September 29, 2009

General McChrystal’s Afghan Plan

At least General Stanley McChrystal has one thing right: things in Afghanistan aren’t going so well. As he writes [.pdf] in his “Initial Assessment” of the war, which was leaked to the Washington Post last week: “the overall situation is deteriorating. We face not only a resilient and growing insurgency; there is also a crisis of confidence among Afghans—in both their government and the international community—that undermines our credibility and emboldens the insurgents.”

This dire diagnosis notwithstanding, McChrystal contends that the situation can be reversed and the war still won. Doing so, he believes, will require more troops—if recent murmurings in the media are to be believed, as many as 45,000 more troops. More than just this, however, McChrystal believes that NATO must also implement a new strategy, one that focuses on winning over the Afghan people. Among other things, this means that Western forces must develop personal relationships with civilians, that they must learn to “show respect for local cultures and customs and demonstrate intellectual curiosity about the people of Afghanistan,” that they must “spend as much time as possible with the people and as little time as possible in armored vehicles or behind the walls of forward operating bases.”

Now I don’t claim to be a military strategist, but McChrystal’s plan seems obviously flawed. For how can an army win over a people when it is continually bombing it? Certainly American forces aren’t trying to kill civilians. In fact, they take many precautions not to. But modern warfare is a messy thing. Taliban fighters live and dwell among civilians, and therefore US battles against the Taliban inevitably produce headlines such as the following:


And let’s remember that the popularity of US troops among Afghans continues falling, going from 83% in 2005 to 65% in 2007 to only 47% in February of this year. And a full 25% of Afghans now believe that attacks on foreign fighters can be justified.

What all this seems to mean is that escalating the war is bound to further alienate the already antagonistic population. Troops can try their hardest to build relationships with locals, they can learn the language, “demonstrate an intellectual curiosity about the people,” etc., etc. But all this is bound to come to naught as long as dead bodies continue piling up. In the same way, America’s “pacification” program in Vietnam failed because, despite all the roads and bridges and hospitals that the military built, US munitions continued blowing apart innocent peasants.

Though claiming that he doesn’t “underestimate the enormous challenges in executing this new strategy,” McChrystal believes that “we have a key advantage: the majority of Afghans do not want a return of the Taliban.” Now most Afghans might not want the Taliban to return, but, given that the US hasn’t been able to replace Taliban rule with anything even slightly resembling a decent and competent government, it’s not clear why this is such a “key advantage.” McChrystal himself admits: “The weakness of state institutions, malign actions of power-brokers, widespread corruption and abuse of power by various officials, and ISAF’s own errors, have given Afghans little reason to support their government.” To understand what he’s getting at, consider a few more headlines:


“These problems,” he continues, “have alienated large segments of the Afghan population. They do not trust GIRoA [Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan] to provide their essential needs, such as security, justice, and basic services. This crisis of confidence, coupled with a distinct lack of economic and educational opportunity, has created fertile ground for the insurgency.” For example:


But McChrystal claims that he can turn all this around. Of course, I’m not sure why anyone would believe him. After spending eight years and $223 billion dollars in Afghanistan, the US hasn’t been able to weaken, let alone defeat, the insurgency. And yet now we’re supposed to believe that McChrystal and his new strategy will somehow save the day? Needless to say, I can’t predict the future, and perhaps McChrystal will ultimately prove himself to be as brilliant as the kooks at the Foreign Policy Initiative believe. But the odds certainly don’t seem to be on his side. And given that his plan will cost billions, perhaps trillions, of additional taxpayer dollars, not to mention the lives of many more Afghan civilians and American troops, I don’t know why anyone would want to take the chance.

September 24, 2009

Jackson Diehl Spews More Neocon Propaganda

Rarely a week goes by when I don’t at some point feel a sense of glee that America’s newspapers are going bankrupt. This week’s moment of glee came when I read Jackson Diehl’s latest column in the Washington Post.

Diehl is one of those warmongering journalists who turned out to be “wrong on just about every key issue surrounding the Iraq war.” In his most recent column, “Israel’s Gaza Vindication,” he argues that in the end Israel will benefit from Operation Cast Lead.

