Josh Marshall did a very thoughtful and interesting post this morning following up on some of my earlier doubts about the focus on the idea that preventing an al-Qaeda “safe haven” in Afghanistan should be the ne plus ultra of American national security policy.
Since Josh’s post will probably kick attention to this issue up a few notches, I thought I might add that I think there are other perfectly good issues for the United States to remain in Afghanistan. For one thing, I’m enough of a squish that I think “not abandoning the population of Afghanistan to civil war and Taliban rules” makes perfect sense. And it’s also very reasonable to see the situation in Afghanistan as tied in with the situation in Pakistan and to see preventing the collapse of the Pakistani state as an important American policy goal.
But if these are our real objectives, then certain things follow from that. Consider air strikes. If you define the goal as “eliminate safe havens” then maybe airstrikes that accidentally kill Afghan civilians aren’t that big a deal. By contrast, if we’re there to help Afghan civilians, then killing Afghan civilians is a very big deal.