DAVID BRIN's world of ideas


AFGHANISTAN (expanded)

by David Brin, Ph.D.

An addendum to "War in the 21st Century." (Copyright © 2004)

In the immediate aftermath of the tragic and dastardly attacks of September 11, 2001, Western Civilization had to respond decisively, and we did exactly that.

[image from The Telegraph

It is a dogma of faith among neoconservatives that -- if he had become president -- Al Gore would have fired a few cruise missiles, and waffled uselessly in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. We will, of course, never know. But saying something over and over, like a mantra, does not make it so. It should be remembered that the same political considerations would have applied to Gore. No U.S. President can afford to appear weak under those conditions.

Evidence to support this comes from actual events we witnessed that autumn, when President George W. Bush laudably went after a criminal and horrific Taliban regime that had inarguably sheltered and supported the Al Qaeda terrorists. While the "go-get-em-boys" decision was entirely correct in this case, it is also highly indicative.

The quickness of that response, ironically, points to lack of political interference by the administration in unleashing a plan that military professionals had already prepared during the Clinton Administration.

The existence of this plan is apparent on many levels, for example in the rapid convergence of skilled special forces teams that were already trained to interact with well-developed contacts among Uzbeki, Tadjik and other tribal leaders. Moreover, the Taliban were clearly aware that such plans existed. On the morning of September 9, 2001, the formidable guerrilla leader Ahmad Shah Massoud, leader of the opposition Northern Alliance, was assassinated by an Al Qaeda suicide squad at his base in Khvajeh Baha od Din, specifically in order to foil the cooperative campaign that was sure to be unleashed by America when hijacked planes were sent diving into New York and Washington, two days later. Osama bin Laden's operatives thus hoped to derail an allied retaliation scenario that had been in complex preparation for more than a year.

While we can fret over the unsatisfying aftermath of warlords, opium fields and other doubts, there can be no question that the initial portion of the Afghanistan Campaign was resoundingly successful -- more so than any other foreign involvement there since Alexander the Great. Credit should be apportioned equally between the President who said "go-get-em" (without the catastrophic political meddling we saw in Iraq) and the previous administration, who assigned professionals the long and hard task of preparing.