Yes, sure, there’s the Goldstone Report, which charges Israel with war crimes. But Diehl assures us that this isn’t all that big a deal, that it’s sure to blow over any time now. What we need to focus on is the bright side of things, the silver lining, which he describes as follows:

Between April 2001 and the end of 2008, 4,246 rockets and 4,180 mortar shells were fired into Israel from Gaza, killing 14 Israelis, wounding more than 400 and making life in southern Israel intolerable. During what was supposed to be a cease-fire during the last half of 2008, 362 rockets and shells landed…

Since April there have been just over two dozen rocket and mortar strikes -- or less than on many single days before the war. No one has been seriously injured, and life in the Israeli town of Sderot and the area around it has returned almost to normal.

So, you see, things aren’t so bleak after all. Sure, Israel killed over 1,400 Palestinians, most of them civilians. Sure, Israel committed numerous war crimes. But it was all worthwhile because it forced militants to stop firing rockets into Sderot.

Now in my humble peacenik opinion, it’s always wrong to kill civilians, even when doing so yields some good results. But what I find astounding about Diehl’s column is not that he embraces utilitarianism but that he gets his facts wrong.

According to the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center (ITIC), a right-wing organization closely aligned with the Israeli government, between January 18 (when Operation Cast Lead ended) and September 15, Gazan militants fired [.pdf] 112 rockets and 74 mortar shells into Israel. If my math is right, that’s an average of .775 rockets/mortar shells per day.

Contrast this to the middle of last year when Hamas and Israel had entered into a ceasefire. According to the ITIC, between June 19, 2008 (when the ceasefire commenced) and October 31, Gazan militants fired [.pdf] 20 rockets and 17 mortar shells into Israel, which averages out to .27 rockets/mortar shells per day. (As I’ve previously written, the ceasefire ended on November 4 when Israeli soldiers entered Gaza, purportedly to blow up a tunnel, and ended up killing six Hamas gunmen.)

To repeat, since the end of Operation Cast Lead, Gazan militants have fired an average of .775 rockets/mortar shells into Israel per day, while, during last year’s ceasefire, Gazan militants fired an average of .27 rockets/mortar shells into Israel per day.

Now I don’t know about you, but all this makes me think that maybe Operation Cast Lead wasn’t such a success after all. Forget for a moment about its moral dimensions. Speaking from a strictly pragmatic point of view, I don’t see how anyone could honestly believe that the war in any way restored Israel’s “deterrence capacity.” (Of course, I doubt that Diehl really believes this either. I suspect that, far from caring about the truth, he’s just trying to spread his own neocon agenda. Crazy how I come up with this stuff, I know.)

Violence, it seems, only begets more violence. Operation Cast Lead failed to curtail Palestinian terrorism, just as Operations Summer Rains and Autumn Clouds failed three years earlier. If Israel really wants to protect its citizens from militant attacks then it should stop brutalizing the Palestinian people and finally end the occupation.

September 22, 2009

Daniel Ellsberg Talks Nuclear War

Daniel Ellsberg has just released the first installment of his new memoir of the nuclear age, The American Doomsday Machine. Best known for leaking “the Pentagon Papers” in 1971, Ellsberg spent most of the 1960s working as an analyst for the Pentagon, where he got an inside look at the country’s contingent nuclear war plans.

He begins The American Doomsday Machine by discussing these war plans, also known as the Single Integrated Operational Plan. In the 1960s, the SIOP called for the US to respond to Soviet aggression by simultaneously launching over 3,200 nuclear warheads against numerous Soviet and Chinese cities and military sites. The plan was to be implemented in the event of a Soviet attack—either nuclear or conventional, real or imminent, occurring against American civilians in the continental US or against American forces in Europe.

Although US officials believed the mere existence of the SIOP would deter the USSR from ever attacking, Ellsberg knew that the plan was hardly foolproof. “It might fail. That applied both to deterrence of nuclear attack and to deterrence of a conventional Soviet attack in Europe. In either case, it was not impossible that the Soviets would attack despite our threats and our best efforts to dissuade them.” Moreover, as he told JFK’s national security advisor in early 1961, there were a number of ways in which a US first-strike might be triggered accidently—“by false alarm, miscalculation, miscommunication, or actions not directly authorized by the president or perhaps by any high-level commander.”

