This report examines the impacts, causes and to what extent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are related to each other and to the whole geopolitical situation in the Greater Middle East. The modern wars on terrorism are discrete and separate, yet they remain integrally linked on levels that are not only vastly more elevated but also still unidentified. The emphasis in this work laid on that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq can only be comprehended in relation to 9/11 and the subsequent war on terrorism, much as the wars in Korea and Vietnam can only be understood in relation to the Cold War.

Therefore, in order to define general traits and antecedents of the Afghan war, next Chapters of this paper, using the historical analysis and analogy, will show the evolvement of this conflict, followed by the Chapter on the U.S. relations toward the Islamic world; then, emerging characteristics of Islam will be discussed to comprehend the whole structure of this conflict. In the final section of this study, the relation between Afghanistan and Pakistan will be discussed, with a conclusive part in the end.

Historic Precursor of Conflict

It is always difficult to evaluate the legacies, lessons, and implications of the wars, in which the United States has been involved and for a number of reasons; this is even more difficult with the wars on terrorism and those in Afghanistan and Iraq. In many ways, the World War I set the stage for the ensuing drama of the 20th century; the empires of the Romanovs in Russia, the Hohenzollerns in Prussia, the Ottomans in Turkey, and the Habsburgs of Austria-Hungary were destroyed by the war, and new technologies, namely the “revolution of military affairs” of those days, prolonged the war and made it more devastating than previous wars. The conclusion of the war halted the fighting and killing, but it did not bring peace to the world. Woodrow Wilson’s attempt to establish a new system and organization for managing the power in international relations, the League of Nations, faltered and ultimately failed due in part to the refusal of the United States to join the new international organization (Carpini, 2005).

The vindictive peace treaty following the World War I contributed to the onset of the worldwide depression, crippling of the international economy and the rise of hyperinflation, which, in turn, increased the desperation that led the people of one of the most advanced countries in the world, Germany, to turn to a National Socialist Workers’ Party. The period from 1914-1945, the so-called “Second Thirty Years War”, ended with the U.S. destructive nuclear strike over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In the shadow of the nuclear mushroom clouds, the doctrine of nuclear deterrence was developed, which, contrary to the predictions of many, resulted in the “long peace” of the Cold War. For more than four decades, the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union dominated the attention of policymakers, academics, analysts and members of the public. As observers of the U.S. at least since the time of Alexis de Tocqueville have noted, most Americans are neither knowledgeable about nor interested in international relations (Carpini, 2005). The U.S. Cold War policy, however, provided a simple equation for understanding the foreign policy: communists were bad, and anti-communists were good. One did not need to know where a particular communist country was or even who its leader was; the crucial thing was whether it was communist or part of, as it was known during the Cold War, the Free World.

The central objective of the American Cold War policy was to contain the spread of communist influence throughout the world. In pursuit of this goal, the United States concluded both bi- and multilateral alliances with many noncommunist countries, the most important of which was the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). In June 1950, when North Korea attacked South Korea, the U.S. ally, the United States and the United Nations responded by sending troops. This was the first modern, limited war, in which the U.S. was involved, and it resulted in a stalemate. In fact, even today, the war has not formally been ended; only an armistice exists. Ultimately, more than 36,000 Americans were killed in the Korean War.

Despite warnings from many quarters, the U.S. became involved in a second major war in Asia during the Cold War, Vietnam, and although the stalemated outcome of the Korean War was frustrating to the Americans, the loss of the Vietnam War was even more traumatic. Up until that time, the Vietnam War had been “America’s longest war,” and it was the first war that the United States had lost. The outcome of the war had a number of implications. More than 58,000 Americans were killed in this war, which was costly in both human and economic terms: it literally and figuratively broke the American military. It took more than a decade to repair the damage that was done. In addition, it affected, as all wars do, the way that the Americans thought about war. To many, the Vietnam War showed that the U.S. should not intervene in foreign conflicts in almost any circumstance. The war, in the words of General David Petraeus, who wrote his doctoral dissertation on the lessons of the war, was “indelibly etched in the minds” of those, who had fought in it. After more than four decades, the internal stresses and strains of communism, ironically the very things that Marx would have called the “internal contradictions” of capitalist countries, resulted in genuine proletariat revolutions, with the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, followed by the disintegration of the world’s first communist state, the Soviet Union, in December 1991.

With these two events, the four and a half decades-long Cold War came to an end, and academics and policy analysts scrambled and competed with one another to develop a new paradigm for explaining and prescribing the next U.S. strategy for dealing with the rest of the world. These new ways of thinking included Francis Fukuyama’s End of History, Samuel Huntington‘s Clash of Civilizations, Kenneth Waltz’s Neo-realism, Robert Keohane’s and Joseph Nye’s Neo-liberalism, and other approaches, as well. Although each of these approaches had its supporters, none gained the majority support. As a result, the period following the disintegration of the Cold War was known for what it was not, namely, the Cold War. The new era was labeled the post-Cold War, but there was no agreement on what that meant.

