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Afghanistan

Dethroning the Taliban and Saddam Hussein Were the Right Things to Do

by D.J. McGuire

As Peggy Noonan set off the latest round of arguments on the right between Never-Trumpers and anti-anti-Trumpers over recent political history, one critical part of Noonan’s argument has been ignored – her casual assertion that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were “a historic foreign-policy catastrophe.”

Most Never Trumpers who defended those wars have ignored or grudgingly accepted the premise of the accusation, especially where Iraq is concerned. Indeed, by my count, there may be only six of us left who still recognize that liberating Iraq from Ba’athism was the right thing to do (UPDATE: Hussain Haqqani – the former Pakistani Ambassador to the US cited below, makes it seven).

We’re still right, though, and in saying otherwise, my fellow Never Trump Conservatives risk ceding the field to Trump-apologists in foreign policy.

It’s easy to look at Iraq today – with its corruption-riddled government, inefficiencies, and precarious geopolitical position between the U.S. and Iran – and assume things must have been better when Saddam Hussein kept the country off the front pages … unless one remembers that Saddam Hussein did no such thing. He killed hundreds of thousands of his own people invading Iran. Those who survived the war had to deal with purges and state terror that took at least another quarter of a million lives. It was no accident that Ba’athist Iraq was called “The Republic of Fear.”

I’m not saying human rights abuses are itself a reason to liberate a nation by force. However, those who would make that argument ignore Saddam’s repeated support for terrorism and desire to arm himself with ever more dangerous weaponry.

While the WMD issue has crowded out our collective memory, we shouldn’t forget how Saddam’s regime was trying to build ties to al-Qaeda, posthumously subsidizing Palestinain suicide bombers, and Islamicizing itself to the point where its henchmen transitioned seemlessly to al Qaeda in Iraq and then ISIS. We’ve seen what ISIS has done over the last several years. Now imagine ISIS running all of Iraq, and with a $10 million North Korean missile assembly line (which Pyongyang never delivered only because of “too much American scrutiny” in the run-up to the liberation).

I would also note that within months of Saddam being knocked out of power, Libya openly renounced its WMD programs and even the mullahcracy of Iran hit pause on its own nuclear-weapons development. Quite the coincidence.

When Operation Iraqi Freedom was first launched, its critics (usually, but not exclusively, on the left) cited the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan as a reason that the Iraq war was a mistake. These days, they no longer hide behind the Afghan war, lumping them both together as errors. If anything, this should make it clear their arguments against both wars are wrong.

Afghan war critics these days try to separate the Taliban and al Qaeda, as if the former were as much a victim of the latter as the rest of us (Tulsi Gabbard most famously did this in a riposte to Tim Ryan during a Democratic presidential debate last year). For Afghans, however, this has been a distinction without a difference. As Javid Ahmad and Husain Haqqani noted last year:

The unvarnished reality on the ground is that al-Qaeda remains an important factor in the Taliban insurgency. The two terrorist groups are codependent allies, and their partnership endured for nearly 23 years. Currently, the Taliban serves as the primary partner for AQIS, al-Qaeda’s regional affiliate, and almost all other terrorist groups operating in Afghanistan.

The alliance is grounded in mutual cooperation, driven by common jihadist obligation, ideology and a shared hatred for the United States.

An estimated 300 al-Qaeda militants, embedded in Taliban units, target U.S. and Afghan forces and regard the Taliban emir as the true leader of the faithful. In many Taliban units, it is often difficult to distinguish Taliban commanders from al-Qaeda ones.

The two groups enjoy multiple layers of top-down linkages, where decision-making is centralized but military activities are mostly decentralized. The alliance is further tightened by intermarriages, and al-Qaeda members often serve as religious mentors and instructors to the Taliban fighters.

The idea that al-Qaeda died with Osama bin Laden – and with it our need to be in Afghanistan – is simply wrong. Leaving Afghanistan without the destruction of the Taliban and of al Qaeda is not “ending the war.” It is losing the war. It would also lead terrorists around the world to re-evaluate the strength of the United States. If committing a 9/11-style attack means little more than hiding out for a couple decades while America exhausts itself….

Ceding the rhetorical ground to Trump in Iraq and in Afghanistan is not only a policy mistake, but a political one as well.