Later that year, Ellsberg asked the Joint Chiefs of Staff to estimate how many people would die if SIOP were implemented. Within a week, he received his answer: 600 million. He recalls: “I myself at that time was neither a pacifist nor a critic of the explicit logic of deterrence or its legitimacy. On the contrary, I had been urgently working with my colleagues to assure a survivable U.S. capability to threaten clearly unacceptable damage to the Soviet Union in response to the most successful possible Soviet nuclear attack on the U.S. But planned slaughter of 600 million civilians—10 times the total death count in World War II, a hundred times the scale of the Holocaust? That aimed-for accomplishment exposed a dizzying irrationality, madness, insanity, at the heart and soul of our nuclear planning and apparatus.”

As staggering as this figure is, Ellsberg now knows that it was a major under-estimation. First, as Dr. Lynn Eden revealed in his 2004 book, Whole World on Fire, the Joint Chiefs’ estimate did not include the number of people that would have likely been killed as a result of fire. Ellsberg writes, “Given that for almost all strategic nuclear weapons the damage radius of firestorms would be two to five times the radius destroyed by blast, a more realistic estimate of the fatalities caused directly by the planned U.S. attacks would surely have been double the figure on the summary I held in my hand—a billion people or more.” Second, at the time the Joint Chiefs didn’t know about nuclear winter, where nuclear-caused clouds of smoke would cover much of the earth’s surface, causing temperatures to plummet and destroying crops worldwide. This, too, would cause millions, perhaps billions, of additional people to starve to death.

Put into place under President Eisenhower, it’s now known that Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon all kept these nuclear war plans. And, Ellsberg notes, there is substantial evidence that these plans remain intact today . Which, of course, means that the nightmarish possibilities envisioned by such films as Dr. Strangelove are not a thing of the past. As Ellsberg writes: “The U.S. and Russia currently each have about 10,000 warheads, over 2,000 of them operationally deployed. (Each has several thousand in reserve status—not covered in recent negotiations—and an additional 5,000 or so awaiting dismantlement). Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev have agreed to lower the operational warheads to between 1,500 and 1,675 by the year 2012. But the explosion of 1,000 warheads together by the U.S. and Russia could trigger a full-scale nuclear winter.”

Needless to say, we should all find this utterly horrifying. Therefore, following Ellsberg’s lead, I urge you to join one of the following movements and do your part to urge Congress to bring America’s currently nuclear plans to light and to make the world free of nuclear weapons:

To read Ellsberg’s essay in its entirety, see below.

September 18, 2009

Reactions to the UN Gaza Report: Day 3

As I log onto the internet this evening, I see that various right-wingers continue fulminating over the UN’s recently-released Gaza Report.

Alan Dershowitz, for example, has written an especially vitriolic article in which he accuses one of the report’s authors, Professor Christine Chinkin, of being a “Hamas lackey.” Yes, that’s right, according to Alan Dershowitz, the UN report was coauthored by a Hamas lackey, one who clandestinely served as the terrorist group’s “advocate.” He bases this claim on the fact that Chinkin, along with twenty-six other academics, signed a letter in January claiming that Israel’s assault against Gaza violated international law. And that’s it, that’s his evidence.

Now it’s clear that the letter, which was published in The Times on January 11, is critical of Israel. But it’s equally critical of Hamas, as its final paragraph illustrates:

We condemn the firing of rockets by Hamas into Israel and suicide bombings which are also contrary to international humanitarian law and are war crimes. Israel has a right to take reasonable and proportionate means to protect its civilian population from such attacks. However, the manner and scale of its operations in Gaza amount to an act of aggression and is contrary to international law, notwithstanding the rocket attacks by Hamas.

So, far from proving that Chinkin is a Hamas lackey, the letter doesn’t even prove that she’s a Hamas sympathizer. Moreover, South African judge Richard Goldstone, who headed the Mission, has defended Chinkin’s integrity, calling her “an intelligent, sensible, even-handed person.” And Goldstone, let’s remember, is Jewish. And not only that, but, according to his daughter, he’s also an ardent Zionist who “loves Israel.”

