This Is Not The Iraq Debate

So just today we have word from the Wall Street Journal that Kandahar is the next battle in the Afghanistan war, which raised questions about whether the current 4000-Marine-strong fight in Helmand is, as one military official told the Journal, a "sideshow," and in the course of that piece, the Journal concluded that Gen. McChrystal thinks the Taliban is winning, which in turn prompted Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell to criticize the paper. We also have a report from the New York Times — and confirmed by the Pentagon — about a big shift in counternarcotics efforts in Afghanistan that prompted Ex to wonder, "[W]hy are we in Afghanistan? To fight drugs?" And then there’s discrepancy between an articulation of U.S. goals in Afghanistan and Andrew Cordesman’s price tag for merely avoiding disaster. Pretty big day in the Afghanistan debate, and you can hardly blame Michael Cohen for asking if the worm has started to turn in a direction away from escalation.

A friend and I were talking about something similar, and I wrote that up for the Washington Independent. Let me know if you think I’m on to something or off-base here.

The Iraq debate tore the left into factions. Did you support the war on human-rights grounds? Oppose it on realist grounds? Oppose it out of general dovishness? Support it out of post-9/11 political opportunism? Support it as a measure about WMD proliferation? Each faction wanted to make its argument into a broader critique of what liberalism meant after 9/11 and why its opposing factions had revealed an intellectual decadence within liberalism.

And Afghanistan in 2009 … isn’t that at all. One of the things that’s struck me about the Afghanistan debate — aside from how muted-to-nonexistent it is — is that no one is making an argument about what it means for liberalism. There’s a general lack of certainty on the part of those who favored the troop increase earlier this year that tends to preclude ideological arguments. 

I’m open to an argument about how any consideration of escalation in war involves a degree of implicit ideological freight, but that’s not really what I mean here. And in any case, analogies are problematic things and we should always at all times consider all such weighty questions from the perspective of their fundamental importance for the national interest. But as a meta-critique, I think this holds a degree of truth.

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Spencer Ackerman

Spencer Ackerman