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Martin Varsavsky

Martin Varsavsky

Posted: September 5, 2009 10:57 AM

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), and 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 surprisingly 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 the occupation of South Lebanon and Gaza -- by ending the occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, 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 such 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 2009. History has shown again that military interventions are much easier than occupations. Why insist?

Lessons From Iran

Secondly, the US and EU should learn from Iran and emulate its 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 -- 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 up 1/3rd of the country's GDP. We should also accept the unfortunate truth that if it were not for European and American 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 consumers of drugs in Europe and the USA through their mafias. What is the solution? What we should do is buy all the drug crops from Afghan peasants directly, 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 on our markets. But we must get in that market and neutralize their income without hurting the peasants. Another similar solution -- 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 drug cultivation 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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