Democrats and the Anti-War Movement: the Courage of Our Convictions

The right talon isn't just for show.

Last night, President Obama announced a plan to commit substantial additional forces to Afghanistan (full text). The reaction has been almost uniformly negative from the left, but re-hashed and uninspired from the right (although he didn’t use the word “victory,” nor did he use the word “defeat” — except in the context of defeating Al Qaeda, which sounds an awful lot like “victory” to me).  The former is an error; the latter is a good sign.

The overwhelming character of the liberal reaction (Michael Moore: “you will be the new war president”) conflates Iraq and Afghanistan — essentially Bush’s error, but in reverse. As Democrats, we can’t be against war as a concept. Although it’s not ideal, there is such a thing as a “just war,” and a necessary war. Afghanistan is both. And because Obama campaigned on just that sentiment, yesterday’s decision shouldn’t come as a surprise. Obama has argued for years now that Iraq caused Afghanistan to be forgotten, which the facts have borne out; and just a few months ago he called Afghanistan a “war of necessity.” This move was telegraphed from the start: any disappointment felt now can only rest on a misunderstanding of what President Obama has always stood for, and a naive desire for war, as a concept, to end. We can dream, yes, but si vis pacem, para bellum. Affirmatively winning Afghanistan is the right thing to do, for our security and for our posterity, and accordingly, critiques about whether Obama made the right move should be confined to the strategic. Remember, should we succeed, it’s another chapter in the history books for the American military (“Hey, Alexander! Guess what we did!”).

And the right knows it. Fundamentally they know Afghanistan has to be won — they’ve been blasting Obama for delaying the decision for months — and they know this was the right move. It is, unfortunately, right out of McCain’s playbook for Iraq. But they’re afraid. Success in Afghanistan could not only (partially) secure America against terrorism; it could seal the fate of the Republican Party as the “national security” party. If, in future generations, we look to this moment as the very instant where the war in Afghanistan turned in our favor, it’ll also be the moment the Republican Party lost its last shred of respectability.

We’ve been waiting for real military leadership for about eight years now. Favor the bold.

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37 comments

  1. No Ames, Afghanistan WAS a just war; letting it languish to go fulfill some cowboy need for revenge in Iraq stripped that justice away. Let’s not kid ourselves here – with the Taliban in defacto control of around 80% of Afghanistan, all we’re doing with this continued fighting is helping Kharzai figure out where to go hide in exile. America’s national interests will not be served by this continuation (just as they are not served by our continued presence in Iraq). And the President is not doing his duty to “protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Liberals, ture liberals, need to hold the PResident’s feet more firmly to the fire – lest we end up with a slightly more pallatible Goerge Bush in the end.

    1. First of, how did Iraq delegitimize Afghanistan? It certainly lead directly to the situation we are in now and highlights why Iraq was a phenomenally stupid war but the reasons we went to Afghanistan remains the same as in 2001. The Taliban can not be allowed to regain control of the country and create a same haven for Al Qaeda or we spent 8 years worth of American lives and money to accomplish nothing. Afghanistan is a mess, but I am a firm believer in cleaning up the messes of our own making. Leaving Afghanistan freer then we found it is a moral obligation so far as I am concerned.

      1. Iraq didn’t delegitimize Afghanistan at the time, but neglecting Afghanistan in favor of Iraq has done so. LIke it or not, the Taliban already control aroun 80% of Afghanistan again – how much more ground od they need to convince you they are in control? And we can’t leave anyplace freer – Iraq, Afghanistan, Korea – unless it wants to be left freer. We also can’t impose our version of “freedom” or “democracy” on another nation, especially one that is historically and culturally not geared to accept that definition.

        we have thus, in my view, spilled american blood there for no good reason. Time to come home.

  2. (Also left this first part on Facebook): I haven’t seen any evidence that Afghanistan is unwinnable. Built to destroy empires, yes. But we were doing fairly well before Iraq, to the point that we almost had Osama, and the Taliban’s influence was dropping considerably. If we almost won — or almost made a lasting impression — I see no reason not to try to do that, again.

    Further, while you’re right, that we can’t create liberty vis armae in an unwilling society, there’s some evidence that the government was close to standing on its own beforehand. Close.

  3. Whether the war was necessary and just is at least debatable. To me, 9/11 was a criminal act by a terror organization, not a declaration of war by a sovereign state, meaning that attacking Afghanistan is about as adequate as India nuking Washington in retaliation for a US American committing a mass murder in India (not that anybody would ever dare to treat the US in kind as long as they are still so insanely powerful).

