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The Shifting Anti-War Argument

It is fascinating to see how little certain pundits who wrote off the Iraq War as lost a few years ago have learned from their mistakes.  In this morning’s New York Times, Bob Herbert calls the war in Afghanistan a “quagmire”: “Sending thousands of additional men and women (some to die, some to be horribly wounded) on a fool’s errand in the rural, mountainous guerrilla paradise of Afghanistan would be madness. The time to go all out in Afghanistan was in the immediate aftermath of the 2001 terror attacks. That time has passed.”

This is of a piece with Herbert’s previous insights into the Iraq War. In 2005, he wrote: “We need to cut our losses in Iraq. … To continue sending people to their deaths under these circumstances is worse than pointless, worse than irresponsible. It’s a crime of the most grievous kind.” In 2006, he had this to say: “There is something agonizingly tragic about soldiers dying in a war that has already been lost.”

My point is not simply to highlight Herbert’s lack of acumen when it comes to geopolitics (or anything else)–something that would have been painfully apparent long ago to all discerning readers of his column. It is to highlight also the shifting rationales employed by those who, like him, were big critics of the Iraq War.

In 2004, he wrote a column headlined “The Wrong War” in which he argued as follows: “The United States had been the victim of a sneak attack worse than the attack at Pearl Harbor. It was an act of war, and the administration had a moral obligation (not to mention the backing of the entire country and most of the world) to hunt down and eradicate the forces responsible…. The U.S. never pursued Al Qaeda with the focus, tenacity and resources it would expend – and continues to expend – on Iraq.”

But now it turns out that Bob Herbert has no real desire to “eradicate the forces responsible” for 9/11. I suppose if pressed he could claim that the perpetrators have already been caught or killed. But of course those who carried out the attack died on 9/11. It was obvious to the entire world–even to the Bob Herberts–that the attacks also required eradicating the network to which the perpetrators belong. That network still exists. It has a safe haven in Pakistan and its Taliban allies are trying their damnedest to bring down the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Now I suppose Herbert could argue that the real problem today is in Pakistan. But he would not of course support any real action to eradicate the terrorists there. Nor does he consider what the impact of an American defeat in Afghanistan would be: It would offer an immeasurable boost for the very “forces responsible” for 9/11 and, more importantly, the forces plotting similar outrages in the future. If we abandon Afghanistan it would become a refuge for terrorists as it was prior to 9/11. But even then, rest assured, Herbert would find some rationale to justify husbanding our resources for the future and ignoring the war of the moment.


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