One nearly universal problem Never Trump Conservatives have with Trump is his isolationism. It pervades everything he does; it is a cause and an effect of his personal ignorance of the world around him; it is a gift to enemies of freedom; and it fuels his white supremacism.

However, like all isolationists before him, he hides its darkness behind vague promises to stop “endless wars.” Any Republican or conservative critic of him (and more than a few Democratic ones) find their earlier support for liberating Iraq and/or Afghanistan thrown back in their faces.

Those of us who still believe those wars are just have some questions of our own for the president.

  • Does he still think the Taliban is worthy of an invitation to Camp David?
  • What leads him to think the Taliban and al Qaeda will cease attempting more 9/11-style attacks against us, given that you have shown them they can simply wait America out?
  • Is he hoping that his fealty to Vladimir Putin will lead him to hold back the Taliban, with whom the Kremlin has recently allied?
  • Is he saying we would be better off with an ISIS-like regime controlling all of Iraq?
  • What would he have done to prevent Saddam Hussein from underwriting suicide bombers in Israel and stockpiling missiles built with North Korean know-how?
  • What incentives would Gaddafi have had to end his own WMD ambitions without the Iraqi example?

Trump will likely respond to these questions with bluster and ignorance, but the American people deserve to have answers – or to know that the incumbent president asking for re-election doesn’t have any.

Trump’s critics have spent too long deflecting Trump’s rants about these conflicts. We should respond with a full-throated defense of our efforts to protect America, our allies, and oppressed peoples from tyrannical terrorists. It’s the right thing to do and the politically wise thing to do.

If Trump’s Cancelled Meeting with the Taliban Makes You Angry…

by D.J. McGuire

If you saw the President tweet about his plans to meet with the Taliban at Camp David and it angered you, that meant you recognized the Taliban as the enemy. That’s a good thing.

If you marveled at his naiveté in thinking we could make peace with the shelterers and allies of al Qaeda, than you and I are in agreement here. That’s a good thing.

If you responded to this by insisting – to yourself or to anyone else – “But the Taliban are terrorists” – then you recognize that they must be defeated, period. That is a good thing.

If you accept the logical conclusion that we cannot truly negotiate with the Taliban and expect anything but a complete de facto surrender to them, then you recognize we need to recommit to defeating them and bringing Afghanistan permanently into the democratic world. That isn’t simple, but it is a good thing.

If you recognize that we need to bring Afghanistan permanently into the democratic world, then you recognize we need to acknowledge our mistakes (letting Hamid Karzai steal the 2009 election is one of the big political ones). That, too, is a good thing.

If you recognize that the Taliban are a tough enemy, then you accept that the war against them must continue – its current length notwithstanding – until they are defeated. That may be difficult to accept, but it is also a good thing.

If, by contrast, you cannot bring yourself to accept that commitment – if you’d rather the war just “end” – then Trump inviting the Taliban to Washington to sign a “peace” deal is the inevitable alternative. That is not a good thing.

If, however, you are ready to accept the hard truth from which your outrage flows – that defeating the Taliban and liberating Afghanistan are right and necessary things to do – then you must ensure both the president and his would-be Democratic challengers know it, too. You must make clear that any promise to “end the war” without winning it is, in fact, losing it. You must remind Biden, Sanders, Warren, et al, that any claim to be the antithesis of Donald Trump is badly undermined if they agree with his isolationism in Afghanistan, and that would not be a good thing.

If you really, truly, are upset by what the president nearly did, you will want to make sure neither he nor his successor try to do it again, for that would not be a good thing at all.

If that anger, disappointment, and frustration are still with you, then you know the war in Afghanistan must be won rather than ended. That won’t be easy, but it is a good thing.

D.J. McGuire – a self-described progressive conservative – has been part of the More Perfect Union Podcast since 2015. He is also a contributor to Bearing Drift.

Appeasing the Taliban Is a Bad Idea

by D.J. McGuire

I understand that there are very few of us left who still place a priority on defeating the Taliban in Afghanistan. I further understand that none of those few are anywhere near the president. That doesn’t change the fact that the president and those who are near him are wrong to be entering an agreement with the Taliban that the latter will almost certainly break in the re-conquest of the country if – and, sadly, when – American troops leave.

