‘Just To Show ‘Em!’ Is Not An Acceptable Casus Belli

Bret Stephens offers one of the worst reasons yet for staying in Afghanistan:

In 1979 the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. A little less than a decade later, the Soviets left, humiliated and defeated. Within months the Berlin Wall fell and two years later the USSR was no more. Westerners may debate whether credit for these events belongs chiefly to Mikhail Gorbachev, Ronald Reagan, Pope John Paul II, Charlie Wilson or any number of people who stuck a needle in the Soviet balloon. But in Islamist mythology, it was Afghan and Arab mujahedeen who brought down the godless superpower. And if one superpower could be brought down, why not the other?

Put simply, it was the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan that laid much of the imaginative groundwork for 9/11. So imagine the sorts of notions that would take root in the minds of jihadists — and the possibilities that would open up to them — if the U.S. was to withdraw from Afghanistan in its own turn.

There’s no doubt that a movement’s own self-glorifying mythology can induce it to attempt some pretty crazy things — consider, for instance, how neoconservatives’ comic book Reaganism led to the Iraq war — but it’s wrong to pretend that Al Qaeda’s beliefs about America are only served by America withdrawing from Afghanistan. As with Iraq, Al Qaeda and its affiliates already treat the American-led occupation of Afghanistan, and all of the brutality that a foreign military occupation inevitably entails, as an affirmation of their claim that America and its allies are at war with all Muslims. That’s the thing about propaganda: It’s propaganda. Needless to say, stopping people from making wild claims about the United States is not a sufficient pretext for engaging in prolonged occupations of foreign countries.