Michael Tomasky v. Michael Moore: Whose Afghanistan View is More Imperialist?

As I've said before, are no good solutions for the mess that is Afghanistan. But there are some that are less bad than others.  That's why I offer qualified, tentative support for the U.S. military's surge in Afghanistan. The U.S. has done a lot to make that mess, going back to the CIA's role in creating the radical madrassahs -- the religious schools -- that gave birth to the militarized religious extremism one finds in Afghanistan today.


In his open letter to President Obama last week, filmmaker Michael Moore all but accused the president of imperialist designs in his plan to add an additional 30,000 troops to the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan. When The Guardian's Michael Tomasky took issue with that characterization, Lindsay Beyerstein blogged (in a Majikthise post picked up by AlterNet), that Tomasky had it all wrong, and accused him of sneering at the presumably earnest Moore. (Well, Tomasky did accuse Moore of producing a gas-filled missive.)

Before I go further, allow me some full disclosure: Tomasky is a friend and my former bossman from the days when I was a columnist and blogger for The American Prospect. Beyerstein is a friend and colleague from my stint at The Media Consortium. Michael Moore is an acquaintance with whom I interviewed for a job some 20 or so years ago.  Don't really know him, but I loved Roger and Me.

Now that that's out of the way, I'm throwing in with Tomasky.

First, I think that the knee-jerk, anti-Afghanistan-war reaction of many on the left is no less imperialistic -- perhaps even more so -- than the case for staying in. I mean, really, how progressive is it to mess with the internal politics -- to the point of arming various factions the better to vanquish one's own enemy -- of an impoverished nation for 30 years, and then leave it broken and abandoned for the second time in three decades?

When progressives make the case that American dollars would be better put to use feeding Americans than helping Afghanistan create a nation out of the wreckage the U.S. helped to create, aren't we just saying that, despite the fact that we suck up more of the world's resources than we deserve, we're better and different than the Afghans? That they somehow deserved their fate? And now that our leaders have so screwed up the global economy that we're feeling it at home, we don't want to spend the money to fix what we broke?

Anti-war progressives are acting as if the U.S. had no history in Afghanistan prior to the 2001 invasion. In his open letter, Moore invokes the disastrous end met by the Soviet Union in Afghanistan as a parallel to the U.S.'s present involvement. He leaves out the part where the end met by the USSR came at the point of Stinger missiles provided by the U.S. to the religious warriors who formed the Soviet Union's opposition, and the U.S. abandonment of Afghanistan after the Soviet defeat.

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