Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Iraq, Afghanistan and "Tuesday Morning Quarterbacking"

Gregg Easterbook, who writes a football column for ESPN called Tuesday Morning Quarterback, makes an interesting point in this week's piece. Commenting on the recent television docudrama that essentially blamed Clinton for 9/11, Easterbook writes:

Suppose Clinton had, in 1998, ordered an invasion of Afghanistan to destroy al-Qaida and Taliban forces there, as the docudrama suggested Clinton should have. Surely the President would have been bitterly denounced by Republicans, and since Sept. 11 would never have happened, today the 1998 invasion of Afghanistan would be spoken of as a pointless fiasco of the highest order. Something to chew on when you think about the Iraq war.

I think that, in general, this is an excellent point. Preemptive measures often get discredited politically when the danger they were designed to preempt never comes to fruition. And, despite what we now know about Saddams' lack of WMDs, Saddam was a threat to the region and to international stability, and it's quite possible that, had he been left in power for another 15 years, he would have instigated some form of catastrophic attack.

The problem with Easterbrook's counterfactual, however, is that there were many choices short of war that might have prevented 9/11 -- just as there were many choices short of invasion that might have contained Saddam. Steven Coll's "Ghost Wars" details the many, many lost opportunities we had to assassinate Bin Laden and/or undermine the Taliban's hold on the country. While Easterbrook is right that an invasion of Afghanistan would have been denounced, that's because, absent knowing the future a la God, you can't just invade countries based on hunches .

Unless, of course, you're named George W. Bush.


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