    Okay, you could argue that the 9/11 terrorists were given refuge by the Afghani government, but they still were not operating on their orders, and I do not see how that required a full scale war, blowing up the proverbial wedding parties and installing an unpopular corrupt dictator. Why not just send in a special ops unit and abduct Osama so that he could stand for trial? Still illegal, but at least not as brutal towards the civilians. Or why not invest 5% of what you did so far for military action by bribing strategically placed warlords, thus installing a more manageable government without antagonizing all of Afghanistan with a foreign, christian invasion? No sorry, a just war is only if you defend yourself or your ally against the army of another country. Everything else is either a just police action or an unjust war.

    In addition, you will continue to lose no matter how many soldiers you send there. What you would have to change is not the number of troops but how they treat the populace, and that child may have already fallen irreversibly into the well…

    1. *applause*

      Mintman makes my point exactly. Going to war against the Taliban was stupid from the start and now, instead of killing AQ we are worrying about a Taliban insurgency. The Taliban is not our enemy! Sure – they are scumbags but so are half the governments in the world.Are we going to go after all of them? AQ operated in Afghanistan mainly because the country was lawless, not because the Taliban was an ally. Since being pushed out, AQ is now in other countries with lawless areas. Our fight should be there.

      1. Mintman. Bin Laden is not the totality of Al Qaeda. the organization would have continued without him and inserting enough Spec-ops troops into Afghanistan to cause the structural damaged need to destroy the organization could have sparked a war with the Taliban anyway. Bribing local warlords would have helped with intelligence gathering but could have precipitated a Civil War between the warlords and the central government with us having to choose sides. I see no practical way we could have confronted Al Qaeda without conflict with the Taliban.

        Mike, That is the entire point, if The Taliban regains control the country will return to a state of lawlessness and Al Qaeda will likely return. If we are to defeat Al Qaeda where they operate effectively we have to have the consent and cooperation of the local government. Without it our task becomes impossible. I don’t like this war and two more years of it is a bitter pill to swallow but a return to the pre 9/11 status in Afghanistan is not a desirable outcome. Oh, and if the Taliban did not view us as their enemy in 2001 they most certainly do now so, yes Mike, they are our enemy.

        1. “If we are to defeat Al Qaeda where they operate effectively we have to have the consent and cooperation of the local government.”

          No we don’t. Pakistan isn’t cooperating with our predator incursions now, but we are doing it anyway. We don’t have to ask permission from third world countries to kill terrorists on their soil. That’s the advantage of being a superpower and I’m not being arrogant when I say that.

          The only way we are going to keep AQ from returning to Afghanistan is to control the entire country. I don’t think Obama is even planning on that. He’s basically willing to fight a holding action on the territory we do control. That isn’t enough.

          1. All the predator drones in the world can’t replace boots on the ground and information gathered from the locals on whose Al Qaeda an who isn’t. Picking of the leaders one by one is good for getting them to scuttle back into the shadows for a few months but they keep coming back. dismantling, or at least disabling An Al Qaede cell means having a visible presence on the ground. This would not be possible in a Taliban controlled Afghanistan, not without having to fight the Taliban as well.

        2. Sorry Jello, but that does not line up with what you can easily learn about recent Afghan history. The people there basically all agree that Taliban rule was the one time in living memory when there was no lawlessness. Yes, they are despicable fundamentalist crazies and women’s rights were nonexistent, but they put an end to corruption, rape, extortion, trafficking and civil war violence in general. Since they were driven out, the situation is back to everybody shoots everybody else and the US bombs them all, and that is one of the problems the coalition is facing. Crazy as it seems, there may be even some women who prefer a situation where they do not have education and the right to leave the house alone but also aren’t randomly sprayed with bullets while walking in the street.

          Secondly, if you want to defeat Al Qaida where they operate, you will have to invade firstly and most importantly Pakistan, but then also Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan and several other Arabian countries, some of them your allies. And they also have cells in most of Europe and North America. Get it: this is not a war, no matter how often you call it the “war on terror”. It is a police issue, just like the so-called “war on drugs” is not a problem that could hypothetically be solved by invading Colombia.

          1. Got to agree with Mintman again. Afghanistan is just one front in the war against AQ. We have to kill them where they are not fight a holding action to keep them out of one place when there are dozens of others they exist. As it stands we’re fighting one side of Afghanistan’s civil war in the hopes it won’t fall back into Taliban hands, then become lawless, then AQ flood in. Meanwhile they are just hanging out in other lawless areas. Shall we invade them all? You have to draw the line somewhere. Mintman and I are just suggesting you do that by abandoning security detail in Afghanistan and going on the offensive. With 100,000 troops I bet we could inflict some serious damage if they were re-deployed to the mountains of Pakistan.

