May 14, 2009

Talkin' Afghanistan

I just taped an episode of To The Point with David Ignatius, Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), John Mueller, and some Canadian journalist who talked the most sense of any of us. You should be able to listen to the program here in a few hours now.

Mueller almost makes a really interesting case for not being in Afghanistan but -- as realists often do -- overstates his case by saying al-Qaeda doesn't represent a threat to the United States (and thus reminds us why policy-makers don't often listen to academics). I love it when political scientists in particular play down the effect of the September 11th attacks -- "It was only 3,000 dead! 40,000 people die in car crashes each year!" -- while utterly failing to recognize the political and psychological impact of terrorist attacks. That's not what Mueller does in this case, but in downplaying the threat of al-Qaeda in the way that he does, he displays a remarkably tin political ear for a political scientist. As you'll hear, I wasn't quite sure how to respond to his argument. On the one hand, I wanted to give him credit for stepping back and examining the underlying rationale for being in Afghanistan. But on the other hand, much of what he said to (over)state his case was ill-informed and silly.