Commentary Magazine


Must. Surrender. Somewhere.

Let’s consider what Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama might now be saying if over the past six years George Bush had done precisely what the Democrats claim he should have regarding Afghanistan and Iraq. If the U.S. had beefed up forces in Afghanistan and ignored Saddam Hussein, I imagine the Democratic argument (as extrapolated from current policy positions) might go something like this:

We have now spent six years bogged down in George Bush’s Afghan war, while Saddam Hussein continues to build his palaces on the graves of innocent Iraqis. We’re locked into an endless commitment in Afghanistan, refusing to let the Afghan people shape their own post-Taliban futures, while intelligence reports continue to come in that Saddam Hussein is not only working on weapons of mass destruction, but associating with and even training the types of people who attacked us on September 11. We have leveled to dust a nation without the resources or operational knowledge to attack the U.S., while we’ve let Saddam Hussein’s Iraq build its deadly arsenal and expand its lethal network of associates. How does this make the U.S. look in the eyes of the world? And why should our allies tolerate it? Why should you, the voting public? I intend to restore our standing in the global community by beginning immediate troop drawdowns in Afghanistan and facing the real threat represented by dangerous regimes such as Iraq. America needs a real leader, not someone who won’t go into Iraq because his father had thought it would be too tough for America to handle.

As is happened, things took a different course. We went into Iraq while continuing to fight in Afghanistan. We’ve had our formidable challenges in both theaters, but the point is the Democrats can always plug in proper nouns as needed and make an argument like the one above. Which they’ve done. We know from Hillary that it’s too late to win in Iraq, and from Obama that we need to withdraw from Iraq immediately and pick up the pace in Afghanistan. We must, you see, stop fighting somewhere.

But how is this surrender argument to be maintained in the face of continued success in Iraq? This question will get tougher and more crucial for whichever Democrat is nominated to go up against John McCain. Well, today Ted Rall has a piece at Yahoo News which may suggest a new direction in such surrender mad-libs: We need to pull out of Afghanistan after all.

By any measure, U.S. troops and their NATO allies are getting their a–es kicked in the country that Reagan’s CIA station chief for Pakistan called “the graveyard of empires.” Afghanistan currently produces a record 93 percent of the world’s opium. Suicide bombers are killing more U.S.-aligned troops than ever. Stonings are back. The Taliban and their allies, “defeated” in 2001, control most of the country–and may recapture the capital of Kabul as early as this summer.

And, anyway, Afghanistan is the wrong place to fight the war on terror:

Afghanistan’s connection to 9/11 was tertiary. At the moment the first plane struck the South Tower of the World Trade Center, most of Al Qaeda’s camps and fighters were in Pakistan. As CBS News reported on January 29, 2002, Osama bin Laden was in a Pakistani military hospital in Rawalpindi on 9/11. The Taliban militia, which provided neither men nor money for the attacks, controlled 90 percent of the country.


So, it’s time to pull out of Afghanistan and fight in Pakistan. And then when we’re there? Well, we’d be ignoring Saudi Arabia, naturally. And once we’re in Saudi? We’d be insensitive cowboys treading on holy sand and ignoring the terror financing that comes from the UAE. And once there? We’d be turning against a “non-political” ally and economic partner. And on, and on, and on. The arguments will continue to chase the U.S. around the globe, and the U.S. will continue to act prudently, if imperfectly, to marginalize or destroy the enemies of liberal democracy. The very fact that America prevents the worst threats from materializing is what allows for this silly rhetorical fill-in-the-blanks game to begin with.