            1. Except there’s no way the Pakistani government would survive 100K American troops on their territory, so deploying in Pakistan effectively equals invading Pakistan. Which seems a little counterproductive.

            2. (“survive allowing”, that is.)

              1. That’s Pakistan’s problem. The bad guys are in their country. Are we to allow them to remain?

              2. Jesus Christ, Mike, do you want the entire SE Asian region to blow up? Pakistan is exceptionally unstable. Pakistan also has nuclear weapons. And has notoriously poor relations with India, which also has nuclear weapons. So if Pakistan falls apart, we’re going to have problems that are orders of magnitude greater than a few “bad guys” running around in the NWFP.

                1. We’re already operating in Pakistan. If they ‘invite’ in 50,000 ground troops in a joint exercise…I don’t forsee a problem.

                2. But that invitation is never going to happen. It would be complete suicide for the Pakistani government to do such a thing.

                  And even if they did, it would lead to political chaos. The best case scenario in that situation would be another military coup, and then we’ll be back to where we were 15 years ago.

                  Using military power will not solve the problems in Pakistan, it will make them worse. The main problem is that the government is not considered a credible authority and priovider of services, especially in the northeastern parts of the country, so naturally people turn to the tribes and to the Islamist movements, which in turn also serve as a base for al-Quaeda.

                  But the point is the government will never develop that credibility if you have thousands of US troops running around the country when the population doesn’t want them there. Quite the opposite – it’ll undermine its authority completely, thus perpetuating the fundamental problems.

                  1. The alternative is to leave AQ there while we lose hundreds of troops to attrition in a guerilla war with the Taliban. I’d take my chances with Pakistan.

  4. Taking a cue from John Oliver here…

    Alexander the Great invaded Afghanistan… and lost his empire.

    The Mongols invaded Afghanistan… and lost their empire. (Kinda.)

    The British invaded Afghanistan… and lost their empire.

    The Soviets invaded Afghanistan… and lost their empire.

    Now the Americans have invaded Afghanistan… and…?

    In other words, Afghanistan is the boss monster in the Great Game of Empire! Good luck! Maybe YOU’RE WINNERS! (But we doubt it.)

    1. We actually beat them once; by my count, it was one win, one loss, and a no-score draw.

  5. > The alternative is to leave AQ there while we lose hundreds of troops to attrition in a guerilla war with the Taliban. I’d take my chances with Pakistan.

    By no means. The alternative and correct approach is to support the Pakistani government in its efforts to build their credibility and to encourage them to develop the civil society and build social and political reforms.

    Putting some pressure on India to adopt a more reconciliatory stance would not be a bad idea, either, to give the Pakistanis some breathing room and reduce the large role that the military plays in their society somewhat.

    1. So we should wait for Pakistani government / society to change and then terrorists will no longer want to live in lawless areas of their country?

      Again – it has NOTHING to do with the Pakistani government beyond simple security. They don’t control a big part of their country. That’s why AQ is there. They aren’t there because Pakistan has an uncivil society.

    2. Okay, great. Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead, then. When in doubt, send the Marines and all that.

      Just out of curiosity, how long are you willing to let US troops occupy the NWFP or the Tribal Areas? Forever? And if not, what’s going to happen when they leave?

      Follow-up question: You talk about hundreds of dead troops in Afghanistan. How do you feel about possibly thousands of dead troops in Pakistan instead?

      1. Your plan is a 50 year holding action. No thanks.

        AQ and the Taliban are guerilla fighters. How many casualties do you think they could possibly inflict in a conventional war? And that’s what I am talking about. A complete sweep of that region and kill every bad guy there. No counter-insurgency bullshit.

      2. Yes, I imagine Kennedy’s and Johnson’s advisors said much the same thing. That war cost something like 60,000 dead if I remember correctly.

        And what, pray tell, does a “bad guy” look like? It’s not like they have uniforms or special armbands or membership cards in the “Super Fun Evil Bad Guy Fan Club” or something like that.

        (If I sound slightly sarcastic, it’s because I’m rolling my eyes so hard it hurts right now.)

  6. Well then I think rather than send troops we should send concrete and just build a big wall around that part of the globe. Then we can contain the problem and our troops can pull guard duty until 2050. Problem solved.

    Of course, we’ll also need concrete for the other lawless parts of the world where AQ is (Sudan, Yemen, etc)

    1. [jonstewart]

      Hmm. That would actually be slightly preferable to a completely unrealistic and absurdly jingoist war that would leave hundreds of thousands dead and the respective societies in ruins, thus fertilizing the ground for yet another generation of young people who hate America and the West and will grow up to become terrorists and Talibanists – I’ll grant you that.

