge.” Furthermore one of the biggest beneficiaries of the Iraq war was actually Iran – Iraq’s regional rival. Zalmay Khalilzad, the former American ambassador to Iraq and later to the UN, claimed the Iraq invasion “‘helped Iran’s relative position in the region, because Iraq was a rival of Iran,’” – Iran subsequently supported Hezbollah and Hamas.
The most critical way the Iraq war worked against American interests is the fact that the decision to invade jeopardized the chance for victory in Afghanistan, the initial war that was a necessary response to 9/11. In 2003 Donald Rumsfeld believed the job was almost done in Afghanistan, “the challenges were stabilization, development, and nation-building. There was no sense that the Taliban had withdrawn to the safety of the mountains and were reorganizing and regrouping . . . this kind of strategic retreat is hardly new in the history of guerrilla warfare.” Journalist and author Ahmed Rashid’s book Descent into Chaos argues the Bush administration squandered an opportunity to rebuild Afghanistan – and thus defeat the Taliban. Rashid argued Afghanistan’s agriculture industry needed investment to “revive public morale in the countryside and convince people of the worthlessness of the Taliban.” But this kind of nation-building was anathema to the Bush administration. Bush, Condeleeza Rice (the national security advisor), Dick Cheney (the vice president), and Rumsfeld “had all, very publicly, gone on record . . . deploring the use of military force for this purpose.” In 2000 Bush stated, “I don’t think our troops ought to be used for what’s called nation-building – I think our troops ought to be used to fight and win wars.” Rice had stated she did not want “the 82nd Airborne Division walking children to kindergarten.” The Bush administration was more concerned with fighting and winning wars – but nation-building was what was needed to defeat the Taliban. When the Pentagon’s own Defence Science Board requested that stabilization and reconstruction operations be set as core military tasks, the request was ignored. Dan K. McNeill the Commander of ISAF decided to tell the Bush administration what was needed to win Afghanistan in 2008. “The American force needed to be increased by 50 percent, he said.” McNeill never got his troops because these troops were engaged in Iraq. The Taliban realised their greatest weapon was “American tentativeness, an unwillingness by Bush or other officials to commit troops, money, and resources.” “As resources shifted west, toward Baghdad, plans for a reconstruction program evaporated. The initial appearance of an easy victory was masked by the fact that the Taliban had never been defeated.” Afghanistan – a necessary and legitimate war – was abandoned in favour of Iraq. This focus on Iraq would mean the war in Afghanistan would be lost, and the necessary reaction to 9/11 turned was squandered.
The war in Iraq was not only unnecessary, it was also illegitimate. If the UN Security Council unanimous sanctioning of the war in Afghanistan legitimized it, the opposite proves the Iraq war was illegitimate. Despite Colin Powell’s 5 February 2003 speech to the UN, where he presented the US intelligence’s evidence that Iraq possessed WMD, the US failed to get a UN sanction for its mission. This failure occurred because it became apparent both France and Russia, veto-holding permanent members if the security council, would vote against such a resolution.
Chrétien simply didn’t buy it
Since 2001 the Canadian government was growing increasingly uncomfortable with the notion of an Iraq invasion, Ottawa simply did not see a link between 9/11 and Iraq. For Ottawa to see an invasion of Iraq as legitimate, it believed it must pose a threat. Foreign minister Bill Graham argued that “under international law, proof of an imminent threat of an attack would be required to justify a pre-emptive strike against Iraq.” But after a conversation where Bush attempted to convince Chrétien of the danger of Iraqi WMD, Chrétien’s senior policy advisor Eddie recalls Chrétien “shrugged and said, ‘I started my career as a small-town lawyer, and I heard nothing today from the president that would convince any judge in a rural courthouse.’” On 4 December 2002 statement before the Standing Committee of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Charles – Philippe David stated that “the argument that the evil Iraq regime must be toppled now, immediately, without delay, rings hollow. The threat today is not so much greater as it was four years ago, certainly not enough to justify imminent war.” Put simply, both Chrétien and the Canadian government saw an invasion of Iraq for what it was, both unnecessary and illegitimate.
