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Is the Afghanistan Debate Changing?

Michael Cohen at Democracy Arsenal thinks it is:

[I]f the Iraq war showed us anything it is that untested and unquestioned assumptions can lead to disastrous outcomes. We all have a responsibility to scrutinize the arguments that would cost the lives of American servicemen and ensnare the country in potential military quagmires. And that means questioning the pronouncements of our leaders – whatever our political affiliation. As someone pointed out to me recently, our default position on going to war or intensifying a military intervention should be “this might not be such a good idea,” unless someone can make the case why military conflict is in the national interest. But generally it seems since September 11th, the opposite has occurred – the pressure is on opponents to prove why military intervention is a bad idea. And in a politicized national security environment that is not an easy argument to make.

I was talking about something similar with a colleague earlier today. The Iraq debate tore the left into factions. Did you support the war on human-rights grounds? Oppose it on realist grounds? Oppose it out of general dovishness? Support it out of post-9/11 political opportunism? Support it as a measure about WMD proliferation? Each faction wanted to make its argument into a broader critique of what liberalism meant after 9/11 and why its opposing factions had revealed an intellectual decadence within liberalism.

And Afghanistan in 2009 … isn’t that at all. One of the things that’s struck me about the Afghanistan debate — aside from how muted-to-nonexistent it is — is that no one is making an argument about what it means for liberalism. There’s a general lack of certainty on the part of those who favored the troop increase earlier this year that tends to preclude ideological arguments. One result is a more open atmosphere to reexamine fundamental premises of the war. Maybe that’s one component to the changing debate Michael is observing.

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