Circular reasoning is the standard response to running in tight little circles, which ensues upon having one’s foot nailed to the floor. According to Bret Stephens’ column in today’s Wall Street Journal, we should employ circular reasoning to justify our present misery in Afghanistan, precisely because we have a foot nailed to the floor. Whether the nation-building exercise was a good idea or not is immaterial, Mr. Stephens argues, because we are in fact there:
This analysis might be somewhat more compelling if we were having an argument about whether to invade Afghanistan in the first place, as if history were a cassette we could rewind and re-record at will. (Now there’s a liberal fantasy.) We are in Afghanistan now. So the choices before us are not what we should have done in 2001, when most Americans—and almost all conservatives—demanded we take Kandahar the way Sherman took Atlanta. The question is what we do in 2010.
Not all conservatives (e.g., this writer) supported the exercise to begin with, but that is another matter. We cannot win the war because our putative ally Pakistan is stabbing us in the back, and Mr. Stephens therefore argues that we must remain in the war, because otherwise Pakistan will not take us seriously:
The U.S. cannot remain a superpower if the suspicion takes root that we are a feckless nation that can be stampeded into surrender by a domestic caucus of defeatists. Allies or would-be allies will make their own calculations and hedge their bets. Why should we be surprised that this is precisely what Pakistan has done vis-a-vis the Taliban? It’s not as if the U.S. hasn’t abandoned that corner of the world before to its furies.
Missing from Mr. Stephens’ essay is the most important word in the region: “India.” America supports Pakistan because it is our policy to maintain the balance of power between the 170 million people of Pakistan and the 1.1 billion people of India. India, as I argued in the May issue of First Things, is the world’s largest democracy and a spectacular success story in many fields of economic and cultural endeavor; Pakistan is a nasty, fractious dictatorship whose fragile political cohesion depends on pursuing irredentist claims against India, including through the use of terrorists.
The alternative to our present dependence on Pakistan, a serial traitor to American interests, is to ally openly with India. Pakistan is scared to death of India, and the way to make Pakistan behave is to help India to encircle it, through a major presence in Afghanistan. The Chinese won’t like this, to be sure, but American diplomacy has ways to finesse this side of the problem. After years of siding with Pakistan, to be sure, establishing an alliance with India is considerably more difficult today than it would have been a couple of years ago. But it remains the best course of action. Get a few brigades of Indian special forces into Afghanistan, and watch Islamabad’s tone change.
Mr. Stephens’ failure to mention India, and his insistence that we continue to pursue the war within the flawed parameters established by the Bush administration, suggests an extra-strategic motivation. After an expenditure of a trillion dollars and 6,500 American dead in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is not easy for Republicans to concede that the nation-building ambitions of the Bush administration were a bad idea to begin with. So many reputations are on the line, though, that the Republicans will march into the political equivalent of the Valley of Death rather than admit that they made a mistake.
Mr. Stephens warns that “an American withdrawal from Afghanistan, followed by a partial or complete Taliban victory, would mean a humanitarian disaster for Afghans comparable to what happened in Southeast Asia after the Communist takeover in 1975.” If we allied with India, there might ensue a civil war in Pakistan, with an even bigger humanitarian disaster. If we continue to lose the war in Afghanistan, as Pakistan’s president explained yesterday, we will have the humanitarian disaster in any case. But the biggest bloodbath might be the slaughter of the reputations of the politicians and pundits who marched us down the wrong road to begin with.