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Tuesday, September 01, 2009
There's been a lot of discussion on Afghanistan lately, with various commentators taking the position that (1) we should get out (George Will), (2) we should define our mission narrowly so that it can be achievable (Matt Yglesias), (3) we must "win" at all costs, even if we don't know what that means (Danielle Pletka), or any number of other arguments.

What I think of when I think of Afghanistan, however, is the old cliche about fighting the last war. I suspect that both the left and the right are doing it, and that's the reason we are stuck there without any good metrics or sense of what we are supposed to be accomplishing.

For the right, Afghanistan is a proxy for arguments about Iraq. Essentially, conservatives very much know that their foreign policy is going to be judged based on their mistakes in Iraq, and that their reputations have taken a pretty big hit. Thus, it is of great importance to them to shift the subject from the Iraq War to the advisability of the "surge", which many liberals opposed (more because they didn't trust the Bush Administration and thought it was a proxy for staying in Iraq forever, rather than because they thought the strategy itself was so terrible).

Accordingly, they want to "surge" in Afghanistan, to again demonstrate the strategic brilliance of George W. Bush and the conservative movement in taking the fight to the terrorists.

For the left, Afghanistan is also a proxy for arguments about Iraq, but in a different way. Obama dug himself in a hole by arguing that Iraq was a bad war and that we make a mistake pulling troops out of the Afghanistan effort to prepare for the Iraq War, when Al Qaeda was based in Afghanistan and had no connections to Iraq. All this was, of course, true. But that was 2002. Just because it was a good idea to continue fighting a war in Afghanistan in 2002 doesn't mean that it makes much sense to be in there in 2009, especially since Al Qaeda moved to Pakistan in the interim anyway. Liberals are using Afghanistan to show that they aren't a bunch of left-wing peaceniks, but they should be able to articulate why it made sense to be in Afghanistan in 2002 and doesn't now (just like they should have been able to articulate why it did not make sense to invade Iraq and did make sense to invade Afghanistan).

Meanwhile, exactly what benefit do we derive from continued occupation of Afghanistan? Sure, we are keeping the Taliban out of power, and I can see the humanitarian and feminist benefits of that (though it is worth noting that the Karzai government hasn't been so kind to women's rights either), but I have the old-fashioned view that the US military isn't some humanitarian outfit, especially when there are real threats out there. I just have the abiding conviction that we seem to be in there because both conservatives and liberals want to refight the last war-- meanwhile, the current one continues to result in needless loss of life and a continuing and needless drain of American resources.


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