Former Secretary of State Condi Rice says “If you want another terrorist attack in the U.S., abandon Afghanistan.” One might hang this on her. But that wouldn’t make sense since it’s the assumption that supports our entire Afghanistan policy.
I should say upfront that I was one of those many people who thought, for much of the last decade, that one of the many problems with our involvement in Iraq was that it distracted us from a more serious fight in Afghanistan.
I don’t know now whether that was flawed thinking then or whether there’s just so much water under the bridge now that it’s a different situation. Indeed, I wonder sometimes whether the still relatively broad support for our Afghan policy among Democratic policy types and politicians isn’t a matter of remaining on a mental autopilot from a stance that made policy but also a lot of political sense in the middle of this decade.
However that may be, the ‘safe haven’ argument just doesn’t seem to add up. The safe havens or rather the training camps in the safe havens, where so many would-be terrorists apparently did an endless stream of calisthenics on those iconic monkey bars, were neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for the 9/11 attacks. They were funded through too loosely guarded global financial networks, planned and organized in cities in Europe and executed right here in the USA. You certainly wouldn’t want the Taliban again more or less openly hosting al Qaida or bin Laden and his main associates, which would allow them to operate more openly and presumably more easily communicate with their conspirators. But even if the Taliban again ruled the country, it’s difficult to imagine that with our forces in the region and our army of drones, we’d have much problem raining down a ton of ordnance the first time they really put up their head.
In other words, we may or may not be safer than we were ten years ago. But surely the situation in Afghanistan and the organization of al Qaeda is very different.
I don’t feel like I have a clear idea of what the proper way forward is in Afghanistan. But the rationale for what we’re doing doesn’t seem to pass much serious scrutiny.
Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.