October 26th, 2009 2:20 pm
I was embedded with our troops in Afghanistan only briefly in 2008 and went out on only a single three-day mission with them in order to write this article for City Journal. I in no way felt I became an expert on the country or the war. But I did, of course, do extensive research before writing the piece and felt by the time I was done like a well-informed citizen who, like any citizen, was entitled to my opinion.
My opinion was this: when then-candidate Barack Obama told his adoring throngs that Iraq was a war of choice that had taken our attention and resources away from the necessary war in Afghanistan, he had gotten things almost exactly backwards. The war in Iraq had overthrown a dangerous tyrant poised to acquire weapons of mass destruction the moment UN Sanctions were lifted, as they soon would have been. It had established a bulwark of nascent democracy between the Mad Hatters in Iran and Syria. And it had inspired stirrings of freedom-yearning in Iran and Lebanon. President George W. Bush had been right to go in, right to stick with it, right to win.
The Afghanistan conflict, on the other hand, could have no similar conclusion. While it had been necessary to destroy the Taliban’s terrorist training grounds, there was never a possibility of establishing a free nation in that wilderness of tribes and ancient tribal enmities—not, anyway, at a price in blood and treasure the American people were willing to pay. To me, Afghanistan was, at best, a staging ground from which to harry and destroy Islamic extremists in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and, most especially, to keep the bad guys from getting their hands on Pakistan and its nukes.
Maybe I was wrong. Maybe Obama was wrong. But one of us has to come up with a policy fast–and guess what: it isn’t me.