Hillsdale College Professor Paul Rahe’s first three books make up the trilogy Republics Ancient and Modern. His writes to comment on the choices confronting us in Afghanistan:
In the wake of 9/11, I wrote a post for National Review Online, in which I argued that Afghanistan was a red herring and suggested that getting us mired in that quagmire was a part of Osama bin Laden’s strategy.
Later, I had occasion — in another post on the same site — to acknowledge that
those of us who fretted that in turning first to Afghanistan we risked playing into the hands of our adversaries were proven quite fortunately wrong. We underestimated the scope of the military revolution that first became evident with our use of smart munitions in the Gulf War. We failed to understand just what havoc can be wreaked with such munitions in a terrain offering little in the way of natural cover. We misjudged Afghan animus against the Taliban and against Osama bin Laden’s foreign legion.
In that post, however, I erred in another fashion, arguing that, while “our forces may not have captured or killed the elusive mass murderer and his chief henchmen, . . . it is clear that, in time, they will. The leading figures within al Qaeda can run, but they cannot hide.”
I was at the time optimistic with regard to our capacity to establish a democracy in Iraq, and I remain cautiously optimistic now. Never, however, at any time did I contemplate the possibility that we could successfully establish a democratic polity of any sort in Afghanistan, and on that point I believe that I was right.
One of my former students was among those sent into Afghanistan early on. When he came back, I asked him what it was like, and he replied, “Time of Christ!” The phrase is not one I would have chosen. My sense had been that little had changed in Afghan mores and manners since Alexander the Great passed through, but his point was much the same.
In Iraq, I thought, the better part of the population lived in urban areas. In Iraq, there was a middle class. In Iraq, secularism had been a force. Afghanistan was a desperately impoverished, rural backwater in which a pre-modern ethos was predominant. And so it is.
Winston Churchill wrote and published Paul A. Rahe holds the Charles O. Lee and Louise K. Lee Chair in the Western Heritage at Hillsdale College. He is the author, most recently, of Montesquieu and the Logic of Liberty: War, Religion, Commerce, Climate, Terrain, Technology, Uneasiness of Mind, the Spirit of Political Vigilance, and the Foundations of the Modern Republic and Soft Despotism, Democracy’s Drift: Montesquieu, Rousseau, Tocqueville, and the Modern Prospect.