We need to disabuse ourselves of several untruths being told about our war efforts in Afghanistan. One is that we are fighting for democracy. Democracy is fine for Norway and Denmark but it is bad in war-torn places that are undeveloped because it becomes a patronage system for kickbacks being handed out to corrupt insiders. What we want is a competent government that can secure its own boundaries and streets. There are plenty of undemocratic governments that do this better than democracies—in fact, most do. Before you write me quoting Winston Churchill’s famous line about democracies, I would just say it was not until Nuri al-Maliki started acting like an all-powerful strongman—or “Saddam without the mustache,” as some of his detractors have described him—that the country started resembling a normalized state.
Second, let’s disabuse ourselves of this notion that the corrupt election of Hamid Karzai is somehow why we are rethinking our misadventure there. This is a bogus sentiment. I agree that Karzai is as corrupt as they come, but most of us knew that beforehand so our recent post-election indignation has a Captain Renault sniff to it. The former Iraqi government under Iyad Allawi, in which over $1 billion for the defense ministry somehow went missing, was way more corrupt than Karzai’s government, yet I don’t remember calls from Washington calling for an immediate pullout as a result of such outright fraud. I think we are holding Karzai up to a higher standard because he gives off the impression that he is this regal, above-the-fray leader of his people, when in fact he’s just a backroom dealer who will do anything to keep his current gig.
Finally, Afghanistan is the central front in the war on terror. This stands logic on its head. Let’s assume for a second that Osama bin Laden was not in Afghanistan when the planes struck the Twin Towers but was in Sudan (which is where he was ensconced previously). Would we have invaded Sudan and deposed of its government? Perhaps. But we may also have left the Taliban alone if its fingerprints were not on 9/11. Lawrence Wright in his book The Looming Tower confirms that the Taliban was reluctant to host al-Qaeda and was ticked after bin Laden started attacking targets in the West.