June 27, 2005

Pro-Therapy and Understanding

In the wake of this puerile Michael Barone column, just one more point about Karl Rove and Afghanistan. Rove's big attack on liberal groups like MoveOn.org, etc., is that they weren't prepared to pummel the Taliban after 9/11—and despite Eli Pariser's dancing around the point, I'm willing to believe that was the case. Fine. In this case, MoveOn was wrong; invading Afghanistan as quickly as possible seems in retrospect the right thing to do: it disrupted al-Qaeda's operations, and it ended up being good for the people of Afghanistan—despite Bush's initial and very vehement insistence that the war on terror would not be about "nation building," it became, in fact, about nation building, which in this instance was good and proper.

But what's forgotten here is that it was also a tremendously good thing to have some people, even a tiny minority, who were digging in their heels against invasion, people who were worried about mass casualties and collateral damage. The U.S. military, to a large extent, went out of its way to avoid civilian casualties during Operation Enduring Freedom. There were horrific accidents, like that much-cited wedding party assault, but our soldiers were far, far more delicate about their bombing raids and attacks than virtually any military has ever been against any country ever. There was no "Highway of Death" as there was during the first Gulf War. For that, I think, you do have to credit the antiwar movement in part, which hamstrung the military in a positive way, and levied a great deal of humanitarian counterforce against the unending beat the war drums during those early days in the "war on terror."

People like to complain that the United States is hampered in its wars and operations because we have to be so delicate, we have to abide by the rules of war, we can't just raze villages and torture whoever we want whenever we want. (Obviously that happens, and it should, but overall there's a lot of restraint here.) But not only is this a good thing from a moral standpoint, it's a good thing strategically as well. During the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the consensus in the CIA was that the Russians wouldn't get bogged down in a Vietnam-style quagmire because they weren't bound by decency or moderation—they could smash whatever they wanted. Those quagmire predictions turned out to be false, and they were false because the Soviets were so ruthless. (Well, that and the mujahideen were being armed rather handsomely by rogue elements of the CIA.) Point is: the liberals edgy about war immediately after 9/11 may have been wrong, but the pressure they were putting on those who were right was essential. Perhaps it makes good political sense for "moderate" Democrats to turn and denounce our hand-holding Kumbaya brethren on the far left. Personally, I'd rather not be embarrassed by them, and acknowledge that even if the peaceniks shouldn't be running the Pentagon—and won't ever be—they still play a crucial role in any healthy democracy. And I say that as someone who's pretty obviously not a peacenik.
-- Brad Plumer 7:10 PM || ||