In the same vein as Dershowitz, Gerald Steinberg, who heads the NGO Monitor, accuses the UN Mission of being a “kangaroo court” created “to find Israel guilty.” He complains that the report is based largely on “publications from politicized pro-Palestinian NGOs.” Steinberg never defines “pro-Palestinian” and he never explains why being pro-Palestinian is such a bad thing. (Does he think being anti-Palestinian somehow make one more trustworthy?) And he never explains why we should reject the testimony of Amnesty International, as well as such Israeli organizations as B’Tselem, Physicians for Human Rights, Magen David Adom, and Yesh Gvul, all of which are referenced in the UN report.

Steinberg, however, does offer an argument against Human Rights Watch:

Human Rights Watch is referenced 33 times, including the “Rain of Fire” report co-authored by Marc Garlasco. He was HRW’s “senior military expert” (until suspended on Monday after the exposure of his Nazi-memorabilia fetish), but his analyses are tainted by false claims and speculation masquerading as expertise. Goldstone’s long association with HRW essentially means that in this report, he is quoting his own highly problematic organization.

Not the most lucid argument, and he doesn’t elaborate upon it. But, if I’m understanding him correctly, he seems to be saying that the UN Report can’t be trusted because it references numerous Human Rights Watch reports, some of which were coauthored by a guy who collects Nazi memorabilia. One thing Steinberg fails to mention is that Marc Garlasco also collects American WWII memorabilia. And this kind of makes me think that maybe the guy isn’t a Nazi-sympathizer after all but rather—brace yourselves—a WWII collector. Yes, crazy deduction, I know.

Much more could be said in Garlasco’s defense. For instance, he stated in his 2008 book on war badges that WWII “was horrible and cruel, Germany lost and for that we should be thankful.” Moreover, he recently contributed to an HRW report that harshly condemned Palestinian militants for firing rockets into Israel.

But even if we threw out the HRW reports, even if we threw out a majority of the reports which the UN references, there would still be copious evidence that Israel committed numerous atrocities and war crimes in the recent Gaza War. Remember, going into the week, we had the testimony of, not just Human Rights Watch, but also Amnesty International and several Israeli human rights organizations. We even had the testimony of numerous Israeli soldiers. And now we have the United Nations and its extensively-researched 575-page report [.pdf].

The evidence is so overwhelming that people like Steinberg and Dershowitz have decided not to even deal with it but to instead resort to nasty smear campaigns. We can only hope that people will see through their propaganda and that those politicians and military leaders who perpetrated these horrendous crimes will finally be brought to justice.

September 15, 2009

UN Accuses Israel of War Crimes

Today the UN released the results of its investigation into Israel’s recent war on Gaza. Led by South African judge Richard Goldstone, the UN Human Rights Council’s Fact Finding Mission determined that the Israeli army committed war crimes during the conflict:

The Report concludes that the Israeli military operation was directed at the people of Gaza as a whole, in furtherance of an overall and continuing policy aimed at punishing the Gaza population, and in a deliberate policy of disproportionate force aimed at the civilian population. The destruction of food supply installations, water sanitation systems, concrete factories and residential houses was the result of a deliberate and systematic policy which has made the daily process of living, and dignified living, more difficult for the civilian population…

The report underlines that in most of the incidents investigated by it, and described in the report, loss of life and destruction caused by Israeli forces during the military operation was a result of disrespect for the fundamental principle of "distinction" in international humanitarian law that requires military forces to distinguish between military targets and civilians and civilian objects at all times. The report states that "Taking into account the ability to plan, the means to execute plans with the most developed technology available, and statements by the Israeli military that almost no errors occurred, the Mission finds that the incidents and patterns of events considered in the report are the result of deliberate planning and policy decisions."

Now if you’ve been living anywhere on this side of the Milky Way for the past few months, none of this should come as a surprise to you. As I wrote in July, both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have already provided evidence that Israel committed war crimes.

