Commentary Magazine


Why We Are In Afghanistan

The chorus of liberal observers who railed against the Iraq War, calling it an unnecessary and unwinnable blunder, have repurposed their defeatist denunciations and aimed them at the American effort in Afghanistan. It matters not that this same crowd used to hold up Afghanistan as the “right war” in criticizing Iraq. It is now the wrong war for the simple reason that it has become the more challenging. Unsurprisingly, Joe Klein leads the pack of migrant cut-and-runners.  Klein, who in June described the Iraq War as “currently drawing crucial resources from the more important war in Afghanistan,” has now decided that that “more important war” is nothing more than “an aimless absurdity.”

Why is this? Because the enemy has found safe haven inside Pakistan. In Klein and Co.’s perception, the “bad war” has moved from Iraq to Afghanistan, while the “good war” has moved from Afghanistan to Pakistan. I’m not in the habit of quoting myself, but in March I wrote of the Left’s inevitable insistence that we switch the Afghanistan effort to 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.

Seven years after 9/11, Joe Klein is still trying to pin down a neat and discrete state enemy. Good luck. It is the presence and actions of American troops in Afghanistan that have driven Taliban fighters across the border to hide in Pakistan. And simply switching the focus to Pakistan would send a good number back to Afghanistan. The Joe Kleins of the world judge the utility of America’s wars based on which chamber of the jihadist hourglass is being filled. And when fortunes turn the device over again, the Left will have found their new marching orders. While frustration is understandable, such a simplistic criterion for determining where to fight is absurd. The U.S. should be stomping out enemies in several places simultaneously. In fact, on a smaller scale, that is how Gen. David Petraeus achieved results in Iraq. By hitting multiple terrorist dens at once, he left the enemy with no place to hide. With Gen. Petraeus now head of Central Command, I wouldn’t be shocked to see the larger implementation of this strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan – Joe Klein’s objections notwithstanding.

As for Klein’s larger question, “Why are we in Afghanistan?” the answers are as obvious as they are numerous.

First, America cannot afford the perception that it has lost a war to Islamic extremists. The worst thing a superpower can do is take on a perceived underdog and lose. Had we heeded the cut-and-runners’ advice in Iraq, jihadists the world over would be rightfully celebrating the defeat of the American paper tiger. Moderate Muslims would see the triumph of jihad and determine partnership with radicals to be a safer bet than the adoption of democratic institutions. Hostile regimes would be further emboldened to destabilize the region and defy the U.S. As it turns out, we stayed on in Iraq, and evidence from intercepted al Qaeda communiqués reveals a dispirited and broken down network that’s been stunned and overwhelmed by American and Iraqi power. Additionally, popular support for bin Ladenism has plummeted in the Muslim world, and bad actors have been put on notice. Victory against jihadists, wherever they are, is the only living refutation of Osama bin Laden’s dreams.

Second, we’ve already tried leaving Afghanistan to rot on its own. How did that work out? We got a bona fide terrorist state that served as a training camp, safe haven, and operational base from which a successful plot against America was launched. Abandoning that country once again would be indirect suicide. If Klein doesn’t like the lay of the land now, what does he suppose that country would look like six months after the U.S. left? And when the Taliban kicks over the Karzai government and re-establishes their rule in earnest, will Klein once again direct us to the “important” struggle being neglected in Afghanistan? We are there because we can’t let a Muslim country become a terrorist state again. Pledging to “stand with India” is cute and all. But it doesn’t mean anything if we ignore the fast-moving forces conspiring to destroy us and our enemies.

Last, it seems people have forgotten that the Taliban is more than a group of mountain fighters. It is a barbaric organization of bottomless stupidity and cruelty. Under the Taliban’s rule, Afghan females were cradle-to-grave prisoners. And theirs was no ordinary prison. Public stoning executions, beatings, organized rapes, clitorectomies, and auctioning off to elderly male relatives were the order of the day. It is no small achievement that in the wake of the U.S. invasion, Afghanis freely elected the country’s first female governor. How does Joe Klein envision her fate under a reconstituted Taliban government? Our ethical mandate for staying simply could not be stronger.

The real question is: why should we leave Afghanistan? Oh yeah, I forgot, because wars are hard to win.

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