I’ll take “least popular political takes” for $1000, Alex … er, Mayim. Is there any constituency for a new invasion of Afghanistan, short of another 9/11-scale attack on the United States? Lindsey Graham thinks the threat will be so large as to generate enough popular support for restarting a war that most Americans stopped caring about a decade ago.
BBC interviewer Stephen Sackur can’t believe his ears, but Graham argues we won’t have any choice:
Graham, in an interview with the BBC on Monday, predicted a looming clash between the Taliban and extremist groups such as the Islamic State would necessitate American military action in the country. “We will be going back into Afghanistan,” Graham said. “We’ll have to, because the threat will be so large.”
He said that Afghanistan “will be a cauldron for radical Islamic behavior,” presenting the United States with only two options: “You can say that’s no longer my problem … or hit them before they hit you.”
I hate to break this to Graham, but the public has long been in the “no longer my problem” camp on Afghanistan. The Washington Post looks to its own polling series to discover that the war in Afghanistan last had majority support in 2009, about the same time that Joe Biden started arguing to bug out. The Post polling was hardly an outlier; I can’t remember the last time that a poll showed a plurality for staying put, let alone support for an entire re-invasion with all of the risks and costs associated with that.
Bear in mind too that this fantasy invasion will necessarily be an entirely American enterprise. In 2001, we had the Northern Alliance of tribal warlords on the ground to assist us and a truly broad international coalition based on the Article V declaration with NATO. After watching us bug out without so much as a consultation with the Brits, our closest ally, who will partner up with us the next time? For that matter, how do we get there now? Pakistan sided with us in 2001 out of fear of the consequences for crossing us after 9/11, but they have no reason to assist us in attacking their Taliban allies now. One look at the map shows how difficult the lines of communication will be for a re-invasion of Afghanistan from the sea. Russia will lean on their former Soviet satellites to deny us access from land, and after watching us run away from the Taliban over the past month, countries like Tajikistan and Uzbekistan will think twice about assuming that a partnership with the US is worth that risk.
Unfortunately for all of us, Graham’s actually right on everything else here. There is no way to conduct “over the horizon” counterterrorism operations effectively without at least some boots on the ground and a reliable intel network in place. The Taliban have already begun to impose their 7th-century cultural beliefs on Afghanistan. The terrorist threat has already risen significantly; their new interior minister is Sirajuddin Haqqani, also featured on the FBI’s most wanted terrorist list and an ally of al-Qaeda. We can expect radical Islamist terror networks to seek shelter in Afghanistan while plotting large scale attacks on the US and other Western nations. And we could have prevented all of that with a residual force of 2500 troops and commitments to logistics, intelligence, and air cover for the Afghan army without risking combat ourselves.
Graham is dead wrong about hitting the Taliban before the terrorists hit us, however. Especially in an administration this craven. That ship has sailed, or shall we say that the last plane out has already left that airspace.