The New Age of Terrorism

The former Secretary of Defense, Caspar Weinberger, and later, Colin Powell, who served two tours of duty in Vietnam, developed criteria to be met if the United States were to involve itself in a war: vital national interests of the U.S. were involved; there should be clear, achievable objectives; there was significant public and congressional support for doing so; military force was to be used with the intent of winning; the use of military force should be a last resort; and there was an exit strategy for the war. In January of 1991, these principles of the Weinberger-Powell doctrine were applied spectacularly in a successful manner, when the United States and more than thirty other countries forced Saddam Hussein’s Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait, following its invasion and occupation.

The public opinion supported the coalition of forces; massive force was used, and Iraq was forced out of Kuwait. However, the coalition stopped short of Baghdad and left Saddam in power. There were several reasons for this, most notably that the United Nations coalition did not have the mandate to change the regime in Iraq. Most American officials, including President George Herbert Walker Bush, believed that removing Saddam and overthrowing his Baath Party would create a power vacuum in the region that Iran would fill. The Americans nervously recalled the takeover of the American embassy and taking of the U.S. hostages in Tehran in November 1979, and they did not want to see Iran achieve a regional hegemonic status. In addition, the United Nations and the U.S. coalition partners had not approved of a policy for changing the regime in Iran.

There were, however, some U.S. officials, most notably Paul Wolfowitz, who called for the overthrow of Saddam from the time of the first Gulf War.

The September 11th, 2001, attacks on the United States definitively ended the post-Cold War epoch of the U.S. foreign policy and changed everything. The U.S. was no longer invulnerable to attack on its continental homeland, as it had been since 1812. In addition, the attacks were waged by what international relations specialists call a “non-state actor”, and this meant that the attackers had no territory of their own, no permanent “return address”. In al Qaeda’s case, however, the Afghan government under the Taliban had provided a sanctuary and refused to turn over its leaders according to the American demand. On October 7, 2001, the U.S. military forces attacked Afghanistan, destroying al Qaeda’s terrorist training camps and overthrowing the Taliban government.

In March 2003, the United States invaded Iraq and quickly defeated the Iraqi military forces. What the military calls the “kinetic phase” of the war was akin to Thomas Hobbes’ state of nature: “nasty, brutish, and short”. The postwar phase of the war proved to be far more difficult than anyone had expected or predicted. When the U.S. reacted to the September 11th attacks by attacking both Afghanistan and Iraq, a new era of the American foreign policy had clearly begun, and policymakers, analysts and journalists have already written many articles and books about these challenges for the United States.

The United States and Islamic Countries

For most of its history, the United States did not have a coherent strategy toward the Muslim world, because its interests were neither threatened nor at stake. With the growth of radical Islamism, the American interests are clearly at stake, and the U.S. has had to respond to this challenge. At the crux of the U.S. Middle Eastern policy and increasingly the U.S. relations with the Muslim world at large is the Arab-Israeli relationship. Some have contended that if the Arab-Israeli problem was resolved (whatever that would mean), the conflict in the Middle East and South Asia would subside. Others believe that the Palestinian problem is fundamental to the Arab-Israeli conflict and once resolved, the conflict in the region would decrease significantly. A central value of Muslims is a belief in justice, and Muslims have a corresponding belief in fighting injustice. Reflecting their extreme interpretation of the meaning of justice and how to obtain it, Islamists call for an end to Arab-Israeli conflict or even the elimination of Israel; however, it is not likely that either improbable possibility, even if effected, would put an end to terrorism or demands for the complete withdrawal of the U.S. from the region.

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Radical, political Islamists dramatically emerged on the world scene in 1979 and have been influencing world politics from that time on. Although there were differences among Islamists, they generally were opposed to Westernization, and particularly the Western notions of democratization, globalization and secularization of society. Some Islamists had their own irreconcilable vision of the West and its perceived evils and called for the establishment of a new caliphate.

Emerging Characteristics of the Islamic World

In the seventh century C.E., the Prophet Muhammad founded the religion of Islam. According to Muhammad, the five pillars of Islam consisted of the monotheistic proclamation of faith (the Shahada), prayer, pilgrimage to Mecca (the Hajj), charity, and the fast during the month of Ramadan. The principles of Islam, one of the world’s principal religions, were laid down in the Quran.

The Islamic law, the Sharia, was contained in six thousand Quranic verses and the sayings and example of the Prophet Muhammad (the Sunnah), and these were supposed to constitute the basic foundation of all Islamic communities. Quranic verses provide guidance for the behavior of believers in topics as diverse as punishments for crimes, such as adultery and drinking alcohol, to the permissibility of wearing jewelry. Those Muslims, who espouse a political agenda and whose goal is to establish an Islamic state, are called Islamists, and they believe that the Sharia cannot be improved upon and are in favor of its becoming the foundation of laws in Muslim societies. This conception of the basis of law as deriving from God contrasts markedly with the Euro-American Enlightenment view of the popular sovereignty: that law derives from people, rather than God. Thus, in many Islamic societies, politics, law and religion are closely interrelated, and the separation of church and state, a hallmark of the Christian doctrine and the Western Enlightenment, is foreign to almost all Islamic countries.