Cementing the legacy, Chrétien to Bush on Iraq like Pearson to LBJ on Vietnam
Chrétien came from a long liberal tradition wherein the party leaders had often acted as a voice of restraint against American adventurism . . . Lester Pearson had courageously challenged Lyndon Johnson, warning him against the escalation of the Vietnam War.” Like Pearson to Johnson, Chrétien expressed to Bush the fact that he remained unconvinced Iraq posed a threat. On the first anniversary of 11 September, before a scheduled meeting with Bush in Detroit, Chrétien told Bush to “show me” the evidence. “Ottawa, he announced, wanted proof.” He then “made it clear to the president that Canada’s participation in a war with Iraq would depend on the support of the United Nations.” Just as Former Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson denounced the America’s Vietnam war in a 1965 speech at Philadelphia’s Temple University, on 13 February 2003 Jean Chrétien delivered a speech to the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations denouncing the Iraq war. Goldenberg, lists Chrétien’s concerns with an invasion. Canada “had to consider whether participating in a war declared by non-Islamic western countries, without the support of the United Nations, against a government of an Islamic country, no matter how abhorrent the regime, would in the end bring about more democracy in the Middle East, or whether it would be responsible for provoking more terrorism in the world.” Chrétien argued it is important for the United States to act multilaterally, stated that “‘it is imperative to avoid the perception on a clash of civilizations. Maximum use of the United Nations would minimize that risk.’”
Still a pragmatist to the end
It is important to acknowledge that Chrétien’s pragmatist nature got the best of him; ultimately he would support a mission without UN support if Iraq posed a threat. Graham inferred that it was possible a situation might arise similar to that of Kosovo – where a mission was necessary for humanitarian reason, but a legitimising UN sanction was impossible due to the veto-holding power of Russia who saw Kosovo as in its sphere of influence. Therefore Chrétien would support a mission if it was necessary – if the US could prove Iraq posed a threat. Despite Powell’s UN speech, Chrétien was unconvinced that Saddam possessed WMD or that it posed a threat. Greg Fyffe, the former Executive Director of the International Assessment Staff in Ottawa stated that Chrétien and his staff’s instincts were that Iraq did not possess WMD, and Canadian intelligence did not contradict this notion. Chrétien would not be duped by an American attempt to make the invasion appear necessary with weak intelligence, and would express this opinion publicly, he therefore remains on the right side of history.
A critic of the argument that Canada remained on the right side of history by not invading Iraq would argue that Ottawa’s winter 2003 decision “to send two thousand troops back to Afghanistan on the eve of the Iraq war” allowed the United States to shift its military focus to Iraq. In this way Canada supported the Iraq war without directly invading Iraq and could therefore be seen as on the wrong side of history. I would argue Canada had already made the decision that Afghanistan was both necessary and legitimate and Canada’s commitment to troop escalation in Afghansitan was therefore worthwhile despite the US’s shift towards Iraq. As previously mentioned, this commitment could have neutralised the threat posed by Al-Qaeda and the Taliban had the Americans been committed to nation-building. Since the US and not Canada abandoned Afghanistan the fault lies with the American government.
Tony Blair ‘On the Wrong Side of History’
To fully appreciate the foreign policy fiasco Chrétien avoided by not invading Iraq one can examine British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Blair – who has been described as “America’s biggest admirer” – was so concerned with expressing solidarity to the US he would act irrationally. Britain would invade Iraq either because Blair believed the faulty intelligence presented or agreed with the preconceived American plan to intimidate other would-be aggressors. Either way Tony Blair’s Iraq legacy will be the same as Bush’s, he committed a foreign policy blunder. Luckily, Chrétien’s pragmatist nature would mean he would not be convinced by faulty intelligence and Canada would remain on the right side of history.
