Thursday, December 16, 2010


One of the few things I disagree with President Obama about--but it's a big thing--is his continuation and, indeed, escalation of the war in Afghanistan. The president has had difficult decisions to make about the war. His current strategy in Afghanistan is justifiable; I just happen to think it's wrong and counterproductive. 

Rather than spout my own opinions about the war, let me instead quote from an interview Bill Moyers had with Professor Andrew Bacevich on public television last spring. Bacevich graduated from West Point, was in the army for 23 years, served in Vietnam, got a PhD from Princeton, and is now a highly regarded professor of history and international relations at Boston University. His son was killed in the Iraq war. When Bacevich speaks about the war in Afghanistan, he is much better informed, both intellectually and emotionally, than I could ever be. Below is a small excerpt from what he said last spring. He speaks for me. (Here's the link to the full interview.)

ANDREW BACEVICH: Well, we don't learn from history. And there is this persistent, and I think almost inexplicable belief that the use of military force in some godforsaken country on the far side of the planet will not only yield some kind of purposeful result, but by extension, will produce significant benefits for the United States. I mean, one of the obvious things about the Afghanistan war that is so striking and yet so frequently overlooked is that we're now in the ninth year of this war.

It is the longest war in American history. And it is a war for which there is no end in sight. And to my mind, it is a war that is utterly devoid of strategic purpose. And the fact that that gets so little attention from our political leaders, from the press or from our fellow citizens, I think is simply appalling, especially when you consider the amount of money we're spending over there and the lives that are being lost whether American or Afghan.

BILL MOYERS: But President Obama says, our purpose is to prevent the Taliban from creating another rogue state from which the jihadists can attack the United States, as happened on 9/11. Isn't that a strategic purpose?

ANDREW BACEVICH: I mean, if we could wave a magic wand tomorrow and achieve in Afghanistan all the purposes that General McChrystal [since replaced by Gen. Petraeus) would like us to achieve, would the Jihadist threat be substantially reduced as a consequence? And does anybody think that somehow, Jihadism is centered or headquartered in Afghanistan? When you think about it for three seconds, you say, "Well, of course, it's not. It is a transnational movement."

BILL MOYERS: They can come from Yemen. They can come from—

ANDREW BACEVICH: They can come from Brooklyn. So the notion that somehow, because the 9/11 attacks were concocted in this place, as indeed they were, the notion that therefore, the transformation of Afghanistan will provide some guarantee that there won't be another 9/11 is patently absurd. Quite frankly, the notion that we can prevent another 9/11 by invading and occupying and transforming countries is absurd.

BILL MOYERS: In this context, then, what do we do about what is a real threat, from people who want to kill us, the Jihadists. What do we do about that?

ANDREW BACEVICH: First of all, we need to assess the threat realistically. Osama bin Laden is not Adolf Hitler. Al-Qaeda is not Nazi Germany. Al-Qaeda poses a threat. It does not pose an existential threat. We should view Al-Qaeda as the equivalent of an international criminal conspiracy. Sort of a mafia that in some way or another draws its energy or legitimacy from a distorted understanding of a particular religious tradition.

And as with any other international criminal conspiracy, the proper response is a police effort. I mean, a ruthless, sustained, international police effort to identify the thugs, root out the networks and destroy it. Something that would take a long period of time and would no more succeed fully in eliminating the threat than the NYPD is able to fully eliminate criminality in New York City.


  1. This is a test comment

  2. Good to find your blog Ed. I will follow along. I agree that this war Obama has inherited is fruitless and painful. I wonder why it takes so long for our leaders to pull out.
    Now I will go back to shouting at the television....