Posted on July 26, 2021
We're all Ilhan Omar now
In a March 2019 speech to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D, Minn.) referenced the 9-11 attacks by saying, "some people did something." The Somali-born congresswoman was widely denounced for that trivialization, but how much does it really differ from the general attitude of the American people?
President Biden is now carrying out the policy that was advocated by his two immediate predecessors, which is to "end" the war in Afghanistan, without regard for its outcome. Public reactions to his decision have, for the most part, ranged from approval to resignation. Even many of those who should know better have been reticent to criticize the feckless order. Bill O'Reilly throws up his hands over the Afghans' apparent unwillingness to defend their own country. K.T. McFarland, the Reagan-era Pentagon spokeswoman who served as Deputy National Security Advisor for President Trump, is willing to yield to the Taliban on the basis that nation-building never works. Both of these critiques are fatuous.
O'Reilly's remarks would make perfect sense if our mission in Afghanistan had been to protect the Afghan people from the Taliban. They become nonsensical as soon as you remember that the war is being fought for our own national interests. For our sake, we needed to depose the Taliban, and never again let them return to power. There are only two circumstances under which we should be willing to withdraw. Either we pursue the Taliban into Pakistan and stamp them out, a move that would risk the possibility of nuclear warfare, or else we maintain a small force in Afghanistan to repeatedly swat down the Taliban whenever they arise. To pull out even as the Taliban are attacking and gaining ground against the Afghan forces should never have been an option. If the Afghans are still incapable of defending their country against the Taliban, that should be taken as a compelling argument for our continued presence there, not for our withdrawal.
As for McFarland, she surely ought to realize that her contention is plainly false. Nation-building is not an enviable task, but there are obvious examples of it working, even in our nation's relatively brief history of foreign conflicts. Our nation-building efforts indisputably succeeded in Germany and Japan. They eventually did so in the Philippines after the Spanish-American War, and arguably in Iraq. Granted, none of these nations conducts itself today exactly as we would prefer. Nobody ever said we were going to turn Iraq into Nebraska, but things did stabilize there to the point where we were able to withdraw most of our forces, and do so victoriously.
Remember that George W. Bush also spoke against nation-building when he first ran for president in 2000, but he was referring to situations in which we needn't have gotten involved, such as in creating new nations in the Balkans, and reinstalling president Jean-Bertrand Aristide in Haiti. Nevertheless, he embarked upon nation-building efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq, because he had no other realistic options.
Once you are dedicated to regime change, you can either replace the old regime with something, or else you can leave the nation in a state of chaos. In the case of Afghanistan, in which our enemies are overthrown but not destroyed, this second option would probably lead to them returning to power, as appears to be happening now. If we were really serious about holding the Taliban accountable, our only logical course of action would be to maintain a significant military force in Afghanistan until that nation is able to stand on its own, or until the Taliban are no more.
The only way we could possibly fail to win in Afghanistan is if we quit, yet that's all anybody seems to want to do. We are said to be a war-weary nation, but the vast majority of us have gone about our lives unaware of the war on a day-to-day basis. Critics refer to the "forever war" as if it had been 20 years of continuous combat, when in fact direct military engagements have been so infrequent as to render comparisons to the durations of previous wars irrelevant. Our terrorist enemies are fully aware that they'd never survive a confrontation with the United States military. Instead, they hope to achieve victory against us softies back here on the homefront. For lazy-minded defeatists to suggest that the war in Afghanistan equals the Korean War times seven plays right into their hands.
What's really alarming is that defeatism has become a bipartisan phenomenon. We already knew the Democrats wouldn't stay on our side for long, but as the Republicans have fallen in line behind Donald Trump, many of them have come around to supporting his contention that the U.S. should never have invaded Afghanistan in the first place. What should our response to 9-11 have been, then? A tariff on rugs?
By any reasonable analysis, the terrorist group that took down the Twin Towers and the entity to which we're conceding in Afghanistan are one and the same. It was the Taliban who allowed al-Qaeda to operate in their country, and then refused to give them up to us after the fact. That's no minor point, or at least it shouldn't be. After almost 3,000 people were murdered, and Manhattan turned into a post-apocalyptic heap of smoldering rubble, the Taliban continued to harbor the perpetrators, even knowing that doing so would lead to their own expulsion. They are accessories to the 9-11 attacks, no different than if they had driven Osama bin Laden's getaway car.
Regardless of the validity of the criticisms of the post-invasion phase of the war, there's no excuse for ever allowing the Taliban to recapture their operational base. Yet this is what is being done, apparently without significant opposition among the American people. What must terrorists throughout the Islamic world be thinking? Remember that bin Laden was motivated by the weakness America showed in withdrawing from Somalia. If we now back down from an enemy that was actually complicit in an atrocity against us, do we really imagine that it will buy us peace?
There was a time when Rep. Omar's absurd understatement that "some people did something" would have been genuinely outrageous, but now she's just stating our national policy. People do things. Airplanes crash. Buildings fall. People die. Get over it.
The Shinbone: The Frontier of the Free Press