… who exactly are Al Qaeda now, and where are they located? In many ways the Vietnam War, though of an atrociousness the Afghanistan War has not yet approached, was pursued by the U.S. obedient to a much sounder theory than any offered for the present war. The theory was that World Communism was all one thing and its spread to a single country would lead inevitably to its spread to a continent. The theory turned out to be false; and its falseness was perceived as early as 1964 by critics of the war such as Hans J. Morgenthau. But what are we doing in Afghanistan but following an inferior and less persuasive version of a similar theory: namely that World Terrorism is all one thing, that its heart is in Afghanistan (because that is where we found it), and that if we don’t “defeat” it soon by “completing the mission,” the terror will stay and spread.
Omitted is the fact that Afghanistan is not our country. Admittedly, this is a truth that comes hard to Americans. “The very idea of the fabrication of a new government,” wrote Edmund Burke, “is enough to fill us with disgust and horror.” But David Brooks disagrees: “aside from killing bad guys,” he wrote in the spring, American troops are “also trying to figure out how to reweave Afghan society.” By what right do we engage in the reweaving and refabrication of a society that has thrown out conquerors for thousands of years? The effect of the self-conceit can only be to unite the society in hostility against us. For America to look on the native resistance to an occupying army as proof of terrorism will surely increase the obduracy of the resistance itself, and serve to recruit more terrorists.
Our war in the border regions is being fought by drone assassinations. A man at the control sits in front of a screen in Las Vegas, and fires when he has a certain shot. To a primitive mind (but not only to a primitive mind), this experiment on a country not our own has the trappings a video game played in hell. But the procedure was here embraced by the president in the antiseptic idiom of a practiced technocrat. He gave no sign of the effects of such killings by a foreign power out of reach in the sky. To assassinate one major operative, Baitullah Mehsud, as Jane Mayer showed in a recent article in the New Yorker, 16 strikes were necessary, over 14 months, killing a total of as many as 538 persons, of whom 200-300 were bystanders. What comes of the reputation of policemen in a crime-ridden neighborhood when they conduct themselves like that? And what makes anyone suppose the reaction will be less extreme when the policeman comes from another country? And yet, from the president’s West Point speech, one would not guess that he has reflected what our mere presence in West Asia does to increase the enchantment of violent resistance and to heat the anger that turns into terrorists people who have lost parents, children, cousins, clansmen, and friends to the Americans. The total number of Muslims killed by Americans in revenge for the attacks of September 11th now numbers more than a hundred thousand. Of those, few were members of Al Qaeda, and few harbored any intention, for good or ill, toward the United States before we crossed the ocean as an occupying power. [continued…]