Trump himself announced in his latest State of the Union that he wanted out of Afghanistan. He used the common – albeit understandable – trope of timing (Politico): “We do know that after two decades of war, the hour has come to at least try for peace.”

He went off the rails, however, with this assertion: “And the other side would like to do the same thing.”

The “other side,” of course, is the Taliban: the shelterers of Osama bin Laden, allies of his al Qaeda, and de factojailers of the Afghan people from 1996 to 2001. Much of rural Afghanistan still suffers under their reign.

Many isolationists and realists will insist that last part is not really relevant. They will say how a regime treats its own people shouldn’t matter. They couldn’t be more wrong. Tyrannical regimes have always chafed by comparison with the United States and its fellow democracies. In the 21st Century, they have found it easier to team up against us and – in the case of Vladimir Putin – attack our democracy itself. Allowing the tyrants another victory – even a small one – is deeply unwise absent a major benefit to American interests.

Moreover, the developing “deal” with the Taliban not only provides no such benefit, but is based on a ridiculous lie, as Thomas Joscelyn and Bill Roggio noted in Politico.

As the United Nations Security Council found in two recent reports, al-Qaida and the Taliban remain “closely allied” and their “long-standing” relationship “remains firm.” Al-Qaida’s leaders still view Afghanistan as a “safe haven,” and their men act like a force multiplier for the insurgency, offering military and religious instruction to Taliban fighters. Indeed, al-Qaida is operating across multiple Afghan provinces, including in areas dominated by the Taliban.

In short, any claim that the Taliban has ended or will end its alliance with al Qaeda is folly. The perpetrators of the 9/11 attack are just as tied to the Taliban now as then. Any “deal” would be as useless as the Munich 1938 deal.

I suspect none of that matters to the Administration. They are far more interested in ending the war than in winning it – a mistaken view that is certainly not limited to the president, or to his faction, or even to his party. America isn’t used to long wars. It’s lone experience with them in the 20th century was Vietnam. Yet both there and in Afghanistan, the assumption that a war could be limited only limited the prospect for victory. The Taliban still think America can be beaten. They’re looking increasingly correct.

The long-term affect for America could be devastating. The alliance that launched the most deadly attack on American soil could end up in exactly the same position a mere two decades after the attack. The message would be unmistakable: the United States is no longer willing to defeat its enemies, no matter how badly those enemies strike.

Or, as a certain president remarked: “We don’t win anymore.”

I’m not saying it will be easy to defeat the Taliban; I’m not saying it will be quick. I’m not even saying that military force is the only tool to use; in time, it may not even be an efficient one. I am saying that the Taliban is not a partner in peace, but an enemy, and that our priority must be defeating them – for the sake of Afghanistan, for our sake, and for the sake of everyone in between.

D.J. McGuire – a self-described progressive conservative – has been part of the More Perfect Union Podcast since 2015. He is also a contributor to Bearing Drift.

You Just Might Be a Nazi (Ep. 114)

On this episode of The More Perfect Union podcast, the gang talks about rise of Nazis on the streets of America, the ousting of Steve Bannon from Pennsylvania Avenue, continuing dysfunction in the Trump Administration, and what the new Afghanistan war policy may be.

Like what you heard? Subscribe on iTunes and don’t miss a podcast! 

And if you like talking politics, join us in our Facebook political debate group, OPEN FIRE, where you can discuss news and politics with Kevin, D.J., Greg, Rebekah, Cliff, Molly, Helena, and lots of other smart, fun people.

Mother Of All Bombs (Ep. 92)

Episode 92 of The More Perfect Union podcast looks at Trump’s potential plays in Syria, Korea, and the Fed. (And which one he’s likely to nuke first.) Then the gang has some laughs over Sean Spicer’s most recent verbal gaffes and shares their thoughts on the airline industry in light of the United Airlines passenger ejection assault.

Like what you heard? Subscribe on iTunes and don’t miss a podcast! 

And if you like talking politics, join us in our Facebook political debate group, OPEN FIRE, where you can discuss news and politics with Kevin, D.J., Greg, Rebekah, Cliff, Molly, Helena, and lots of other smart, fun people.