(HRW showed that Israel “exploded white phosphorus munitions in the air over populated areas, killing and injuring civilians, and damaging civilian structures, including a school, a market, a humanitarian aid warehouse and a hospital.” Amnesty gave evidence that “Israeli forces repeatedly breached the laws of war, including by carrying out direct attacks on civilians and civilian buildings and attacks targeting Palestinian militants that caused a disproportionate toll among civilians.”) And just last week, B’Tselem, the well-respected Israeli human rights organization, claimed that the majority of the 1,387 Palestinians killed in the war “did not take part in the hostilities.”

It should also come as no surprise that Israel has condemned the UN report, just as it has condemned the above-mentioned human rights groups, just as it has condemned numerous Israeli soldiers who’ve spoken out about Operation Cast Lead. Israel’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Yigal Palmor says he is both “appalled and disappointed” by the report, claiming that it “effectively ignores Israel’s right of self defense, makes unsubstantiated claims about its intent and challenges Israel's democratic values and rule of law.”

Now, of course, there’s no substance in Palmor’s words.

Operation Cast Lead had nothing to do with self-defense. From June to November of last year, let’s remember, Hamas upheld its end of a ceasefire agreement with Israel and stopped firing rockets into Israel and even tried to force other militant groups to do the same. So there was peace. For several months, there was peace. But Israel decided not to live up to its end of the agreement. First of all, it only slightly eased the blockade. And then on November 4, IDF forces entered Gaza, purportedly to blow up a tunnel, and ended up killing six Hamas gunmen. So intermittent fighting resumed, and Israel again tightened the blockade. But then in mid-December, Hamas attempted to renew the ceasefire. So again there could have been peace. But Israel (which had spent the previous six months preparing for war) wasn’t interested and began bombing Gaza on December 27.

But even if we ignore all this and accept Palmor’s claim that Israel launched Operation Cast Lead out of self-defense, the report makes it clear that much of Israel’s conduct during the war had nothing to do with defense.

For example, Chapter XI of the report describes a number of specific incidents in which Israeli forces launched "direct attacks against civilians with lethal outcome." These are, it says, cases in which the facts indicate no justifiable military objective pursued by the attack and concludes they amount to war crimes. The incidents described include: Attacks in the Samouni neighbourhood, in Zeitoun, south of Gaza City, including the shelling of a house where soldiers had forced Palestinian civilians to assemble; Seven incidents concerning "the shooting of civilians while they were trying to leave their homes to walk to a safer place, waving white flags and, in some of the cases, following an injunction from the Israeli forces to do so;" The targeting of a mosque at prayer time, resulting in the death of 15 people.

A number of other incidents the Report concludes may constitute war crimes include a direct and intentional attack on the Al Quds Hospital and an adjacent ambulance depot in Gaza City.

Israel’s envoy to the UN, Gabriela Shalev, has also condemned the report. Like Palmor, Shalev doesn’t offer evidence to debunk any of the report’s claims but merely says that it’s “biased and one-sided” and complains that the UN Human Rights Council “is known as a body constantly critical of Israel.”

As far as the report being biased and one-sided, it should be emphasized that the Fact Finding Mission was headed by Richard Goldstone, a Jewish South African judge. And it should be noted that, far from singling out Israel, the report also condemns “Palestinian armed groups” for committing war crimes during the conflict. Regarding Shalev’s claim that the Human Rights Council constantly criticizes Israel—well, yeah, duh, of course it does. And the reason for this, in case you haven’t figured it out yet, is that Israel constantly violates people’s (namely, Palestinians’) rights.

As I wrap up this article, I now see that new Israeli officials are coming out, calling the report “nauseating,” saying that it was written by “people without morals” pretending to be “warriors for human rights.” Of course, they’re not making sound arguments, for the simple reason that they know the UN is right, just as they knew Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch and B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence (and many other groups, for that matter) were right. So these Israeli officials keep slinging as much mud as they can, biding their time until something comes along to divert the public’s attention. Which, of course, shouldn’t take more than a day or two.

September 11, 2009

“You Lie!”

I don’t know much about this Joe Wilson guy. Mostly I just know that he’s the congressman who yelled “You lie!” during Obama’s speech the other night.