Conclusion, thanks for keeping us out of that mess
Charles – Philippe David’s 2002 parliamentary address denounces the Iraq war by comparing it to Vietnam. “The Iraq II Campaign would be the first major US-led invasion and occupation since Vietnam. It cannot be compared with other policing actions in Grenada in 1983 or Panama in 1989, and still less with other military interventions in the interim.” Because the American invasion of Iraq was and deemed unnecessary and illegitimate it is fair to say its legacy is that of a foreign policy mistake – perhaps the worst since Vietnam. Unlike Tony Blair, Jean Chrétien would not commit the same mistake the Americans would. Chrétien pragmatist nature would thus skilfully ensure Canada would both not be seen as a ‘free-rider’ by the US and NATO when it came to the necessary and legitimate war in Afghanistan and avoid a major foreign policy blunder when it cam to the unnecessary and illegitimate war in Iraq. His ability to speak publicly on this ensured Canada would be remembered this way. Indeed, today Canada’s decision not to participate in the Iraq War is widely considered to be one of Prime Minister Chrétien’s most important achievements. Prime Minister Jean Chrétien’s post 9/11 foreign policy decisions were ultimately the right ones, they ensured Canada would remain on the right side of history.
Bird, Tim and Alex Marshall. Afghanistan: How the West Lost its Way. London: Yale University Press, 2011.
“Chirac says France will veto U.N. Resolution on Traq.” PBS Online News Hour, last modified 10 March 2003.
David, Charles-Philippe. “Marching on Baghdad: The Risks of War.” House of Commons: Statement before the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade. Parliament of Canada Website, last modified 4 December 2002. http://www.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?Pub=CommitteeMeetingMinu tes&Acronym=FAIT&Mee=14&Mode=1&Parl=37&Ses=2&Language=E
Fyffe, Greg. Current Adjunct Research Professor, University of Ottawa, Former Executive Director, International Assessment Staff. Personal Correspondence.
Goldenberg, Eddie. The Way it Works. Toronto: McClelland & Steward Ltd., 2006.
Heinbecker, Paul. Getting Back in the Game: A Foreign Policy Playbook for Canada. Toronto: Dundurn, 2011.
Hillmer, Norman and J.L. Granatstein. Empire to Umpire. Toronto: Thomson and Nelson, 2008.
Martin, Lawrence. Iron Man: The Defiant Reign of Jean Chrétien. Toronto: Viking Canada, 2003.
Rashid, Ahmed. Descent into Chaos. New York: Penguin Books Ltd., 2009.
Sanger, David E. The Inheritance. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2009.
Stein, Janice and Eugene Lang. The Unexpected War: Canada in Kandahar. Toronto: Viking Canada, 2007.
“United Nations Security Council Press Release SC/7234.” United Nations Website, last modified 6 December 2001.
“United Nations Security Council Press Release SC/7248.” United Nations Website, last modified 12 December 2001.
“United Nations Security Council Resolution 1378.” U.S. Department of State Website, last modified 14 November 2001.
“What is Article 5?” NATO Website, last modified 18 February 2005. http://www.nato.int/terrorism/five.htm
This is an analysis of the USA’s invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan written under the influence of one of my favorite books: Rupert Smith’s The Utility of Force.
Rupert Smith’s The Utility of Force argues military force has only two immediate effects: death and destruction, and whether these effects serve to achieve a political purpose measures the force’s utility. After 9/11 the political goal of the American government appears obvious – to increase US security and prevent another terrorist attack. George W. Bush’s administration attempted to achieve this by launching two of what Smith would describe as interstate industrial wars, invading Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003. This use of force did not achieve its political end because the Bush administration failed to recognize that the US was engaged in the paradigm Smith describes as ‘war amongst the people’ – the antithesis of interstate industrial war.
‘War amongst the people’ vs Interstate Industrial War
The September 11 attacks and the tactics used to harass coalition soldiers occupying Afghanistan are both perfect examples of operations in a war amongst the people. While industrial war involves nation-states deploying armies Smith argues the antithesis of industrial war involves guerrilla-like tactics – “small operations, with a minimal amount of people, focused upon disruption rather than a decisive military victory.” Often this involves provoking an enemy into overreacting – “the objective here being to reflect the government as a brutal oppressor … to gain sympathy for the ‘cause’ and gain recruits.” While the US administration reacted by launching industrial wars, it was actually fighting a war amongst the people. Furthermore the Bush administration was certainly provoked into overreacting because its reaction did not achieve the political goal of security and (as this paper will display) the opposite was achieved.
