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March 31, 2008

Max Boot: Even Wackier Edition
Posted by Patrick Barry

I second Michael’s move to have Max Boot declared March’s Global Village Dunce, but I also want to point out another reason why the strategic conceptions girding Boot’s argument -- that withdrawal from Iraq will mean devastating victory for al-Qaeda – are just massively flawed.  This weekend Boot made explicit what I have long suspected is the point of reference for all conservatives making the ‘Iraq in Flames’ argument – the Soviet failure to defeat the Mujahadeen during the Soviet-Afghan War: 

Just as Islamist militants were emboldened by the Soviet Union's retreat from Afghanistan in 1989, so they would be encouraged by our premature departure from Iraq.

Implicit in conservative’s reliance on this historical analogy, and their fear that a withdrawal from Iraq will cede victory to Al-Qaeda and send the United States on a path of irreversible decline, is an assumption that the Soviet Union’s collapse came as a direct result of the Red Army’s defeat in Afghanistan at the hands of the Mujahadeen.  What follows is a crude outline of this utterly absurd logic:

  1. American-backed Mujahadeen fight Soviets in Afghanistan.
  2. Mujahadeen defeat Soviets.
  3. 2 years later, Soviet Union collapses.
  4. Mujahadeen triumph = Soviet collapse.

Boot and his cronies are essentially trying to say “Hey America, did you see what happened to the Soviets after we paid the Afghans to kick their ass? Well that’s what’s going to happen if we re-deploy from Iraq.”  Not only does this massively overstate the role that United States played in upending the USSR (whose economy had been stagnant for over a decade and whose per capita GDP in 1989 was a little over 2/5th the size of our own), but the situations aren’t even close to being similar in the first place. 

As bad as the Bush Administration has made things in Iraq, the choice faced by the United States there is not existential. American re-deployment is not the same as American defeat for precisely the reasons that Michael and others have outlined – that Al Qaeda will likely have a pretty tough time declaring victory when there are 30,000 more American troops stationed right on their doorstep.  Conservatives like Boot are too busy playing Cold War analogy games to grasp this relatively simple, but important strategic distinction. 


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But remember when we withdrew from Viet Nam and lost that proxy war? Our entire society collapsed. All of the states went their separate ways, it was terrible!