When the new year arrives in just two weeks, the United States will officially have ended their military stay in Iraq. The war in Iraq, protested by many even from the onset, stands as an interesting chapter in American history. All too often, politicians and pundits attack America’s position as the ‘world’s policeman’ and cite the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as an example of American over-involvement in the global arena. However, this is an unfair and ultimately foolish argument, as our involvement in both these countries stems from our natural want for personal safety. WMDs were suspected in Iraq, and the Afghan war was started as a way to undermine Al-Qaeda and prevent future catastrophes like 9-11. The ultimate goal here was never to act as the metaphorical policeman, but instead to maintain the security of the American people.
But this does not mean that the wars in the Middle East have been fought in exactly the right way. After all, there is no perfect way to fight a war. The United States, after creating supply routes and bases while cooperating and often rebuilding governments in these countries, found itself too invested in the future of Iraq and Afghanistan to simply pack up its bags and leave. After all, the U.S. pulling out would almost certainly bring less stability, and a less stable nation could again foster a environment that would be friendly to extremists and terrorists. This issue is displayed through Iraq, as the rebuilding of democracy cost billions of dollars more and took years longer than the relatively quick and easy overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s government. In Afghanistan, we don’t plan to leave until the end of 2014, but problems are already starting to present themselves. The unfortunate truth is in the numbers: Afghanistan’s entire economy rests on the United States army spending money in the country. Afghanistan’s GDP increased nearly fourfold from $2.5 billion before the war began in 2001 to $11.75 billion in 2008, seven years into the war*. When the United States leaves, this number is likely to crash back to prewar levels. Thus, just by leaving, the United States prompts more uncertainty in already unstable governments.
Uncertain describes Prime Minister Maliki’s government in Iraq quite well. Maliki seems to be responding to the removal of American forces by increasing his authoritarian tendencies. America, with a diminished presence, has only the ability to take a ‘wait-and-see’ approach to determine what will become of the democracy we worked so tirelessly for in Iraq. Things may have been proceeding tolerably well under the close watch of the U.S. military, but things will change once it is a solely Iraqi operation. The same problems may spring up in Afghanistan, where many doubt the government’s ability to keep order and wage an effective counterinsurgency against the Taliban, who still wield enormous political influence.
Even though the United States may finally be bringing the troops back home from Iraq, and even though we are starting to make plans to do so in Afghanistan as well, problems will most certainly arrive. These countries will not be leaving the news headlines anytime soon, and America must be watchful as ever to ensure that our hard work does not go to waste.
*Statistics from World Bank estimates