Afghanistan was a terrorist safe haven and “the country where the 9/11 plot was hatched.” Therefore the invasion of Afghanistan had the potential of using military force to achieve the political goal of creating security as it could deny terrorist networks a place to operate. Because the Taliban and al-Qaeda were linked both had to be eliminated to create security. However “Bush and his team forgot their ultimate objective: the destruction of the Taliban and al-Qaeda and an end to the sanctuary that Afghanistan provided.” Ahmed Rashid’s Descent into Chaos argues that the US ignored Afghanistan in favour of invading Iraq and in doing so created more security threats for the US.
Rashid argues that invading Iraq “was critical to convincing Musharraf that the US was not serious about stabilizing the region, and that it was safer for Pakistan to preserve its own national interest by clandestinely giving the Taliban refuge.” Zalmay Khalilzad, the former American ambassador to Iraq and later to the UN, claimed the Iraq invasion “‘helped Iran’s relative position in the region, because Iraq was a rival of Iran,’” – Iran subsequently supported Hezbollah and Hamas. The invasion of Iraq created security threats; the Taliban continued harassing American interests from Pakistan and Iran frustrated American interests in the region. This displays the fact that the Bush administration did not use force to its greatest utility because force was not used to reach a political outcome. Assuming al-Qaeda’s political goal is to damage American security, al-Qaeda’s force was used to a greater effectiveness. Al-Qaeda used perfectly the tactic of provocation described by Smith to entice the US into overreacting.
The decision to invade Iraq as a reaction to 9/11 displays the fact that the Bush administration did not understand the paradigm of war it was engaged in, believing industrial wars could counter the threat presented. Jeffrey Record’s Wanting War presents multiple motives for invading Iraq; they center upon achieving a political goal of intimidating other states by demonstrating that the US was prepared to use its military to strike first. By deterring other states, the US would create security for itself – its central political goal. This way of thinking may have worked for nation-states during the Cold War, when Smith states force’s “utility was in its deterrence, not its application,” but insurgents would not be deterred in this way.
In a war amongst the people the people are not the enemy, the enemy is amongst the people. Smith argues the key to defeating these enemies “is to differentiate between the enemy and the people, and win the latter over to you.” One must win the ‘hearts and minds’ of the population, however often this is not the overall objective. Rashid argued Afghanistan’s agriculture industry needed investment to “revive public morale in the countryside and convince people of the worthlessness of the Taliban.” However, in 2000 Bush stated, “I don’t think our troops ought to be used for what’s called nation-building – I think our troops ought to be used to fight and win wars.” Fighting and winning industrial wars was feasible for an American force, as initial success in both Afghanistan and Iraq demonstrate, unfortunately nation-building is what is needed to combat insurgency. When the Pentagon’s own Defence Science Board requested that stabilization and reconstruction operations be set as core military tasks, the request was ignored. To reconstruct Afghanistan stability was needed, but the troops needed to provide stability were instead tied down in Iraq.# The Taliban understood this, they realised their greatest weapon “American tentativeness, an unwillingness by Bush or other officials to commit troops, money, and resources.” Because the original threat presented by 9/11 persisted and new threats were created, force was not used to its utility because it did not create security.
The American administration squandered its force’s utility when reacting to the 9/11 attacks because its military strategy did not produce its political goal. While Bush was preoccupied with fighting and winning industrial wars, the US was engaged in the antithesis of industrial war. After overthrowing the Taliban government the Bush administration, not understanding Smith’s paradigm of war amongst the people, believed the first war was won and started a second. However the second war wasted the resources needed to rebuild Afghanistan and truly counter terrorism, while creating more threats to US security. Therefore force was not used to its utmost utility because it was not used to meet the political goal of creating security.
Parent, Joseph M. and Paul K. MacDonald. “The Wisdom of Retrenchment.” Foreign Affairs, vol. 90 no. 6, November/December 2011.
Rashid, Ahmed. Descent into Chaos. New York: Penguin Books Ltd., 2009.
Record, Jeffrey. Wanting War. Washington D.C.: Potomac Books Inc., 2010.
Sanger, David E. The Inheritance. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2009.
Smith, Rupert. The Utility of Force. London: Penguin Books Ltd., 2006.