The influence of Sharia is clear in a number of Islamic countries. For example, Saudi Arabia has no formal constitution other than the Quran, and its flag bears the Islamic proclamation of faith, “There is no god but God, and Muhammad is his Messenger”. In addition, the former rulers of Saudi Arabia, King Khalid and later King Fahd, ordered that they not be referred to as “King”, but rather as “the Custodian of the Two Holy Places’: Mecca (the birthplace of Muhammad and the holiest site in Islam) and Medina (the location of the Prophet’s Mosque and the second holiest city). The Saudis consider themselves to be the protectors of the most sacred cities in Islam and have assumed the responsibility for fulfilling that role. For example, until 2004, the Saudi government did not issue tourist visas to visit Saudi Arabia; the only exceptions to this were visas issued only to Muslims to visit Mecca on pilgrimage, the Hajj. International airliners flying from Asia to Europe often refueled at Saudi airports in Dhahran or Jeddah, and when they did so, passengers were not allowed to deplane for both security reasons and because their presence would defile the sacred land of the Prophet. When King Fahd allowed the military forces of the United States and its allies to enter Saudi Arabia to oppose Iraq in 1990 and use the Saudi military bases, radical Islamists were outraged. Reflecting this view, Osama bin Laden was among first extremists, who had publicly denounced this “intervention”.

Following the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632 C.E., Muslims could not decide whether to choose Muhammad’s direct descendants or his close companions as his successor. Sunni Muslims believe that Abu Bakr succeeded the Prophet as the ruler of all Muslims, or caliph; Shia Muslims believe that the authority over the caliphate should have passed through Muhammad’s descendants beginning with the Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law, Ali. In contrast, Sunnis supported the election of caliphs. Four years after the Prophet’s death, Ali’s Shia followers killed the third caliph, and soon after, Sunnis killed Husain, Ali’s son. This began the often-violent history of Shia-Sunni interaction. Since their initial split, the Shia and Sunnis have developed a number of cultural, theological and political differences.

Muslim Population

Today, there are 1.3 billion Muslims in the world, and 85 percent of them are Sunnis. Iran has the greatest number of Shia (over 61 millions) and the largest Shia population (90%) when compared with the population of any other country. Two-thirds of Iraq’s population consist of Shia, and approximately 20 percent of both Pakistan and Afghanistan is Shia. Thus, in both Iraq and Iran, Shia constitute a majority.

The split between Shia and Sunnis has been a significant factor in the relationships of Islamic countries and within particular countries. Saddam Hussein was a Sunni, and from the time he came to power in Iraq in 1968 until the U.S. invasion and overthrow of Saddam in March 2003, Sunnis controlled the major state organizations, including the military and security agencies. Throughout this period, Saddam’s government repressed the Shia segment of the population. Both al Qaeda and the Taliban are Sunni and hold anti-Shia views.

Afghanistan Link to Pakistan

Afghanistan and Pakistan have been linked in various ways for many years, and as Stephen Philip Cohen has noted, “Any comprehensive policy toward Pakistan must also address Pakistan’s relationship with Afghanistan. The two states have a long-standing and complex relationship, which took an astounding turn when American forces removed the Taliban government with the Pakistan’s reluctant assistance. A respected Oxford University Professor, Adam Roberts, has pointed out that particularly because of these everlasting relations between two states any policy toward one should also consider the other.

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Pakistan Key Role

The Pakistani army has been central to the development and maintenance of stability. Since its founding in 1947, four different military regimes have ruled Pakistan. For the army, Pakistan’s security rests on three pillars: “resisting Indian domination in Eastern provinces; increasing its nuclear program, and stimulating a pro-Pakistani government in Afghanistan.”

Pakistan today is a country of about 800,000 square kilometers, almost twice the geographic size of California. It borders four countries, namely Afghanistan, India, Iran, and China. Pakistan has a total population of 187 million, making it the sixth-largest country in the world. By 2020, Pakistan is projected to be the fifth-largest nuclear weapons power in the world. In 2008, its gross domestic product was $167.7 billion, and GDP per capita was $2,500. Thus, Pakistan, the intelligence of which is believed to be the alma mater of Al Qaeda, influences this region immensely.


During the course of this report the emphasis on the historical analysis of the U.S.-involved conflicts was deliberately made, along with the general analysis of the situation in the Greater Middle East region in order to conclude this work. With the U.S. involvement in the Afghanistan conflict wearing off, the Americans can indignantly ask who won this war with no strong answer to follow.

President Obama’s withdrawal plan from Afghanistan by 2014 stimulates many problems, principal among which is whether the NATO intervention into Afghanistan in 2001 differs from the Soviet one in 1979, and what is the future of Afghanistan.

Beyond doubt, the fundamentally aggravated condition in the region needs a resolute nation’s army to preserve the stability in the state. However, all sighs that without the U.S help, both financial and intelligent, such notion is not possible in the foreseeable future.


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