And, of course, that’s enough to make me want to like the guy. I’m not sure whether Obama was lying at that particular moment, but he certainly lies often enough, and it’s nice to see someone finally call him out.

Not surprisingly, Wilson has attained rock star status among conservatives, and now for as little as $3.95 you, too, can get your own “You lie!” bumper sticker.

Now I think this is all great. If I were a bumper sticker kind of guy, I might buy one myself. I’m just sad that it won’t last. I’m just sad that most of these conservatives, who’ve spent the last nine months voicing nothing but contempt for President Obama, will do a complete about-face once Republicans win back the White House.

This just seems to be the way of the world. Never mind that there’s essentially no difference between Republicans and Democrats. Once a Republican’s back in the White House, conservatives are going to be marching lockstep behind the executive, just as they marched lockstep behind Bush for eight years.

Bush, in case you’ve forgotten, was just as much of a statist as conservatives are now accusing Obama of being. As Reason magazine’s Nick Gillespie writes:


Think for a moment about the thousands of Transportation Security Administration screeners—newly minted government employees all—who continue to confiscate contact-lens solution and nail clippers while, according to nearly every field test, somehow failing to notice simulated bombs in passenger luggage.

Or schoolchildren struggling under No Child Left Behind, which federalized K-12 education to an unprecedented degree with nothing to show for it other than greater spending tabs. Or the bizarrely structured Medicare prescription-drug benefit, the largest entitlement program created since LBJ. Or the simple reality that taxpayers now guarantee some $8 trillion in inscrutable loans to a financial sector that collapsed from inscrutable loans...

The most basic Bush numbers are damning. If increases in government spending matter, then Bush is worse than any president in recent history. During his first four years in office—a period during which his party controlled Congress—he added a whopping $345 billion (in constant dollars) to the federal budget. The only other presidential term that comes close? Bush's second term. As of November 2008, he had added at least an additional $287 billion on top of that (and the months since then will add significantly to the bill). To put that in perspective, consider that the spendthrift LBJ added a mere $223 billion in total additional outlays in his one full term.

If spending under Bush was a disaster, regulation was even worse. The number of pages in the Federal Registry is a rough proxy for the swollen expanse of the regulatory state. In 2001, some 64,438 pages of regulations were added to it. In 2007, more than 78,000 new pages were added. Worse still, argues the Mercatus Center economist Veronique de Rugy, Bush is the unparalleled master of "economically significant regulations" that cost the economy more than $100 million a year. Since 2001, he jacked that number by more than 70 percent. Since June 2008 alone, he introduced more than 100 economically significant regulations.


And yet for those eight years very few conservatives had the courage to speak out against the president. Certainly, none of them had the courage to stand up to him in the manner that Wilson stood up to Obama the other night. But now here they are, rallying behind Joe Wilson, sounding like a bunch of freedom-loving libertarians. (And, oh by the way, I just googled Wilson. It turns out that he’s not such a good guy after all. He voted for Bush’s $700 billion bailout last September—twice. Shocker there, I know.)

Anyway, I’m not really against all these conservatives. (Although, I personally feel much like the great Frank Chodorov, who once told the National Review after they referred to him as a conservative: “Anyone who calls me a conservative gets a punch in the nose.”) Sure, I realize these conservatives are a bunch of spineless, lying, hypocritical, fair-weathered statists currently parading around in libertarian clothing. But, for the time being at least, they’re fighting the good fight—so I can only applaud their efforts and welcome them aboard. And hope that maybe a few of them will actually stick around for the long haul.

September 4, 2009

Time to Leave Afghanistan

Max Boot writes in the Wall Street Journal:

Given declining poll numbers and rising casualty figures, it is no surprise that the chattering classes are starting to bail out on a war in Afghanistan that was launched with their enthusiastic support. From Sen. Russ Feingold on the left to columnist George Will on the right, these born-again doves seem to be chastened by the fact that the Taliban won’t simply stop fighting. Rather than rise to the challenge, they propose that we stick to what Mr. Will says “can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, airstrikes and small, potent Special Forces units, concentrating on the porous 1,500-mile border with Pakistan, a nation that actually matters.”