      Of course, rational people might try to carefully analyse the situation and do something that might actually, I don’t know, work. But where’s the fun in that?

      [/jonstewart]

      1. So hundreds of thousands of people would die in an offensive in Pakistan to clear out AQ from the mountains? And how does society get left in ruins by killing bad guys in the mountains?

        Do you have any ideas that won’t take multiple decades to complete?

      2. As I argued earlier, there’s no way the Pakistani govenment could survive permitting the deployment of troops on that scale inside their borders. So you’d effectively have to invade the country, and while the Pakistani military might not be the best in the world, it’s still some 700,000 strong plus reserves, which I imagine could do a fair amount of damage.

        Of course, most of those casualties would be Pakistanis and civilians. But the Iraq war has already caused over 100,000 dead, and the Vietnam War caused millions of deaths, so it’s definitely going to be on that scale.

        And al-Quaeda, of course, would just go somewhere else again as soon as the conflict starts, so it would be totally pointless in the end.

        Do you have any ideas that won’t take multiple decades to complete?

        No. Because guess what? Fighting terrorism, and foreign/security policy in general, is really, really hard!

        1. You’re making a broad assumption that the Pakistani military would fight the US if we invaded that territory. I don’t think they would. We’re also not talking about invading large population centers. The biggest collatoral damage in this fight would be goats.

          Let’s keep in mind that Pakistan is already pursuing a more limited version of this right now. They are doing it because they fear if they don’t we will invade. I’m just saying let’s help/do it for them so it gets done right.

        2. Oh, please. You’re seriously suggesting that the military would fail to live up to its most important mission – protecting the sovereignty of their nation?

          You have to remember that the military is one of the only institutions in Pakistan that is actually respected in most parts of the country, and one of the factors holding the country together. If they lost that respect, they would not only lose their great political influence, but most likely the whole nation would come apart at the seams. They’ll fight, they don’t have much choice.

          Oh, and then there’s China, which is a long-time ally of Pakistan. I don’t think they’ll just stand idly by, either, and even if they don’t get involved militarily, they can do lots of damage with all those US securities they hold.

          1. Again – you’re talking as if we’re going to march through Pakistan’s capital. Let me stress this point again: WE ARE ALREADY OPERATING IN THEIR TERRITORY. Are predator flights and special forces ops undermining their military?

            I would also suggest that before we went in a quiet offer would be made to the military to say we were invited so they can save face. Pakistan is an ally. It’s not uncommon for allies to ask one another for military assistance.

          2. Special forces, probably not. Those are by their nature inconspicuous. The predator attacks are certainly doing some harm, at least when civilians are getting hurt.

            But the deployment of a hundred thousand American troops on their territory is an entirely different matter. The extremist groups would go absolutely nuts, of course, and they have connections all the way into the military and intelligence services. And even among the general population… you may not have noticed, but the US is not exactly popular in that part of the world.

            I literally can’t imagine a scenario where a US deployment on that scale would not cause a civic backlash that would pretty much force the military to take action, “invitations” or no.

            1. Well then let’s circle this conversation back around. You say an invasion of Pakistan to kill AQ is a bad idea. You also admit that our occupation of Afghanistan really doesn’t accomplish anything. So then, why not pull the troops and cross our fingers that all the terrorists in Pakistan become pacifists when Pakistan decides to play nice with them?

            2. Because our options are not limited to “once more into the breach” and “hey, let’s hope the problem goes away on its own”.

              There are lots of things we can do that actually work: Political and humanitarian development efforts in countries prone to terrorist infiltration; surgical military actions against their targets, either by our own troops or assisting the military of the countries in question; and doing something to solve some of the issues that are used in their recruitment propaganda, especially the Palestine conflict.

              And of course, in the meantime keep up a high level of domestic and international intelligence readiness to prevent attacks.

              This will take a long time to work, granted, but in the long run, it will be much more efficient than this military adventurism that actively harms the anti-terror effort.

              That said, I think withdrawing the troops from Afghanistan prematurely is unwise, because it actually has the potential to accomplish something. If it could be joined to a concentrated effort of nation-building and fighting corruption, it would be an opportunity to do precisely the things I noted above – developing the country to the point where it would not go back to being a terrorist base again in the future. I don’t know if the extra 30,000 troops will do anything towards that end, but I’m not too optimistic. At least, I didn’t hear much along those lines in Obama’s speech.

              1. I don’t see any hope of Afghanistan ever becoming ‘civlized’ and stable enough to not function as a possible home for terrorists. With that said, I’m with you on targeted strikes…even if that means in Pakistan. You and I just differ over the size of the force used.

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