21 September 2009

"The Taliban must be defeated"

As I write, more than 57% of more than 72,000 respondents to an MSNBC internet poll have answered yes to the question, "Should the U.S. send more troops to Afghanistan?" Less than 38% answered in the negative, the remainder being undecided. It's an odd result if you presume that MSNBC internet readers would have the same biases one would attribute to a regular MSNBC viewer. I took such people to be anti-war in general, but I suppose most were only opposed to the invasion of Iraq while endorsing the Democratic line that the proper battlefront for the War on Terror was Afghanistan all along. This turns out to be the sort of poll that puts words in your mouth. You can't just say "Yes" to the proposition, because the site appends this comment to that option: "The Taliban must be defeated." Your vote thus becomes a referendum on the Taliban as well as on the necessity of an American troop escalation.

I'm sure some people will infer that voting "No" must mean that you think the Taliban are fine folk and in no way objectionable to the liberal conscience. If any of those people think otherwise, they'll be more likely to vote "Yes" than they otherwise might. But it should be remembered that the War on Terror, such as it is, is not supposed to be about the Taliban as such. It's a War on Terror, not a war on Islamism or Pashtun Hillbillies. The object of the Afghan phase of the war, as any pundit will tell you, is to prevent the country from once again becoming an al-Qaeda base. There are two theoretical ways of doing this. One would be to exterminate every known Islamist in the country and extirpate Islam itself. Good luck with that one. The other way would be to cut a deal with the Taliban on the premise that what they really want is to run their own country their own way, unmolested. If they could be convinced that the heads of Osama bin Laden, Dr. Zawahiri, et al would seal the deal, they just might do it. To presume that they never ever would betray bin Laden is to let your own propaganda stereotype of the Taliban get in the way of dealing with the actual people in front of you.

Of course, some people might affirm that "The Taliban must be defeated" because the Taliban on their own terms are atavistic beasts who should never be allowed to have power over anyone else. I agree instantly that life will suck more than it already does for certain groups in Afghanistan if the Taliban get back in the saddle, but if you as an American claim that that's your business, then you're claiming to rule the world. Since there is as yet no social contract binding all the people on Earth to each other as individuals, I regret to say that dealing with tyranny is a matter of personal responsibility for the oppressed of any given nation. It is not an American's job to liberate the oppressed of another country unless that country is waging aggressive war against us and their oppression is a tool of their aggression. If the Taliban can be trusted to leave us alone, we'd have an obligation to leave them alone, apart from cheering on anyone who manages to escape or, better yet, manages to replace the Taliban with something better without anyone's help. So unless the Taliban themselves are found conniving in plots to attack the United States, the notion that they "must be defeated" has no place in a serious debate over the future of American troops in Afghanistan, and it probably ought to be left out of internet polling as well.

1 comment:

Crhymethinc said...

I wonder how many people would have answered "yes" if the poll had been worded to the effect "Should the United States send you and/or your children as more troops to Afghanistan to defeat the Taliban?"

In my experience and opinion, the average American is a coward. Very willing to send someone else to fight and die, as long as they are left out of it. What they don't seem to understand is that, in a democracy, the average citizen bears as much guilt for the death and destruction wrought by their country in war as the soldiers who actually do the fighting.