by tristero

This is the kind of addle-pated pseudo-reasoning that gives blogging a bad name:
American soldiers are fighting the Taliban, partly to provide time and space while Afghan forces are better trained and partly to persuade some Taliban that resistance does not pay. Call it armed state-building.

But is Afghanistan a war of necessity? And if not — if in fact it is a war of choice — so what?

Wars of necessity must meet two tests. They involve, first, vital national interests and, second, a lack of viable alternatives to the use of military force to protect those interests. World War II was a war of necessity, as were the Korean War and the Persian Gulf war.

In the wake of 9/11, invading Afghanistan was a war of necessity. The United States needed to act in self-defense to oust the Taliban. There was no viable alternative.

Now, however, with a friendly government in Kabul, is our military presence still a necessity?
Such blatantly unsophisticated reasoning really is laughable; anyone remotely familiar with the real world in which wars occur recognizes that "choice/necessity" is not only an obviously false dichotomy but also a crudely misleading framework to discuss the numerous events, both within and out of control, that swirl around the beginnings and the wagings of a war. It is a hopelessly inadequate starting point for a meaningful discussion of what the real issues were on Sept 12, 2001 - for one thing, the Taliban didn't attack us, bin Laden did, and it is the height of foolishness to conflate the two, no matter how deep the ties - to assert that the bombing of Afghanistan and the subsequent war was in any sense necessary or that there were no viable options to war, or that if the kind of military action engaged in was besides the point.*

Yet this drivel was written by no obscure blogger, typing in his underwear in some filthy hovel. The author is none other than the president of the Council on Foreign Relations and it was published in the New York Times. In other words, lots of folks take this intellectually childish argument as a deeply thoughtful rumination on the policies of war in modern America.

No wonder the neocons got as far as they did. If this is the level of discourse amongst establishment liberals and moderates, the neocons' psychotic delusions must have seemed not merely bold and audacious, but plausible.

Bob Somerby, the Daily Howler, often gets a lot of heat from fellow liberals who have been the victims of his ire as often as conservatives.** But his basic point is absolutely spot on and we should never forget it: The problem with our discourse is not merely the madness of the right and the corruption of an elite corporate press. It goes much farther and deeper and that. It is a problem that afflicts even (and especially) the so-called "responsible" voices.

Unlike Bob, I don't think it is mere careerism that permits ludicrously inane notions like the "war of choice/war of necessity" dichotomy or "The End of History" (remember that one?) to become topics of serious conversation, although blind ambition surely plays a role. I think the influence of sheer stupidity on the part of the political establishment should never be misunderestimated. The truth is that the heads of our pointiest intellectuals are often really quite dull.

Back in October, 2003, regarding the absence of serious ideas in discussions of foreign policy, someone wrote that:
It is an intellectual crisis that gives credence to obviously terrible and self-destructive ideas. It makes them seem fit not only for academic debate, and not only for public discussion, but - incredibly -also fit for adoption as policy by the most militarily powerful country the world has ever known. It is an intellectual crisis that permits such long-discredited siren calls as America's 'manifest destiny' to sing out once again and seduce nearly every class in this country into believing the clearly delusional notion that by prosecuting a clearly unnecessary war we could ensure peace.
That wasn't the president of the Council on Foreign Relations speaking, or even someone from the Center on American Progress. Nor was it published in the New York Times.

That was just a blogger.

*Note: Obviously, I am not addressing whether military action against bin Laden was or was not necessary (nor am I in any way defending the Taliban, of course). I am simply posing the question of whether the framework of a dichotomy which pits "necessity" against "choice" is any sense a useful one in analyzing the situation that faced the US on 9/12. I think it is a ludicrously inadequate way to begin a helpful discussion of that era.

Obviously, something had to be done, there had to be some response because even doing nothing was a response. The question then, as it is now - and as it is for all foreign policy, war-related or otherwise - was what kind of action would be most effective in achieving US goals (duh; that's what happens when foolish ideas gain traction: to rebut them, you end up all but forced to re-state the perfectly obvious, wasting time no one intelligent has to waste). Perhaps some kind of military action would be the most effective on 9/12, but clearly, the specific actions undertaken by Bush were not only ineffective, but downright incompetent - bin Laden is still on the lam - and, in the long run, completely counterproductive. Necessity has little or nothing to do with it.

**I, too, have been howled at by Bob on several occasions, but for some reason or another, it doesn't bother me, and sometimes I even agree that I earned the howl.