Afghanistan and the NIE

Bruce McQuain asks, “Where was Afghanistan in the NIE?”

Afghanistan was just as much an invasion of a Muslim country as was Iraq. And in the case of Afghanistan, it was a Muslim country being run precisely as the jihadists think the world should be run.

What could be a more perfect “cause celebre” than that?

It’s an interesting question that never really occured to me before.

Jonah Goldberg bolsters the thesis as well:

Today, Democrats tout their support of that “good” war as proof they aren’t soft on terrorism. Fair enough, I suppose. But guess what? That war made us less safe too – if the measure of such things is “creating more terrorists.” A Gallup poll taken in nine Muslim nations in February 2002 found that more than three-fourths of respondents considered the liberation of Afghanistan unjustifiable. A mere 9 percent supported U.S. actions. That goes for famously moderate Turkey, where opposition to the U.S. ran three to one, and in Pakistan, where a mere one in 20 respondents took the American side.

In other words, before Iraq became the cause celebre of jihadists, Afghanistan was. Does that mean we shouldn’t have toppled the Taliban?

Going back further, it’s conventional wisdom that we helped “create” Osama bin Laden, or his Taliban and mujahedin comrades, when we supported the Afghan resistance to the Soviet Union. So we shouldn’t have done that either?

Obviously, not.

It is simultaneously true that our actions help motivate the terrorists and that our inactions motivate the terrorists. In the famous words of Cap Weinberger vis-a-vis arms control with the Soviets, “We build, they build. We stop, they build.”

Had we not gone into Iraq, would there still be a major Islamist terrorist threat? Of course.

FILED UNDER: Afghanistan War, Intelligence, Iraq War, Terrorism, , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. M1EK says:

    Pissing off Muslims by invading Afghanistan was justified because the Taliban and alQaeda were directly responsible for attacking us on our own shores.

    Pissing off the remaining Muslims (as well as most of Europe) by invading Iraq, which never posed any threat to us and didn’t pose any remaining threat to our allies, was not justifiable.

    What about this is so hard for you Republican apologists to admit?

  2. James Joyner says:

    M1EK: But whether the war was “justifiable” from our perspective hardly matters in assessing the strategic landscape.

  3. legion says:

    While it’s arguable that the “creation” (for lack of a better term) of Bin Laden may have been a “side effect” of our actions, specifically with the Soviets in Afghanistan & the Desert Storm campaign, I don’t think it’s a reason we shouldn’t have done those things… Any psychologist will tell you that when you repress an urge, it will eventually surface in some other context, and I think that applies here as well.

    Had we not gone into Iraq, would there still be a major Islamist terrorist threat? Of course.

    Maybe. If we hadn’t gone into Iraq, we’d very likely have captured or killed Bin Laden himself by now – how would that have changed the current threat? Not to mention the Taliban wouldn’t be re-gaining strength in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

    And even if you don’t believe it would have changed the threat significantly, that’s not a reason for having gone into Iraq in the first place. Or for supporting the idiots that keep us there with no plan for getting out.

  4. legion says:

    And James, I disagree. M1EK is not talking about the justification from _our_ point of view – he’s talking about it from the _Muslim_ (and European) point of view. We had a lot of cooperation and goodwill for the Afghanistan campaign. We had/have _none_ for Iraq. This should be a clue (and was to myself and many others who opposed the Iraq invasion at the time) that maybe invading Iraq was the Wrong Idea at the Wrong Time, and that has an _enormous_ impact on the strategic/global landscape. Especially vis-a-vis any future military efforts the US makes anywhere else in the world – who’s going to trust us again?

  5. Steven Plunk says:

    Why don’t people understand why we went into Iraq?

    UN resolutions, uncooperative with weapons inspectors, known to have WMD’s in the past, establishing a democracy in the middle east, ridding the world of a tyrant, showing the world we are serious about what we say. It’s fairly simple.

    The muslims were pissed before we invaded because of our support for Israel and our general decadence.

    I am also amazed that there are those who expect us to have every detail planned out in war. That is about as silly as having every play in a football game scripted before you go out. The dynamics of war and politics means you make up part it as you go along looking toward the overall goal. You adjust and adapt as conditions warrant. Plan to get out? Win first and that takes time.

  6. Len says:

    It is so simple to forget one simple little fact… folks in Afghanistan attacked us; nobody in Iraq did.

    “Where are those weapons of mass destruction? They must be here someplace.” — G.W. Bush

  7. spencer says:

    It may be partially a question of if we had gone into Iraq but the more important question is would there still be as much a terrorist threat if we were not losing in Iraq because of this administrations incompetence.

  8. McQ says:

    We had a lot of cooperation and goodwill for the Afghanistan campaign.

    From Europe, etc, perhaps. But per the Goldberg cite, not from Muslims:

    A Gallup poll taken in nine Muslim nations in February 2002 found that more than three-fourths of respondents considered the liberation of Afghanistan unjustifiable. A mere 9 percent supported U.S. actions.

    And it is Muslims about whom we’re talking, not governments and not westerners.

    If Afghanistan was good enough to be a cause celebre in the ’80s among extremists, I’d like to know why – especially when the Taliban was precisely the type theocracy they want worldwide – it would be less of a cause celebre to the radicals than before.

    Thanks for the link, James.

  9. cian says:

    James says:

    ‘Had we not gone into Iraq, would there still be a major Islamist terrorist threat? Of course.’

    If we hadn’t, would America be in a stronger position? Also, of course.

    The army wouldn’t be broken; the country wouldn’t be divided; worldwide support for the war on terror (which included Iran remember) would still be intact; Afghanistan would not be falling back into the hands of the Taliban, and maybe, just maybe, torture would not now be part of what it means to be an American.

    In one of his rare moments of rational thinking Rumsfeld asked the important question- Are we killing more terrorists then we are creating? The answer is in the NIE and its ‘NO’. If James and Jonah think discussions regarding four year old polls is constructive, then they need a special room all of their own. Preferably padded.

  10. Tano says:

    The overwhelming majority of Muslims, and Arabs, are not interested in living under a Taliban regime. It would not be a “cause celebre” to defend that specific regime. Despite low numbers considering our attack on Afghanistan to be justified, I think it fair to assume that everyone knew that we were attacking because a great atrocity had been perpetrated upon us, and we reacted as anyone would.

    The overwhelming majority of Muslims, and Arabs are very much interested in defending their countries from outside invasion by a hostile, aggressive and expansionist power. To the extent that the Iraq war can be sold as such, by Islamist propagandists, then opposing the Americans in Iraq, with violence, can become a “cause celebre”. The work of those propagandists is made easy by the fact that there probably doesnt seem to be a very coherent alternative explanation for the American invasion. Especially after WMD were not found. Reasons that resonate with many here, the spread of democracy, can very easily be seen as wholly consistent with the notion that America wants to impose itself, and its values on others, by force.

  11. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    To the lefties who post here. You can claim, now that there was no justification for the invasion of Iraq, but do we forget the 1998 Iraqi Freedom Resolution that passed both houses of Congress and signed by William Jefferson Clinton, that called for the toppling of Saddam? I wonder how you fair minded lefties would have reacted to Saddams attempt on the life of Bill Clinton. Since no treaty existed that ended the first Iraq war, Saddams attack on planes in the no-fly zone was a continuation of hostilities. Let us face it, if Bush said it was day, you would say it is night, if he said something was red you would say it was blue. Intellectual honesty is severely lacking on your side. Sorry.

  12. lyssad says:

    What if we had done what we said we were going to do? i.e. bomb the shit out of afghanistan and kick out the taliban, and then *rebuild the place*?