I got involved in a comment thread at the Hamster
about whether the war in Afghanistan was justified. Just like Howard Dean does, it is easy for many to claim that the Afghan war was an appropriate response to 9/11. I disagree. Here are the comments that I made there, slightly edited to make a little more sense (since I'm not posting the comments of the others in the thread).
We'll never know for sure if there was any real justification for the war in Afghanistan since Bush has blocked or hindered every attempt to investigate what really happened on 9/11 and who was responsible. From what we seem to know about the hijackers, where they lived, where they came from, and where they got their money from, attacks on Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Germany and Florida seem to be as justifiable as the attack on Afghanistan. (Florida not only harbored Atta and other hijackers, it also harbors terrorists who blew up a Cuban airliner in the '70's.)
And while the leaders of the Taliban were nutcases, many of their soldiers that we killed or detained were simply teenagers drafted at gunpoint.
Three-thousand mostly innocent civilians were killed in the US on 9/11. Our response was to kill thousands of people almost none of whom could possibly have been involved in 9/11. (I say "mostly innocent civilians" because some in the Pentagon were not civilians, and former FBI agent John O'Neill was working in the WTC that day. He had spent most of the previous decade tracking Osama. I'm not saying he shouldn't have, or that he deserved to die for it, but he was an avowed enemy of al Qaeda. If OBL applied Bush's warped logic, which is certainly possible, he could claim that O'Neill was his target and the rest were just regrettable collateral damage.)
Congress and the president should have an almost overwhelming bias against war. Unfortunately, since 9/11, it has been just the opposite. The first Gulf War came back to haunt us through OBL, Timothy McVeigh, Terry Nichols, and John Alan Mohammed. These two new Bush wars will almost certainly have similar blowback. And what's really scary is that I think Bush welcomes it. Bring 'em on.
Just before the bombing started and for a short while after that, the Taliban did make offers to turn over OBL through a third country if Bush presented them with evidence of his involvement. W said stuff about not negotiating with terrorists (although they had been courting the Taliban about the pipeline before 9/11, even though they "harbored" OBL then and he had been blamed for the attacks on the embassies and the Cole), and went ahead with his war.
The war wasn't a just one because the number of people killed, wounded and captured who had nothing to do with 9/11 far outnumbered those who did. I'm still not convinced that anyone outside the 19 hijackers was actually involved in the planning of 9/11. Atta seems to have been quite bright and perfectly capable of coming up with the scheme mostly on his own. They certainly had outside support in terms of funding, probably from Saudi Arabia. But seriously, except in the most general way (go do something nasty to America), the actual planning for 9/11 could not have been done in the mountains of Afghanistan. No internet, no phones, probably days to get a message out. It was planned in apartments in Germany and Florida and New Jersey and San Diego. And almost all of the people involved in the planning died in the execution, IMHO.
Destroying the Taliban was gratuitous and unnecessary (not to mention unsuccessful, judging by recent news reports). Our troops still seem to have a license to kill anyone who was ever affiliated with the Taliban, even as just a lowly foot soldier. Just as in Iraq, lots of boys and men in Afghanistan have lost brothers and fathers (and sisters and mothers and so on) due to this excessive and brutal US response. I'm sure many of them have already dedicated their lives to getting revenge.
One other thing: the idea that the Taliban was "harboring" OBL. It took the most sophisticated military in the history of the world months to clear al Qaeda out of Afghanistan, and we're still not sure it's a done deal. How could one of the least sophisticated militaries, the Taliban, have possibly accomplished kicking al Qaeda out using Nissan pickups and AK-47's? Al Qaeda was there because they couldn't be kicked out easily, if at all. The Taliban had no choice but to tolerate OBL, at a minimum. Since they were in a struggle against the also brutal "Northern Alliance," they chose to court OBL rather than offend him. They probably wanted to--my point is they had little choice. Bush's "make no distinction between terrorists and those who harbor them" was the problem. Assuming the common assumptions are correct (though there's really no evidence supporting it, as FBI Director Mueller said in a speech last year), OBL and al Qaeda deserved to be punished for 9/11. The Taliban, brutal as they were (are), did not, especially the soldiers. Bush could have said "Taliban, get out of our way, we're taking out Osama." Instead, he just lumped them all together and started killing al Qaeda and Taliban and civilians. And Osama seems to still be running around.
Killing thousands of Taliban soldiers and holding thousands of others prisoner because their leaders didn't do something they were probably incapable of doing (expelling OBL) seems pretty unjust to me.