PAKISTAN….Via Matt Yglesias, I see that Fred Kagan has a long piece up at National Review arguing (surprise!) that liberals who want to withdraw from Iraq are a bunch of defeatist appeasers like Neville Chamberlain. That’s a fresh approach, isn’t it? And it doesn’t get much better from there. It’s mostly a phoned-in mishmash of straw men, race-baiting, appeals to cultural solidarity (against the “hyper-sophisticates” who oppose the war), chest thumping, semantic games, and, despite its title, virtually no attempt to tell us “Why Iraq Matters.”

However, credit where it’s due: Kagan does make one good point. At the very end of the piece he takes on the argument that Iraq is a distraction from the real war on terror:

Considering [] that there are very few and very small al-Qaeda bases in Afghanistan, that al-Qaeda in South Asia is mostly in Pakistan, and that none of those insisting that the U.S. abandon Iraq to fight the “real” enemy in Afghanistan have proposed any meaningful plans for dealing with Chitral and Waziristan where that “real” enemy actually is […] how, exactly, is Iraq a distraction from the war on terror?

Now, as it happens, I think most of us hyper-sophisticates believe that Iraq is more than just a distraction from fighting al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. There’s a much broader argument here about the effective use of American military power that Kagan ignores. Still, he’s got a point about Pakistan. That is where al-Qaeda is mostly holed up these days, and no one — not liberals, not conservatives, not anyone — really has any bright ideas about how to root them out. Long story short, it’s not clear if the U.S. military could do it even if we wanted them to, and in any case, no one wants to start a war with Pakistan.

Obviously this isn’t a reason to stay in Iraq. If anything, it’s yet another demonstration of the limits of military force. Still, it’s a good question: what should we do about al-Qaeda in Pakistan? Nobody ever seems to want to talk very concretely about that.

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation