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We Who Are About to Bug Out Salute You

The liberal habit of sanctimonious betrayal, from Reconstruction to Afghanistan.

May 14, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 33 • By SAM SCHULMAN
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The Taliban, as it were, mugged for the cameras. As al Qaeda was planning and training for 9/11, the Western media and the U.N. were transfixed by the Taliban’s announced plan to destroy the beautiful Buddha statues of Afganistan’s Bamiyan Valley, which they finally dynamited in March 2001. Mullah Omar claimed that the graven images of the pre-Islamic gods were an affront to Islamic orthodoxy. But the statues really had to go because they were part of the heritage of the non-Pashtun Hazara people. The Hazara population itself was also scheduled to go, by deportation or worse, after 9/11, at the hands of the ultra-Pashtun Taliban.

In the wake of 9/11, many American leftists opposed military action against the Taliban, but not Smeal. (It was about those who opposed it that Michael Walzer wrote his blistering 2002 attack, “Can There Be a Decent Left?”) She broke ranks with her comrades when she declared on September 20, 2001, that the Taliban’s treatment of women should have been a warning sign: “These [Afghan] women were the first casualties of the war against the United States.” The liberal establishment for its part​—​even most center-left politicians​—​united behind Operation Enduring Freedom, and made special promises to Afghanistan’s women. As Fly notes, Tony Blair promised in October 2001 that “the conflict will not be the end. We will not walk away.” In December, President Bush signed the Afghan Women and Children Relief Act, which had been sponsored by every woman senator in both parties. New York’s Senator Hillary Clinton declared, “We cannot simply drop our bombs and depart with our best wishes, lest we find ourselves returning some years down the road to root out another terrorist.” As late as 2007, by then eyeing a presidential race, Clinton argued in Time that humanitarianism is realism: “A post-Taliban Afghanistan where women’s rights are respected is much less likely to harbor terrorists in the future.”

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Senator Barack Obama made aggressive war in Afghanistan item number one to demonstrate his foreign policy toughness. Afghanistan was the good war, the war of necessity which he would have chosen to fight instead of Iraq. As president, he would see it done right, even if it meant invading Pakistan. Sharp-sighted observers on the left saw the newly elected president backpedal radically in the very first hour of his first day in office. An angrier Terry Glavin, who argues that the war against the Taliban ought to be his generation’s Spanish Civil War, concluded that “everything the White House has done [since Obama’s election] has had a smell about it that can easily be mistaken for the reek of sabotage and capitulation.”

Obama was persuasive about his intentions toward Afghanistan during the campaign; it made a difference to many in the center. Not just his words but his whole approach to foreign policy expressed a sense of moral seriousness and pragmatic decency​—​and these qualities are precisely what has departed from our Afghan policy. Now we suddenly confront the likelihood that Obama will endeavor to bring finality to the U.S. military effort in Afghanistan by reaching across the bloody chasm to close a deal with the Taliban and its allies: Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Jalaluddin Haqqani, and Pakistan’s political/military/religious class. As Khaled Ahmed, a Pakistani political analyst, wrote last month, “the most likely post-withdrawal scenario is that there will be a civil war in Afghanistan. A parallel war will take place between the Afghan National Army and the non-state actors from Pakistan.” The Afghan Army will be confronted by the Taliban, of course, but also “the Haqqani network, Hekmatyar’s Hizb-i-Islami, ragtag warlords of Fata and Malakand, [and] the Punjabi Taliban. .  .  . The Defence of Pakistan Council .  .  . will oblige with more Punjabi manpower. [Its] leader Hafiz Saeed allegedly says he alone can muster 100,000.” Pakistan will be the base of the armies that will enter Afghanistan, but “it hardly controls them. Therefore, the blowback from Afghanistan this time will be transformational for Pakistan. .  .  . The remaining attributes of the Pakistani state will fall off, with religious parties, plus madrassas with jihadi capacity, increasingly exercising authority in its name.” In other words, not only Afghanistan but Pakistan may be Talibanized.

If we abandon the war against the Taliban, anti-Americans will cheer, Muslims will perish by the hundreds of thousands, and pulpits and editorial pages will declare that President Obama has finally earned his Nobel Peace Prize.

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