Killing the last of my inner-neocon

PHOTO: US Soldiers in Afghanistan

On Tuesday I wrote about how I thought Obama was overly ambitious with his plans for Pakganistan. Rather than continue our military occupation of Afghanistan, I thought it would be better to continue to strike from afar at Al Qaeda bases if they pop up:

We could simply strike the terrorist bases in Afghanistan and Pakistan and leave the governing and building of those countries to the people their people. It would be a return to the saner strategy of containment that served us so well during the Cold War, rather than one of unending wars and nation building.

In the comments, Ian was concerned about the blatant violation of Pakistan and Afghanistan’s sovereignty that my plan all but assures. If the current government in Afghanistan survives our departure, we might be able to count on them to give us military access for a few years at least, but Pakistan has shown no sign of tolerating US strikes within their borders (which hasn’t stopped Obama from bombing targets inside of Pakistan anyways).

But my plan assumes something even more basic that might not true. Namely, terrorist bases in Pakganistan – or any non-US country for that matter – are a grave danger to American security. After reading this post by Matthew Yglesias, I’m not so sure anymore.

This is what Yglesias had to say:

… not only is a safe haven not necessary, it’s not sufficient either. A safe haven in the mountains in Central Asia doesn’t let you carry out a terrorist attack in the United States. You need an attacker physically located in the United States, in possession of explosives that are also physically located in the United States, in order to attack the United States. The danger is of a terrorist being here or else in someplace like Western Europe or Canada from which it’s easy to get into the United States. Recall that key action in the 9/11 plot took place not just in Afghanistan, but in Hamburg and the best governance initiative in human history is not going to make Afghanistan as orderly and prosperous as Germany.

You need to be wary of a strategic concept which implies that the security of American citizens requires the United States to achieve effective physical control over 100 percent of the world’s land area. We should be especially wary of it given that effective physical control of U.S. territory didn’t actually stop the 9/11 attackers from traveling throughout the country, learning to fly, hijacking airplanes, etc.

That seems so blindingly obvious that I’m almost ashamed that I hadn’t thought of our mission in Afghanistan that way before. ‘Almost ashamed’ because I haven’t seen anyone until now state it so clearly. For what it’s worth, I’m no longer in any way wedded to the idea that the US should commit such vast resources to sweeping all the terrorists from the mountains of Afghanistan or Pakistan. Of course no terrorists is better than some terrorists, but I think our energy would be better spent securing the United States, and working towards nuclear disarmament. Sorry neocons, we don’t agree at all anymore.


  1. Ian

    You’re right, to an extent. The only thing you are forgetting is that money and leadership can be located somewhere far away from where the attack occurs. Sure, the 9/11 hijackers had to be present in the country before performing their attacks. Osama bin Laden still was able to help orchestrate the attacks from Afghanistan.

  2. Chris

    Yes, but if we can’t even stop them *within* the US, what hope do we have of stopping them in any other country?

  3. Ian

    You’re calling for a police state. I think the idea is more to cut the head off the snake by attacking the leadership. I agree we shouldn’t be wasting time on the nobodies over there. I wouldn’t mind getting Osama though.

  4. Chris

    I’m not calling for a police state, I’m just saying that our defense dollars would be better spent on defense, rather than trying to control distant lands.