Afghanistan vs. Iraq: a vital difference
I find myself in an awkward position right now...having to defend the war in Afghanistan. As I have said many times before, I am not a pacifist. World War II was a good example of a mandatory war, a war we had to fight and win for the survival of a free humanity. I believe the conflict in Afghanistan is similar, and should not be lumped in with Iraq. Cindy Sheehan, a person whom I support and usually agree with, made this erroneous connection in her most recent DailyKos diary. I hate to say this, but she's wrong. Dead wrong.
Let's imagine what it would have been like if we had stayed out of World War II. "The Greater Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere" is a Japanese hegemony. Europe and South America are ruled by Adolph Hitler and his client Benito Mussolini. Africa is run by Hitler's Boer allies, who with Hitler's help overrun Black African governments.
The Philip Roth novel "The Plot Against America" suggested that a WWII-era Fascist takeover of the United States would be a distinct possibility thanks to a ready and willing pro-Fascist 5th Column that only needed a suitably charismatic leader. If such a leader existed, the United States might not have to be conquered. It would probably roll over willingly like Austria did. A Fascist USA would then be able to handily take over Canada. The Japanese and Nazi German Empires would then have the whole planet carved up between themselves like a Thanksgiving turkey, with willing client states ruling some of the countries and giving the appearance of home rule.
People of Jewish descent like myself would have never been born. Those alive in the '40s would have been sent to German death camps for slaughter. The Jewish people, as well as the Romany people, would be a distant memory by now, kept alive only by museums attesting to the Nazi triumph. Distinct cultures in Asia would also have been assimilated into that of Japan.
The Afghan War has been prosecuted in a half-assed, perfunctory way. It is as if G. W. Bush sent troops in there as a mere gesture to buy him the good will of the American people, to soften them up for what he really wanted to do: establish an American beachhead in Iraq to assure America plundered oil to ease us over the crisis that would come once Middle East Peak Oil was reached and Middle Eastern capacity began to shrink.
Ms. Cindy Sheehan has made a similar mistake to what G. W. Bush was hoping the American public would make. Iraq and Afghanistan are not related. Iraq had nothing to do with the attack on the World Trade Center complex on September 11th, 2001. However, by dint of sheltering and providing aid and comfort to Osama bin'Laden and the al'Qaeda organization, Afghanistan had everything to do with this horrible event.
To not challenge Afghanistan after 9/11 would be an open invitation to be attacked again on American soil by al'Qaeda. A pacifist, no war, no way, no how stance would have invited further catastrophe.
Unlike Iraq, Afghanistan was not an elective war. It was one thrust upon us by an enemy that views us in the same objectified light as the Nazis viewed Jews. They see us as "Crusaders and Zionists." They see us as "Infidels." They do not see us as fellow human beings. We are rats to be exterminated. We are a block in the way of establishment of a new Caliphate, with Osama bin'Laden as the Caliph. Never mind bin'Laden probably does not have blood ties to the line of Muhammad.
The al'Qaeda organization has the same "today [blank], tomorrow The World" perspective that Nazi Germany had. I don't think I am exaggerating when I say this. I don't think Godwin's Law is invokable in this case.
The main fly in the ointment is that unlike Nazi Germany, al'Qaeda is not tied to the policies of a single country. It is an amorphous affiliation of disaffected, mostly Arab youth. However, on September 11th, 2001, it had training camps and outposts in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. We had attacked some of these outposts after the al'Qaeda bombing of the US Embassy in Kenya. Although Bill Clinton had been accused of using the bombing as a pretext to "wag the dog" and distract from the Kenneth Starr witchhunt, history has vindicated Clinton's decision. If only the Bush administration had listened to experts within the departing Clinton administration who said that the Kenya bombing and the sinking of the USS Cole were only the prelude to something big, and something which could possibly happen on our soil. They either couldn't or willfully didn't listen. The result was 9/11.
How do you fight a war against a stateless foe? You go after those States who have given the foe aid and comfort. An organization like al'Qaeda needs home bases, needs physical presences on the ground. In the face of this there are two actions a State can take. One is to actively expel the aggressors and repudiate their cause. Another is to tolerate their existence and either passively or actively render aid and comfort.
Currently the nexus of operations of al'Qaeda is in Pakistan, in the lawless province of Waziristan. They also have presences in parts of Afghanistan dominated by the discredited Taliban regime. However, thanks to the less than zealous prosecution of the Afghan War, there has been an opportunity to decentralize al'Qaeda's operations. They have presence now in the breakaway Russian province of Chechnya. They have a presence in North Africa. They have sleeper cells in untold numbers of States, cities, towns and villages all over the world. And the US invasion of Iraq has given al'Qaeda its newest proving ground, in the Sunni-dominated provinces of Iraq.
Would they have had such a training ground had we not invaded? No way. Saddam Hussain might have made "statements of support" for al'Qaeda for public relations purposes and as a way of publically thumbing his nose at the US, but ultimately he had reason to not support them. Saddam was a secular leader, albeit one who occasionally would wrap himself in the Quran and the banner of Jihad for self-serving reasons. As a secular leader occupying the Mesopotamian plain, a region which had been part of the Islamic Empire up until the end of the Ottoman dynasty, he was in the way of the restoration of the Caliphate. Eventually, according to the dogma of al'Qaeda, he would have to be swept aside. Even Jordan, ruled by a king directly descended from Muhammad, would have to be conquered because theirs was a secular country. Only Saudi Arabia, with its strict Wahhabi-inspired Sharia law, passed muster. And even there, the "decadent" House of Saud would have to be pushed aside for a true heir of Muhammad, in spirit if not in blood. al'Qaeda wants nothing less than a Sunni Islamic theocracy covering the entire Middle East and Islamic Asia. Ultimately it wants the whole world.
War is a last choice. It has to be. It can't be entered into lightly, it has to be entered into reluctantly. No matter how careful you are, innocents die. No nation on this Earth has mastered the art of waging warfare only against "combatants." War is not surgical, it is a blunt club, even in this age of "smart bombs." And even in Afghanistan, a place where we have to be, we have waged this war badly and sloppily and too often brutally, ignoring pages and pages of International Law we are signatories to in order to "soften up" the enemy.
Would this war even happen had Gore been President during 9/11? Would 9/11 have even happened? The world will never know. However, I suspect if it had, he would have prosecuted this war in a more honorable way, and prosecuted it to win. Yes, Saddam Hussain would have probably still been lording it over Iraq. But he would still be pinned down between no-fly zones, an international pariah. Once he perished and one or both of his murderous sons took their father's place, he would also be corked up like a genie in a bottle. The mischief of this brutal dynasty would be isolated and unable to lash out at other countries. And it certainly would not be on the road to becoming a client state of the Islamic Republic of Iran, ironically another country on the al'Qaeda hit list because their Islam is not Wahhabi Sunni Islam.