Not surprisingly, Boot, a well-known chickenhawk, disagrees with these “born-again doves.” He thinks we need to send more troops to Afghanistan—many, many more troops. “No one,” he concedes, “wants to see troops risking injury and death in ground combat. It would be nice if it weren't necessary. But it is. We tried the offshore strategy in the 1990s when Afghanistan became a stronghold of al Qaeda.”

Withdrawing now, Boot continues, would send America’s enemies the wrong message. He explains:

Losing wars is a bad thing. It is especially bad if you are a superpower that depends on an aura of invincibility to keep rogue elements at bay. That should go without saying, but those calling for a scuttle from Afghanistan seem to have forgotten this elementary lesson.

Now I personally don’t like the expression, “Is he smoking crack?!” I’m not saying it’s a bad expression. But it’s become too clichéd, and, like Martin Amis, I try to avoid clichés. But this is one of those times when I just can’t help myself:

Is Max Boot smoking crack?!

Now, first of all, the US didn’t make much of an effort to defeat al Qaeda before 9/11. Michael Scheuer, who formerly headed the CIA’s bin Laden unit, has claimed that during the 1990s the CIA presented the Clinton administration with at least eight opportunities to kill Osama bin Laden. But, according to Scheurer, not once did the White House agree to authorize his assassination. Moreover, it has been widely documented that before 9/11 the Bush administration refused to take action against al Qaeda, this despite numerous warnings that the group was planning a major terrorist attack inside the United States.

So, unlike Boot cliams, the US didn’t implement Will’s “offshore strategy,” or anything even resembling that, before 9/11. Therefore, there doesn’t seem to be any evidence that withdrawing from Afghanistan would prevent the US from effectively fighting al Qaeda. To the contrary, withdrawing from Afghanistan would accord with the recommendations of a July 2008 Rand Corporation study. The study shows that since 1968 “[m]ilitary force has rarely been the primary reason for the end of terrorist groups.” Rather, most terrorist groups have ended because “(1) they joined the political process or (2) local police and intelligence agencies arrested or killed key members.”

Given all this, the study recommends that the US begin focusing more of its efforts on policing and intelligence:

In Europe, North America, North Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, al Qa’ida consists of a network of individuals who need to be tracked and arrested. This would require careful work abroad from such organizations as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), as well as their cooperation with foreign police and intelligence agencies.

The study only suggests using military force if al Qaeda becomes involved in an insurgency. And even then, it says that US troops should generally not be used:

Local military forces frequently have more legitimacy to operate than the United States has, and they have a better understanding of the operating environment, even if they need to develop the capacity to deal with insurgent groups over the long run. This means a light U.S. military footprint or none at all. The U.S. military can play a critical role in building indigenous capacity but should generally resist being drawn into combat operations in Muslim societies, since its presence is likely to increase terrorist recruitment.

Now I agree with Boot that withdrawing from Afghanistan would encourage many of America’s enemies, especially militants in Afghanistan. In the same way, I imagine, that Ronald Reagan’s decision to withdraw US Marines from Lebanon in 1984 encouraged militants in that country. But the Lebanese militants, let’s remember, didn’t follow the Marines back to America and in fact haven’t targeted America since. Similarly, most of the people the US is fighting in Afghanistan aren’t terrorists hell-bent on global jihad but Pashtun tribesmen who simply want western forces to leave their homeland.

If the US government really wants to protect us from another 9/11, then, instead of taking Boot’s advice and trying to maintain this psychological edge over its enemies, it should stop giving its enemies so many reasons to hate us. It should stop occupying their countries and dropping bombs in civilian neighborhoods. It should stop supporting the corrupt regimes in such places as Egypt, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia. It should stop supporting the Israeli government’s barbaric treatment of the Palestinians.

The terrorists, let’s remember, aren’t at war with America because they hate freedom and democracy and Christianity and apple pie. As Michael Scheuer, Robert Pape, and Marc Sageman have each convincingly shown, they’re at war with America because, for decades now, the American government has been oppressing and murdering men, women, and children throughout the Muslim world. As Noam Chomsky says, if the US government really wants to stop terrorism, then it should stop participating in it.