What it all boils down to is that Osama would still be enjoying the protection of the Taliban in Afghanistan had he and his followers not attacked the US the way they did on 9/11.
For all the posturing by the current administration that they are tougher on terrorists, the United States would not have had the political will or sufficient support from Afghanistan’s neighbors to mount an invasion. Likely we would have continued to funnel support to enemies of the Taliban, and lob in the occasional cruise missile, but you would not have seen US ground troops in there. We would still be using incentives and threats to try to undermine support for Al-Qaida in nations like the United Arab Emirates. In short, we would be doing the same things we have been doing for a decade. When it comes to fighting terrorism, it doesn’t really matter much who the president is.
Iraq, on the other hand, is not about fighting terrorism. At first the Bush administration tried to frame it that way, but no one bought it. so he switched gears and began to rail about Weapons of Mass Destruction. Now that that argument seems to have been a mistake at best and an outright lie at worst, we are hearing about freedom for the Iraqi people. It’s harder to argue against that one, since they certainly were not free before and were suffering greatly, but it’s also the hardest promise to keep. I am skeptical that we will be able to let the Iraqis have complete control over their country without dissolving into civil war, and it will be a long, long time before that changes. I have hope for the Iraqi people, but I can’t help but be skeptical about our eventual success in fostering democracy in the region.
All that notwithstanding, would we have invaded Iraq without the false boogymen of terrorism and WMDs? Many of our allies in that fight have made it clear that they would not. Spain and Poland have both said they feel bamboozled. And what was the hurry? Iraq had been known to have WMDs long before, but suddenly the danger was so urgent that it was necessary to invade immediately. The reason was as simple as an approval rating of over 70% for the president. Strike while the polls are hot.
Which leaves Afghanistan incomplete and neglected. In Afghanistan the real terrorists are still hiding, and in some areas regrouping. Al-Qaida leadership continues to elude us. Pakistan, our so-called ally (you know, the one with weapons of mass destruction) has been shipping dangerous technology all over the place, while bin Laden hides within their borders. If they took some of the troops out of Kashmir, I bet they would have the resources to track him down.
Would a Democrat have invaded Afghanistan in response to 9/11? Hard to say for sure, but I think so. I doubt, however, that a Democrat or even a McCain or Powell-style Republican would have invaded Iraq. Iraq would still be a sore spot in the region, a constant source of frustration, but Americans would not be dying daily — the victims of terrorist acts. Indeed, rather than reduce the threat of terrorism, the invasion of Iraq has made terrorism so routine that it often goes unreported.