05/07/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Elections in Iraq and Escalation in Afghanistan: Paying For A "Violent Semi-Peace"

This weekend Iraqis turned out in the millions to vote in their 2010 parliamentary elections. By most accounts, it was a relative success. There were very few instances of fraud or polling issues reported. Several prominent religious leaders, including Moqtada al-Sadr, issued calls for Iraqis to defy "the enemies of Iraq" and cast their vote. And by mid-day, the government actually lowered several security restrictions (although security at the polling centers themselves remained tight).

Oh yeah, and 38 people were killed by violence. 73 were injured.

"Baghdad bore the brunt of the violence, with around 70 mortars raining down on mostly Sunni muslim areas as Iraqis headed to the polls in the second parliamentary vote since US-led forces ousted Saddam Hussein in 2003.

A Katyusha rocket flattened a residential building in northern Baghdad, killing 12 people and wounding 10, officials said, adding that a second blast killed four when another building was targeted by a bomb.

Eight people were killed by mortar attacks or bombs in Baghdad that between them wounded 40. Thirty more were wounded in attacks in the capital and elsewhere in the country."

And that's only on election day. 14 people were killed on Friday, 27 two days before that. That's what success looks like in the US occupation of Iraq. That's what we got for the bargain price of $710 billion, 4700 dead Americans, 30,000 wounded, 100,000 dead Iraqis, and millions of displaced refugees. And that cost is still rising. We still have over 100,000 troops in Iraq until at least 2011, maybe longer, and every day Iraqis are ripped to shreds by car bombs, suicide attacks, rockets, mortars, and IEDs. This is what a New York Times op/ed piece by Michael O'Hanlon and others referred to as a "violent semi-peace."

"As 2008 and the Bush presidency conclude, Iraq has settled into a kind of violent semi-peace. The population-protection strategy initiated by Gen. David Petraeus has been a remarkable success on balance. Its logic continues even though American force numbers in Iraq have nearly returned to pre-surge levels."

So a successful "population-protection strategy" is what leads to a "violent semi-peace." That sounds exactly like the new NATO/ISAF strategy for Afghanistan, premiered in their latest incursion into the village of Marjah, in Helmand province. The Christian Science Monitor reported last month:

"Top American officials say the two-day-old operation is going well, despite a setback Sunday in which a dozen Afghan civilians appear to have been killed during a rocket strike. That is significant because current US-NATO strategy puts the protection of the civilian population ahead of killing enemy fighters."

Note that slaughtering 12 Afghan people is only a "setback" to the population-protection strategy, which doesn't mean that Gen. Petraeus', er, Gen. McChrystal's strategy can't still be a success. And what is that success going to look like? Obama's Envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Ambassador Holbrooke, told us last week in his press conference:

"...McChrystal, yesterday in Marjah, in effect said the military phase was coming to an end. But there are always going to be IEDs. There's always going to be terrorist attacks. Those happen in the middle of Kabul and, for that matter, they happen in the middle of major cities all over the world these days. I have a feeling, however, that some of the energy has gone out of this approach to warfare."

Just as O'Hanlon predicted, the successful military operation winds down into a "violent semi-peace." Oh, but Amb. Holbrooke has a feeling that the violence will go away. Good for him. Afghans will still languish through insufferable violence and terrorism, corruption, and a lack of basic human services (we need the schools we built for military operations) while the US government's Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan basically wishes upon a star that the Taliban will follow his gut feeling and abandon the "approach to warfare" that has led to them commanding most of Afghanistan's territory, as well as huge swaths of Pakistani territory.

And just like Iraq, we're paying for every bit of that "violent semi-peace." $257 billion, 1700 dead ISAF soldiers, tens of thousands of dead civilians, countless wounded, and millions displaced. The price just continues to climb. And for what? A "violent semi-peace" where we congratulate ourselves for only 38 people dying in a fiery explosion on voting day, and only 12 people were killed by a rocket attack for the crime of driving their truck on a road in Afghanistan.

This doesn't seem like a good deal at all.

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Josh Mull is the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for The Seminal and Brave New Foundation. You can read his work on The Seminal or at Rethink Afghanistan.