Tuesday, October 03, 2006


Did Al Qaeda or Bush Start the War in Afghanistan?

A reader says, "I was under the impression that Al Qaeda started the war in Afghanistan. Something about crashing jetliners into skyscrapers." This in response to my statement that, "The new, 21st Century Republicans started two wars, Afghanistan and Iraq."

Thanks for taking the time to comment on my blog. You have a legitimate point to make, though I feel you could have made it better.

If I took your comment at face value, it would be like saying "Oklahoma declared war on the United States when Tim McVeigh blew up 195 of our people." But I will try to respect what you meant.

Given the tolerance the Taliban had for Osama and his minions, the case for going to war in Afghanistan was pretty strong. That being said, it's crystal clear that the Taliban is not the same thing as Afghanistan; and, of course, Osama and his followers are not native to that country. If we are to win, we must be clear about the facts and not blur important distinctions for the sake of scoring rhetorical points. Neither Afghanistan nor the Afghan people attacked the United States.

I urge you to think, write and speak clearly, long-term and strategically; our enemies do.

Try thinking through the purpose and operation of terrorism. It is not simply a blind outpouring of hatred; it has its own "think tanks," sophisticated logic and ideology. The September 11th attack proves the danger of underestimating the enemy.

We chose our response to the attack on September 11, and we chose war. We could have responded by narrowly focusing on Al Qaeda, the gang that instigated the attack. Instead, we invaded. Given the facts on the ground, that is, that a narrow retaliation like the cruise missle strike Clinton ordered during his term would most likely fail, war to rout the Taliban and Al Qaeda was logical.

Of course, from a larger, strategic perspective, the issue is more problematic. One of the certain consequences of war is to make more enemies. This calculation, incidentally, is the logic that drives genocides.

The purpose of terror tactics, briefly, is not merely to strike terror in the heart of the enemy. In fact, history shows that a people's resolve is strengthened during a struggle; so long as hope of eventual victory remains, people will keep on fighting. No, the purpose of terror is to provoke an overwhelming and disproportionate response that harms innocents. The aggrieved innocents then become the enemies of the one struck by terror, and allies of the terrorists. This is why the national intelligence estimate says that the war in Iraq has actually made us less safe.

We must understand history, politics and look at how other movements have succeeded or failed. Our enemies do. At this point, it would be most illuminating to examine the French experience in Algeria. (Here: http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0PBZ/is_4_85/ai_n15674586)

I think it is important that we explore whether or not agreement on the facts is possible as part of working together towards making us and the world safer.

So, yes, there is a sense in which you can say Al Qaeda started the war; just as you can say the United States fell into the trap and continues to respond according to Osama's plan.

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Interesting post.
It is good to be reminded that we need to take care with our language because the consequences of misrepresenting something/someone can be huge.
Hi, Mike.
Try this one. The government of Afganistan, led by the Taliban, and in conjunction with Al Qaeda, started this war?
No, can't swallow that one. A review of the history shows that the relationship between Al Qaeda and the Taliban was quite complex. They were very afraid of each other. I am not aware of any evidence directly implicating the Taliban in any specific terrorist plot against the U.S. Of course, the point is well taken that they provided a safe haven to Al Quaeda and were aware of the goals of the movement.

But, the original point stands: think clearly and precisely about the enemy; do not allow rage and hate to distort the facts. When you blur an important distinction, you distort vital truth. We must attain the most accurate picture of our enemy if we are to defeat him. Otherwise, we will continue to be outwitted.
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