Going Extreme

David Shorr reminds us that there’s more to be said about Jeffrey Goldberg’s New Yorker article than I’d gotten to previously. For example, Goldberg notes that “Polls also show that a sizable minority of Democrats now feel that the war in Afghanistan was a mistake–thirty five per cent.” Peter Beinart cites a similar poll to likewise make the point that liberals have become crazed peaceniks. Goldberg would, however, do well to provide some analysis of the substantive question.

From where I sit, this comes down to a slightly semantic issue. If by “the war in Afghanistan” we mean something like the general idea of a war aimed at deposing the Taliban leadership and killing or capturing key al-Qaeda figures then, no, the war wasn’t a mistake. If, however, by “the war in Afghanistan” we mean the actually existing war in Afghanistan then it clearly does look like a mistake. After all, to a remarkable degree the administration managed not to accomplish its objectives. Most al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders survived, they continue to enjoy safe haven in portions of Afghanistan and Pakistan (albeit smaller portions than they once did), and for a couple of years now the Taliban has been successfully reasserting itself in its core areas while the Karzai government is failing to stabilize or control any substantial portion of the country.

Now, if a pollster ever calls me and asks “was the war in Afghanistan a mistake” I’ll say “no” because I understand how these things are interpreted. But I think there’s a clear sense in which it was a mistake. Certainly, mistakes were made. I think this Project on Defense Alternatives report on Operation Enduring Freedom ultimately goes too far in terms of pure Monday morning quarterbacking but it certainly raises a lot of good issues and I don’t see how anyone could deny that very serious mistakes have been made in Afghanistan that have substantially undermined the rationale for the war.