"I do not believe we have locked ourselves into leaving," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said during a Senate committee hearing Wednesday. "But what we have done ... is to signal very clearly to all audiences that the United States is not interested in occupying Afghanistan."I admit it: I relish the image of Hillary, the pantsuit vampire of our times, acting out this well-armed community-theater adaptation of Bartelby the Scrivener.
-reported on NPR
"Get the fuck out of Afghanistan, America!"
"We would prefer not to."
Now I do not wish to reopen the old back-and-forth with Michael Bérubé. In the first place he recently made some mildly complimentary comments about yours truly and I am truly, truly that capricious and self-involved. Rather more substantively, I am immensely enjoying the recently enjoined cockfight between him and Louis Proyect, for there is nothing so wonderful as an internecine lefty-fight--with any luck, all the world's unrepentent Marxists and liberal internationalists will eventually slash each other to death with the razors tied to their feet and we can fee their unrecognizeable, bloody remains to the one pig in Afghanistan as expiation for the sins of ineffectuality and hubris. (You can guess to which side each of those is assigned.)
And yet I do wonder what the author of The Left at War has got to say about Afghanistan now. To his credit, I do not believe that Béreubé ever used that most disgusting of all clichés and called Afghanistan "the good war." But he has certainly spoken of its necessity and derided those who always opposed it as being so in thrall to a Chomskyian vision of bloody American imperialism that they (we) simply retreated in a familiar black-and-white (he would say Manichean, but I can't condone that misuse of the word or slander of a perfectly, wonderfully weird cosmology) world where America is the rote evildoer, everyone else is ground under our heel, and not even a direct attack on our own country merited a military response.
To be sure--plenty of people were making something resembling that argument! Personally, I'm sympathetic to it, although I think it simplifies. I would say more accurately that regarding the justification proferred for 9/11 by its evident architects, America's pernicious actions and influence in the "Muslim world" were real, but ultimately pretextual, and that 9/11 was in turn actual, but nonetheless mere pretext for for invading Afghanistan. That is to say, there's a certain truth to the claims that these attacks and invasions were responses to provocations, but a very limited sort of truth: a small truth told in such a way as to make it a large lie.
So. Cast backwards. It is the 9/12 Lacuna of Good Feelings and everyone has set to crying, "Something must be done!" But had you asked a lousy anarchist, fatalist, and defeatist like me where I thought we'd be in 2010, I'd have told you straight up: Still In Afghanistan, for no particular reason, with a President of one or other party making speeches that sound like self-fulfilling prophecies. Why?
Not because America is malevolent, but because America is heedless.
This is ultimately my beef with liberal internationalism. I mean, I echo its critics from the left when they accuse its proponents of white-washing America's truly execrable history as an imperial and colonial power, but I think that critique, while accurate, misses the point. Though they would perhaps not go as far as I, or the "Chomskian Left" would like, I think you will find that folks like Bérubé accede to and accept the argument that America has often behaved very, very badly and deservedly won itself enemies. They'd simply say: we wish to redirect America's power for good. But America's power can't be redirected for good because it has no moral component. It isn't malevolent either. It can't be understood as a matter of good and evil, or right and wrong. It is a product of pressures and incentives, economies and assumptions, interia and habit, circumstance and accident. I do not actually think America invaded Afghanistan because it wished to do evil, nor (more charitably) because it confused right intention with right action. I think that its invasion was all-but-predetermined, set in advance by accumulated history, triggered by a particular event, yes--but if not triggered by that, then it would have been by something else. And while I think that we are obliged to bear witness to it as a matter of individual responsibility and morality, as a matter of personal right action, I also think that the arguments we've all been having about who does or does not support it are wholly immaterial, as likewise I believe the question of whether or not America should or should not intervene in this or that conflict, genocide, civil war, or what have you in such and such part of the world and for some or other purpose are immaterial; America either will or will not, but never because of what anybody thinks.