Monday, December 06, 2004

Kevin Drum, piggybacking on Peter Beinart, says:

If the Taliban's refusal to hand over Osama bin Laden after 9/11 wasn't enough to justify military action, I'm not sure what is — and I think it's fair to say that anyone who loudly opposed the Afghanistan war is just flatly opposed to any use of American military power at all.

That's ridiculous. The issue with that war and any other war isn't simply whether it's "justifiable." And opposition to George Bush's War in Afghanistan does not imply that someone was "flatly opposed to any use of American military power at all."

Obviously 9/11 required some response. Our sandbox logic told us that response would have to be a military one. Symbolic revenge and all. We had to go blow some shit up. But, that doesn't mean there weren't other possible better ways to deal with the problem.

Am I arguing that on balance I think the Afghanistan war was "wrong?" Honestly, I don't even know enough to answer that question. I supported it at the time, even though I had justifiable misgivings about the details, but the question isn't whether it was "justified" in some simplistic sense- it's whether we achieved desirable and necessary aims at a minimum of cost which couldn't otherwise be achieved.

This New Republican desire to marginalize the peaceniks is simply the identical logic and rhetoric which led them to be marginalized during the march to Iraq. We see how well that worked out. The peaceniks weren't necessarily right on Afghanistan, and while I was an Iraq peacenik it wasn't necessarily the case at the time that I was right. However, in both cases the country would have been better served if we'd had a wider and more comprehensive debate on the goals, wisdom, purpose, methods, and post-conflict planning than we did.

Opposition to the war in Afghanistan was in fact a legitimate position, even if it was the wrong position, and could have been an honest position by people who weren't simply knee-jerk anti-war, or america-haters, or people who, like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, thought we got what we deserved on 9/11, or anything else. People may have thought there were better ways to punish those responsible and to combat terrorism, whether or not they were correct.

The consequence of marginalizing all such sentiments, or reducing them to caricatures, is that we never have a decent conversation about what we're doing. Acknowledging that there are almost always other options than war is one way to ensure that we understand more fully the consequences of those wars. War should be the last option, not the first one, almost no matter what. I don't say this because I'm a peacenik, but because war is fucking expensive in blood and treasure and has a lot of unintended consequences.

In Iraq, the debate was reduced to "either you want a homocidal dictator to have weapons of mass destruction or you don't." In Afghanistan it was reduced to "either you support the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11 or you don't." Whether or not either war was the correct course of action, the marginalization of more nuanced opinions did our country and the people of their countries a great disservice.

Was there a better way to deal with Afghanistan? I don't know, but we would have been well-served, not ill-served, had we had that conversation.

Final thought: who should be considered more worthy of marginalization? Those who cautioned against a just war, or those who supported an unjust and increasingly catastrophic one. Whatever the ultimate outcome of our Afghanistan conflict (which, by the way, is still going on), I submit it's quite likely a decision to not go to war there would have had far fewer negative consequences than our decision to go to war in Iraq.

...additional troll repellent: The point is that the right question is not "did 9/11 justify war" the right question is "was the way the Bush administration went to war, and all of its consequences, better than the next best option." Unless we have a conversation about the next best option before the fact, and an honest accounting of the consequences after the fact, we can never actually know that. "Taliban bad, al Qaeda bad, therefore the only possibile course of action is the Bush/Rumsfeld battle plan" is rather stupid thinking.