Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Since Dubya is bragging about his successes in both Iraq and Afghanistan, it's worth turning our eyes away from the success in Iraq to take a sideways glance at the other one. You know, the place where we still haven't captured the folks who actually did have something to do with the 9/11 attacks.

The latest news there is not good. The security situation continues to deteriorate, with massive bombings even in Kabul, the one place in the country that the Karzai "government" we've sponsored seems to actually control. As to the countryside, things there were already bad enough last month that Médecins Sans Frontières, famed for their work in some of the nastiest combat zones on the planet, pulled out last month when it got too hot for even them -- despite abject pleas to remain from the U.S. State Department. Most worrisome is that the group that targeted MSF and forced them out is the Taliban -- the revenant force that most Americans still assume we pushed to a final defeat quite some time ago. They have an election scheduled for October, but large regions of the country are dominated by warlords, who may not be willing to abide by the results, or even count the ballots properly. But there is good news: they've found a valuable export. Opium.

And yet, there are still folks who try to justify the attack on Iraq because we had to "do something" about the 9/11 attacks -- ignoring somehow that we already were doing something, in Afghanistan, and that job remains dangerously undone (the country unstable, the Taliban returning, and many key al-Qaeda leaders still at large) largely because of the diversion of American resources towards Iraq, which, as the 9/11 commission reports remind us, had nothing to do with the attacks on this country at all.

It's not enough to just say "we had to do something". You have to make a case why this particular thing is the right thing to do, and produce a plan that follows through on that reasoning. The "response to our attackers" case is belied by the 9/11 report. The Tom Friedman case, before the war, was to create a great stream of good news coming out of the rebuilt Iraq, which would win us friends elsewhere in the Arab world, thus taking the notion of war as "the continuation of politics by other means" to an extreme that even Clausewitz might blush at. Key to that plan would be managing the occupation successfully -- and yet, Dubya himself has acknowledged that we botched the planning for the occupation, and with vastly greater resources than Saddam had after Gulf War I, we have done far worse at restoring the infrastructure and getting people back to work, a sound propaganda defeat. (We had an insurrection to deal with, but so did Saddam -- the one that Dubya's dad encouraged in the Shiite south, and then allowed Saddam to crush). And I won't even bother with the WMD case any more; anyone who thinks that actually mattered is welcome to read this.

And yet, at the very least, a substantial fraction of American citizens believe that we need to keep our current leadership, in order to continue what even Dubya himself is now calling his record of "catastrophic success". It's enough to make you just give up on political debate -- but if you do that, you're giving up on the country.

And as ever, see Juan Cole for more perspective on pro-war rhetoric, from someone who actually knows what he's talking about...

Update: Dubya's really proud of that Afghan election -- in an interview with Rush Limbaugh, he made a point of bragging that there are now over ten million registered voters. Which is indeed remarkable, especiallhy when you consider that, as Matthew Yglesias points out, there are only 9.8 million eligible voters in the country...


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