Via Patrick Barry, Max Boot offers a slightly different twist on the emboldening argument: “Just as Islamist militants were emboldened by the Soviet Union’s retreat from Afghanistan in 1989, so they would be encouraged by our premature departure from Iraq.”

This kind of thing really needs to be taken apart. Did the emboldened militants follow the Red Army home from Afghanistan? No. Rather, a few years after Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan the USSR collapsed under the weight of accumulated economic problems that had been exacerbated by the long and fruitless war in Afghanistan. Now it’s true that Osama bin Laden has been known to cite the mujahedeen’s success against the Soviets as evidence that his war on America is feasible. But to argue that Mikhail Gorbachev should have continued the occupation of Afghanistan indefinitely in order to prevent a terrorist attack in Manhattan twelve years later is absurd. In retrospect, there are a lot of things one wishes were done differently with regard to Afghanistan in the years 1989-2001 but endless Soviet occupation isn’t one of them.

Meanwhile, it continues to astound me how focused conservative thinkers are on purely subjective factors as key influences on events in the world. Does it really make sense to think that the main thing we should worry about is that al-Qaeda operatives will get bolder? (for the thousandth time, they seem pretty bold already) The Iraq War is, in an objective sense, squandering American resources and degrading the operational effectiveness of the U.S. security services while also, in an objective sense, bolstering al-Qaeda manpower. This sort of thing — the impact of our policies on the real world — seems much more important to me than the subjective emotional state of hard-core killers.