There is an upsurge of hostility to the war in Afghanistan in conservative circles. Thus, the Independent Institute, an organization I have been supporting modestly but faithfully for years has a spate of statements against our anti-Taliban operations there. It’s understandable but disappointing.
Part of the reason for some conservative reserve is simply childish tit-for-tat: “You libs berated Bush about his war, in Iraq; the shoe is on the other foot and we will berate you about Obama’s war in Afghanistan.” It matters not to this mindset that it’s only Obama’s war in the trivial sense that he is not using his powers to withdraw.
The main cause of the upsurge of hostility comes from the strong libertarian component in our midst. Libertarians, by definition, dislike big government. They observe, correctly, that every war enlarges the importance and the power of government in relation to civil society, to society in general. They assert further that the taxation capability governments acquires in war time – largely with the help of the suspension of criticality occasioned by patriotism – is seldom rolled back. Thus, war means irreversible growth of the state and a corresponding shrinking of individual liberties. Hence, libertarians tend to be reflexively isolationists.
Of course, I think this is all true. However, this is only part of the story. It’s futile to ignore the concrete, short-term questions facing this country with respect to its involvement in Afghanistan. Here are three:
1 If we allow the Taliban, the same group that hosted Al Qaeda and refused to turn Bin Laden over after 9/11, to seize again Afghanistan, do we think they will not do it again? I did not make up the assertion that they are the same group. If they were not, they would have taken the trouble to call themselves something else. By the way, the Taliban top leader then is still the top leader now. If we pick up and go home, isn’t it undeniable that it communicates to our enemies the following message: “Do whatever you want to us; we will not punish you, at least, not much.” I mean by “enemies” first those who have asserted loudly that they will continue killing us because of who we are. I mean, secondarily, those who don’t quite want to blow us off the face of the earth but would enjoy seeing us much diminished.
In one word: Isn’t it the case that leaving our declared enemies alone is plain dangerous? Ben Franklin said it best, “If we make ourselves into sheep, the wolves will eat us.”
2 No one doubts that the Taliban, both in Afghanistan and in Pakistan, and Islamists in general, want to implement barbaric policies and that they do implement them whenever they have a chance. (Remember, their harsh, extremist rule in parts of Iraq contributed to turning the Sunni population against them.) Among other rolling atrocities, the Taliban close, and often firebomb schools, overwhelmingly girls schools. They are overtly working on perpetuating obscurantism and the savage treatment of women that is undeniably common in much (but not all) of the Muslim world.
If you are a conservative, can your really read the short statement above, look at yourself in the mirror and say, “ I don’t care; none of my business”?
3 Is it not the case that a return to power of the Taliban in Afghanistan would boost the morale and improves the material means of extremists Islamists in Pakistan next door. Such a development would have two unpleasant consequences, one strategic, one moral. An Islamist accession to power, or even an increase in influence of extremist Islamists in Pakistan would greatly enlarge the arsenal at the disposal of terrorists everywhere, including with portable nuclear devices. The resources of a large modern state at the disposal of those who hate us greatly threatens our existence, our democracy, and our ability to restrict the encroachments of our own government. Israel’s continued inability to deal effectively with Hezbollah, armed and trained by Iran, gives us a pretty good idea of what would happen if Islamists gained control of the much larger Pakistan.
The second consequence is this: India, facing a nuclear-armed Pakistan that it beat three times in war previously would not let Islamist terrorists come close to taking over the nuclear sites. It would probably strike pre-emptively. Hundreds of thousands would die because of our lack of enthusiasm for continuing the Afghan operation.
It’s not obvious that this chain of events would unavoidably unfold but are we willing to take the risk instead of committing the resources needed to wipe out our declared enemies in Afghanistan?
I know, I know, we are not the policeman for the world. Yet, when there is no police, armed vigilance is necessary. Would anyone argue that this vigilance is best exercised on the beaches outside San Diego, or in New Jersey, or in Chicago?
PS (9/16/09) Our NATO allies are letting us down: Germany, Canada, and soon the UK. The Canadians paid their price, as usual. The Europeans, beginning with the Germans, lack courage. Theirs are aging and decaying societies, undermined by thirty years of social democracy. Social democracy German style is Obama’s model, I believe, not Soviet communism. Peoples pay a psychological and cultural price not often discussed for living in a nanny-state. (Perhaps the topic of another posting.)
NATO binds us, the Europeans and others, in a mutual defense pact. The effeminate western Europeans pretend to have forgotten the US protected them from barbarism for forty years. Among the “others” in NATO, are the Turks. They are the ones we need in Afghanistan: very tough, uncomplaining, not wussy, and mostly Muslim. Why are they not there in large numbers?
Libertarians keep avoiding this sort of debate. They tend to respond to the kind of arguments about the necessity for extended defense I make above with straight statements of dogma. That’s one of the reasons the Libertarian Party does so badly in national elections, I will bet. There are many more libertarians outside the Libertarian Party than inside.
The liberals keep showing their childishness by keeping alive the pseudo-arguments of racism in connection with Congressman’s Wilson’s vituperation during the President’s nth health care reform speech.
Here is their logic: I yelled at a woman who allowed her dog to crap on my lawn and made no move to pick up. “You must hate women,” she asserted.You call, a black criminal a criminal, you must be a racist. You call a liar a liar, there must be some other agenda, one impossible to defend.
Congressman Wilson accused the President aloud of lying. Fact is, the President made several statements inconsistent with the truth, according to the Congressional Budget Office, among others. Whether the President lies habitually or whether he is indifferent to hard facts is a matter of debate. The first is certainly a logical possibility.
The underlying outrage concerns some imaginary “disrespect” for the President. Of course it’s disrespectful to call any man a liar to his face, and in public. Since when is there an obligation to respect the President? He is not a king by divine right. He is a politician who won because about 1% of all Americans gave him their vote which they denied to his competitor. That’s not exactly God’s mandate! Incidentally, I am not questioning the results of the elections, in spite of the support the President received from the ACORN gangsters.
In a democracy, disrespect for the President should be considered a morally mandatory attitude among citizens. The English started western democracy by beheading a king in 1688. The French followed through a hundred years later (and made a better spectacle of it, as you might expect.) Let’s remember that those were the cultural and psychological antecedents to popular sovereignty.
Yes, there are people tenuously in touch with reality on the conservative side, and extremists. Of course, such people don’t exist on the left side of the spectrum. Here is a rare exception culled from Facebook. (I will not publish the author’s name but I will give the proper references for purposes of verification to almost anyone who asks.)
“I know XXXXX. I was like finally! Go Rocky! Fight, fight! Stop trusting those fools. Hell will freeze over before they do something good fro this country. Enough is enough man. Damn. They all need to be euthanized or shot in my opinion. Something radical :)”
Note: Nothing edited except the name of the addressee which I removed. JD.