I’ve been listening to various discussions, on the radio, or rather not discussions but exchanges of firmly held non-negotiable views, about Obama and his speech on Afghanistan. No one seems fully satisfied. Those who support Obama’s decision to send 30,000 more troops mostly dislike the announced pull-out of all American troops from Afghanistan after eighteen months, though since the speech was delivered, that promise has been glossed by Secretary Gates and others. Admiral Mullen, for example, on CBS News, said this: “It’s very clear that the president has given us guidance that in July of 2011, we’ll start to transition security responsibility to the Afghan national security forces,” Mullen told “Early Show” co-anchor Harry Smith. “There’s no determination of how long that will take… There’s no specific guidance with respect to how many. It could be very few, it could be a large number.”
So all those worries about a definite date when the American troops absolutely, positively have to be out, that “date certain” (lots of people love saying that phrase – to them it sounds so Covington-and-Burlingish), are perhaps not necessary. For those who think the Afghan game worth the American candle, and judging by Mullen, Gates and others, the gloss to be put on Obama’s phrases admits of such flexibility about the phrase that not even W. C. Fields should bother his pretty little head and spend time “looking for loopholes.” The “loopholes,” Gates and Mullen assure us, are already there.
And then there are those who have had the opposite reaction, who are made furious by Obama’s decision. Many of these are his original, true-blue supporters. What do they talk about? They talk mainly about money. They are horrified – rightly – that another one or two hundred billion dollars is going to be spent in Afghanistan. They are well aware of what that money could do. Why, just $400 million of it would restore the cuts in Medicare that the Senate approved the other day. There would be no debate, there would not have to be any debate, about health care if the sums squandered in Afghanistan and Iraq had been kept at home. Nor would there be a problem with paying for road and bridge repairs all over the country, for tuition assistance for practically everyone, for energy projects. Oh, they have a point all right, those who talk about the money.
But they would be in a stronger position if one did not suspect that many of them also, at the same time, have no great interest in resisting, or even in recognizing, the Jihad. No one I have listened to who is against continuing the effort in Afghanistan has suggested all the other, much less expensive, more effective ways, to divide and demoralize the enemy, and to weaken the hold that the ideology of Islam has on its adherents. No one, in fact, mentions Islam at all, mentions the ways in which both the outcomes in Iraq and Afghanistan are irrelevant to the instruments of Jihad that really count, above all in the historic heart of the West, Europe. No one mentions the Money Weapon, and how it makes no sense to keep spending money – any money at all — on Muslims in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan. No one mentions the need, if indeed one were to believe (no one should) that “jobs” would lessen the recruitment rate for the Taliban – for Saudi Arabia, and the U.A.E., and other fabulously rich Arab sheikdoms to be contributing billions and tens of billions to those states. For it was they who funded, they who diplomatically recognized, they who gave every assistance, through institutions and individuals, to the Taliban, and then the Taliban gave succor and refuge and aid to Al Qaeda.
So on the one hand, there are the Republican loyalists, the people who still implicitly must think (do they think?) that Muslims are essentially swell, that Islam itself is not a problem, that only some “violent extremists” are the problem — though no one, ever, has come up with a single text, a single passage, that those “violent extremists” rely on that is not from the Qur’an, Hadith, or from the example furnished by Muhammad in the Sira. No one has dared to define the ideology of “violent extremists” that somehow is supposed to set them apart from the ideology of Islam itself. And of course they can’t. What they could do is instead ask themselves another question: in what ways do those who are not “violent extremists” manage to pursue the same goal, using slyer methods, especially in the Western world? And what are those instruments of Jihad – the very same Jihad, with the very same goals, but pursued through qitaal, or combat, and terrorism, by those “violent extremists” whom we all agree are very bad? If the ultimate goals are the same, shouldn’t we look to see not only how to diminish terrorism, but to deal with all the other weapons of Jihad – the Money Weapon, campaigns of Da’wa, demographic conquest? This is something about which the Republican Senators and Congressmen are silent. They think they can continue to claim to be “tough-minded” by supporting troops, and more troops – that is, by supporting the squandering of men, money, materiel, and morale, both civilian and political. And they are opposed by people who won’t discuss Islam, as an ideology, at all, but will only talk about all the money that could be spent on other things.