A Question of Honor
There's no honor in sticking by a horrific policy just because a politician said we would two decades ago
Daniel Hannan, the former Eurosceptic Member of the European Parliament from the UK’s Conservative Party, and current Lord of Kingsclere, has a column in the Washington Examiner discussing America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. I should note, that Hannan is absolutely in no way to be compared to Max Boot, despite the fact that I sometimes disagree with him, as I do today. Hannan is thoughtful, fair, and interesting, which are not words one would use to describe a warmongering ideologue like Boot.
Sometimes, in politics, there are no good outcomes. Sometimes, the only choice is between bad alternatives. If you do X, ugly things will happen, and if you do Y, ugly things will happen…
Going into Afghanistan in the first place was one of a series of bad options. So was prolonging the mission there once al Qaeda had been removed. So was extending it to cover nation-building, education, female emancipation, and the rest. So was leaving.
This I can absolutely endorse. After the attacks on September 11, 2001, there were no good options in moving forward against the people who had attacked the United States. We can talk about how American policies in the region inspired the attacks in the first place, but once the attacks had happened it didn’t then follow that the people responsible should be left alone with no consequences.
Even Ron Paul, the stalwart noninterventionist Republican presidential candidate from 2008 and 2012, himself voted to give authority to the Bush regime to invade Afghanistan to go after al-Qaeda, and put forward a bill for Letters of Marque and Reprisal against them in the Congress.
What made absolutely no sense, lack of good options or not, however, was going to war against the Taliban, who had nothing to do with the attacks, and militarily occupying Afghanistan for 20 years. Hannan continues:
Perhaps it would have been better not to go into Afghanistan. Perhaps it would have been better to withdraw once al Qaeda had been crushed (broadly speaking, this is my own view). But, once the decision had been made to keep the Taliban out, America’s honor was on the line. To be defeated on live television after 20 years as the world watches is not the same as never having gone in in the first place.
He’s right that being defeated is “not the same as never having gone in in the first place,” but our honor is on the line? In what respect? To win a fight because we made the foolish decision, a decision that Hannan himself admits he didn’t necessarily agree with, to fight it?
I can’t agree.
The United States government, not the country made up of individuals who had no actual power over the decision to invade Afghanistan in the first place, threw their honor out the window when they made the decision to destroy that country. When they killed, conservatively, hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians; men, women, and children; while claiming to target “terrorists,” or when they installed vicious, corrupt murderers and/or child-rapists in positions of power across that country.
No, it is only by ending these horrific policies that the United States government could even begin the process of reclaiming any of its supposed honor. Yes, the Taliban is made up of murderous psychopaths, but it’s not the case that the people that the United States backed across that country instead of the Taliban are much better, or that the policies necessary to keep the Taliban out of power are worth their price in blood from American soldiers or from Afghan civilians. Those people are not better off dead than they are living under the Taliban, and there’s no honor in making their lives worse just because some politician in Washington, D.C. said we had to fight.
The honorable course of action would be to admit that a mistake had been made and take the steps necessary to reverse the mistaken decision in as much as it’s possible. Trump began the process of negotiating peace with the Taliban, and Biden, at least so far, seems intent on following through with that policy of peace despite heavy opposition from the military industrial complex and their cronies in the corporate media who all stand to lose money from the end of this war. In politics, it gets no more honorable than that.
As for the rest of Hannan’s column, where he bemoans the emboldening of tin-pot dictators and the rise in influence of authoritarian regimes in Russia and China, I would simply ask how it is that their influence has been rising, and suggest that part of it can be explained by their not having been bogged down in pointless, unwinnable wars and nation building schemes for the past two decades. And if it were truly necessary, and perhaps Hannan and I would differ on what constitutes “truly necessary,” but also maybe not, then wouldn’t the United States be in a stronger position to counter a belligerent China or Russia militarily or otherwise without its resources being pointlessly squandered in endless quagmires in the Middle East, especially if the only reason to do so is to save face or some misguided notion of “honor?”