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Military expert Tom Ricks.
Could Afghanistan eventually yield a better result from a U.S. perspective than Iraq?
It's possible, military expert and Pulitzer Prize winner Tom Ricks told Morning Edition co-host Steve Inskeep for the Thursday issue of the show.
Ricks, who spent part of his youth in Afghanistan and thus knows its people well, may be swayed by his greater familiarity with Afghanistan. But there's logic to his view as well.
An excerpt of his conversation with Steve:
RICKS: I’m actually more optimistic about Afghanistan than I am Iraq. Iraq does look to me like an endless war, not necessarily one where a lot of American troops are going to be fighting and dying.
But I think we have unleashed a chain of events in Iraq and surrounding countries that are going to play out for many years, perhaps even many decades.
STEVE: What makes Iraq even grimmer than Afghanistan as you see it?
RICKS: In Afghanistan we do have a couple of aces in the hole. The biggest one is that the Afghan people have lived under Islamic extremism and fundamentally they don’t want it to come back.
The problem in Iraq is none of the basic political questions in the country have been solved. This is one reason we’ve gone so many months now without the formation of an Iraqi government.
But the basic question is how are these three major groups in Iraq going to get along? How are they going to live together? Are they going to live together? How are you going to share the oil revenue? What's the form of Iraqi government? Will it have a strong central government or be a loose confederation? What's the role of neighboring countries, most especially Iran which is stepping up its relationship with Iraq right now, even as Uncle Sam tries to step down its relationship.
All these questions have been hanging fire in Iraq for several years, before the surge. All of them have led to violence in the past. All could easily lead to violence again. The only thing changing in the Iraqi security equation right now is Uncle Sam is trying to get out.
Another point to consider. As the U.S. draws down its troops in Iraq, contrary to the popular view, the risks for those who remain could actually increase.
I would much rather be on an American combat infantry patrol then say be an advisor with Iraqi forces. That’s a more dangerous position to be in.
Also, as you draw down American forces, you draw down a lot of the forces that make things safe or limit the consequences of violence.
For example, a medical evacuation of wounded people. intelligence, these are the type of support functions that get cut because you’re trying to bring down the troop numbers but are essential to someone who’s wounded, to getting them treatment quickly, to getting them out of the country.