There has been more momentum toward the bin Laden death leading to an exit from our occupation of Afghanistan than I expected. I expected more hesitancy from typically cautious Democrats around this point. But here’s Barney Frank making an argument:
Explaining his decision to vote for the Afghanistan war in 2001, Frank said, “We went there to get Osama bin Laden. And we have now gotten Osama bin Laden. … So yes, I think this does strengthen the case [for withdrawal].” [...]
“Look, part of the argument against this reduction is that it was reputational, for staying in Afghanistan. ‘We can’t look like America was driven out.’ ‘We can’t go away with our tail between our legs.’ All of those metaphors. Well, we just killed Osama bin Laden, and I think that takes a lot of the pressure away — a lot of the punch away from the argument that ‘oh, it will look like we walked away.’”
And more surprising to me, Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Carl Levin made the argument as well:
In Levin’s own words, “Afghans now are in an even better position to take responsibility, because whatever direction is coming from Pakistan, from that safe haven, no longer has the guidance, whatever strength bin Laden’s presence or direction could give to it.
“That’s now weakened. So the potential of the Afghan army and police to take responsibility is greater now and the fear that, gee whiz can they do it on their own, is something which now is of lesser concern, because the direction, the strength, the leadership of bin Laden and al Qaeda from that safe haven in Pakistan is severely weakened, and that should strengthen the hand of the Afghan security forces….
“I don’t think there was day-to-day control at all. What there was was this idea that somehow or other that the messages that come from across the border to die for the cause have that mystique behind those messages, when they’re given to those young people who are committing suicide. That’s gone. Now, there’ll be a substitute mystique which will be attempted and I don’t want to be naive at all about the fact that there may be — probably will be — an increase in suicide bombers as a kind of retaliation…but in terms of there being any more there in some sense guiding — a guiding hand — is now gone. It won’t be long before that settles in.”
This is pretty brazen on the part of typically more circumspect lawmakers. But they’re both talking about the same thing: all of the weird protocols and mythologies that accompanied bin Laden are really gone now. You strip that away and you’re left with nothing but a nation-building experiment in a nation that doesn’t really welcome our help to the same degree anymore.
The “substitute mystique” is already being built by conservatives who don’t want us to leave basically any battlefield. But the whole “cut and run” narrative that they will gin up in response is badly undermined by the reality of bin Laden’s death and even more so the location of it. Chris Hitchens’ early call for some kind of reckoning with Pakistan might be their next move. But that has little to do with Afghanistan, and our reason for continuing with 150,000 troops in a war that cannot be won.
What’s more, the fact that bin Laden was found in a medium-sized, relatively modern city in Pakistan should end once and for all the argument that we have to deny safe havens in Afghanistan. As Matt Yglesias says:
On the one hand, no location on earth is actually safe from a United States military capable of deploying special operations troops and a wide array of deadly airborne munitions. On the other hand, people can hide out in all kinds of places. It didn’t take a remote cave or a super-villain lair, it just took discipline. Trying to physical conquer and occupy territory in order to prevent it from being used by terrorists is extremely difficult, oftentimes counterproductive, unnecessary, and offers no guarantee of success.
And the safe haven myth has frequently been cited by the Administration as the central reason for the war effort.
Obama has a major leadership moment, and it’s coming as soon as July. We can end the mindset of the war on terror that impelled us into multiple wars of choice, and we can embark on a new partnership with the democratic soul of the Muslim world, seeking to break free after decades of silence.