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May 10, 2004


Chun the Unavoidable

Michael Berube didn't seem to like this too much, but the "incompetence" argument equally applies to the Afghanistan adventure.

Adam Kotsko

I guess I don't really understand what our other options were in that case. Was Afghanistan as optional as Iraq (that is, absolutely optional)? I'm open to the argument that it was, but I haven't seen you advance that argument so much as assume it.

Chun the Unavoidable

Policy elites have long recognized that Al-Qaeda is more powerful as an idea than as an actual organization. Bin Laden was counting on Afghanistan being devastated and occupied by the infidels, or at least a close approximation thereof, and any reasonable observer could predict that the Bush administration would most certainly, contrary to repeated claims to the contrary, "cut and run" in the most disastrous way possible there.

So, with the motivator of a new crusade, the idea of Al-Qaeda would spread. The Iraq war couldn't have been better planned from the Al-Qaeda point-of-view: removing a secular opponent and occupying an Arab country.

A saner foreign policy would have combined international military police actions against Al-Qaeda with measures designed to alleviate the conditions that cause it to be an attractive ideology.

If there had been any indication at all that sufficient resources would have been devoted to stabilizing Afghanistan and if the administration in question had not been composed of dangerous lunatics, then the war there might have been, possibly, supportable.

PZ Myers

As a long-time opponent of the war, I regret to say that I can't even smugly say, "I told you so"...because this latest catastrophe is so awful, so unimaginably horrible, that I wish it had never happened. I'd happily allow a mob of right-wingers to continue to gloat, and fence-sitters to dither, in return for what we've lost at Abu Ghraib.


My own anti-Iraq-war stance was notable only for its lack of principle: A nation with a teetering economy, a drastically weakened (and sabotaged) tax base, existing military obligations, and a volunteer force has no business starting any war that could possibly be avoided. The manifest incompetence, dishonesty, and megalomania of our current administration made disaster all the more likely, but even if the operation had been a complete success it would still be indefensible.

A heartless argument, I know, but awfully stable.


"Unimaginably horrible"? I'm sorry, PZ, but what else could anyone possibly imagine has been going on? Secrecy + lack of controls + righteousness + power = sadism all over the world.

I had a room full of guests last night who all seemed similarly surprised. I don't know where you all were raised, but it was obviously a much different place than the ones where Lt. Calley was celebrated as a martyr. (In honor of the holiday, I'll mention that my mother was a defender.)

The only really shocking thing about this story is that the American media hasn't snuffed it yet.

Adam Kotsko


You make it sound like anything short of assassinating Bush and his entire cabinent would be playing directly into bin Laden's hands. Surely something like, I don't know, the legislative branch actually taking its responsibilities seriously could have helped to avert this disaster. There's got to be some alternate universe where that would happen -- where Congress would actually hold the President accountable for how a war goes and impeach him for managing it badly. Or maybe even not just let the President arbitrarily decide we need a war in the first place.

I will never understand why 9/11 all of a sudden made people -- even smart people -- trust Bush. I'll never understand why a failure of that degree would ever lead anyone to the conclusion that the best thing to do is to give an absolutely free hand to a president of questionable legimacy, with virtually no experience or knowledge.

Now I think that I'm basically getting around to saying what you were saying.

Ralph Luker

Well, no. Clearly assassinations are not the answer. Keep in mind that they have been the problem. Nor is it necessarily the place of the legislature to hold an executive accountable when a war is going badly. Our justifiable wars at times went badly and it would have been disasterous had we not rededicated ourselves to winning them. The problem is that the war in Iraq was unnecessary, ill-conceived at the outset, badly managed throughout, and there is no "exit strategy."


Adam, I'm struck by your "some alternate universe" response --in October '01, I began saying, "I can imagine conditions under which I'd agree with everything said by supporters of the Afghan campaign, but they don't exist in this world." The idea --advocated by Free Inquiry, Democratic Left, and other progressive media-- that there were alternative ways to bring the 9-11 perps to justice was criticized by some very smart Lefties as "too utopian." I'd say the same was true of the idea that Our Leaders would achieve the goals for Afghanistan and AQ that they claimed to be pursuing.

Adam Kotsko

Just to be clear, I'm not advocating assassinating the president. I am, however, advocating impeaching him.


If people had a greater respect for the left, hadn't been conditioned by vicious conservative assaults to dismiss it out of hand and contemptuously, this war might never have happened. I'm not even that left wing myself, but I realize the necessity of an active radical movement to bring people's attention to the very real and genuine possibility that America is not automatically the good guy in any intervention we undertake.


John, I think it's fair to say that the right assumptions were not sufficiently challenged.

-That an outside power can play a decisive role in bringing democracy to a region that has neither the experience, the conditions, nor the institutions for it.

-That an outside power can do so without international legitimacy

-That one can combine realpolitik power moves with a Wilsonian war of liberation

-That Saddam created Iraq rather than the reverse

-That democracy can be spread from one country to another within a region, despite important ethnic, tribal, and religious differences among countries

-That we didn't already have the requisite "beachheads" in other areas of the Persian Gulf.


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