In an article on President Bush's recent speech, The New York Times suggested that Democrats have blamed the Bush administration's decision to go to war in Iraq for the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. But, contrary to the Times' suggestion, it is not just Democrats who have made the link between Iraq and Afghanistan. The bipartisan Iraq Study Group noted in 2006 that the mission in Afghanistan has “been complicated by the overriding focus of U.S. attention and resources on Iraq.”
In a February 16 New York Times article on President Bush's February 15 speech, Times White House correspondent Sheryl Gay Stolberg reported that the “speech renewed criticism from Democrats that had the United States not been tied down in Iraq, the situation in Afghanistan would not have turned dire.” But, contrary to Stolberg's suggestion, numerous experts from both parties -- not just Democrats -- have attributed the increasingly dire situation in Afghanistan to the ongoing diversion of U.S. resources to the Iraq war.
From the February 16 article:
The remarks, to the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative research organization here, amounted to an unusually high-profile acknowledgment from Mr. Bush of the precarious state of the effort to stabilize Afghanistan, a country the administration long held up as a foreign policy success story.
The speech renewed criticism from Democrats that had the United States not been tied down in Iraq, the situation in Afghanistan would not have turned dire. At the same time, some Republican lawmakers said Mr. Bush's new strategy would not do enough to tamp down the Afghan drug trade. Outside experts criticized the president for painting too rosy a picture.
As Iraq has dominated the American psyche, some lawmakers, most recently the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi of California, have called Afghanistan “the forgotten war.” The Democratic National Committee, responding to Mr. Bush's speech on Thursday, issued a statement saying, “The Bush administration took its eye off the ball in Afghanistan.”
In fact, it is not just Democrats who have argued that the diversion of military and policymaking resources to Iraq in the nearly four years since the U.S. invasion there has contributed to the recent resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan. For instance, the report released by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group in December 2006 noted that the mission in Afghanistan has “been complicated by the overriding focus of U.S. attention and resources on Iraq,” adding that the longer U.S. forces stay in Iraq, the higher the probability that the situation in Afghanistan will deteriorate.
From the report:
The situation in Iraq is linked with events in the region. U.S. efforts in Afghanistan have been complicated by the overriding focus of U.S. attention and resources on Iraq. [Page 24]
And the longer that U.S. political and military resources are tied down in Iraq, the more the chances for American failure in Afghanistan increase. [Page 28]
The huge focus of U.S. political, military, and economic support on Iraq has necessarily diverted attention from Afghanistan. As the United States develops its approach toward Iraq and the Middle East, it must also give priority to the situation in Afghanistan. Doing so may require increased political, security, and military measures. [Page 41]
By contrast to the Times, in a February 16 article on Bush's speech, USA Today noted the ISG's assessment:
Bush noted that 2006 was the most violent year in Afghanistan since the 2001 liberation, with the Taliban and al-Qaeda launching strikes against Afghan President Hamid Karzai's new government in Kabul. Last year, the bipartisan Iraq Study Group led by former Secretary of State James Baker and former congressman Lee Hamilton said “the huge focus of U.S. political, military and economic support on Iraq has necessarily diverted attention from Afghanistan.”
Similarly, in an article on the speech, The Washington Post quoted James Dobbins, director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at the Rand Corp., stating that Iraq has “suck[ed] the air out” of U.S. policymaking efforts in Afghanistan:
“The focus on Iraq has definitely diminished not just the amount of resources that can be applied ... but it's also a question of the time and attention that top policymakers can spend on the problem,” said James Dobbins, a former special envoy to Afghanistan who now works as a national security analyst at the Rand Corp. "Iraq has tended to suck the air out of the system for the last couple of years."