On the 17th birthday of the evil War in Afghanistan

Hi Joel,

You recently shared your concerns about the challenge of approaching political discussions humbly. That post has given me a lot to think about, and I’ll likely keep thinking about it over several posts over the next weeks, but I wanted to start with the outrage that Howard Dean’s 2005 comment caused. As you shared, Dean, then the DNC chair, was fundraising in Kansas and also working his 50 state strategy, in which the Democratic Party would invest even in places that were traditional Republican strongholds.

During one of Dean’s speeches, he told Democratic listeners,

“This is a struggle of good and evil. And we’re the good.”

That upset some Republicans, who, like most of us, don’t like to be called evil. The local party leader claimed to be “shocked” at the words, and called Dean “hateful.” (Please keep in mind that this is the party, even then, that regularly calls its opponents “baby killers” and accuses them of hating America and wishing for our destruction.)

But Dean was right (well, half right). He was clear in his speech that he was talking about conservative Republicans. He made the point that moderate Republicans want better choices. Conservatives are intolerant, he argued. In fact, “They don’t think tolerance is a virtue.” And when you reject tolerance in favor of racism, misogyny, homophobia, and xenophobia… well, that’s evil.

After decades of rightwing attacks on the very idea of toleration (whether they derisively call it “moral relativism” or “political correctness”), Dean simply echoed what the rightwing says about itself: “They don’t think tolerance is a virtue” isn’t an insult but an observation from the outside and, from the inside, a boast.

But what strikes me most about this quotation is that Dean was right that conservative Republicans were up to evil. By 2005, we were just 4 years into one of our longest-ever wars; Tomorrow, October 7, we will have been waging war in Afghanistan for 17 years

The War in Afghanistan can almost vote. I wonder how it would have voted back in 2000, when the Supreme Court, violating the will of American voters, put George W. Bush into office.

During that time, we’ve seen thousands of US servicemen and women die abroad. We’ve seen more come home to commit suicide. Others live with scars physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual.

Above, George W. Bush paints portraits of members of the US military whose lives he endangered or ended by waging a war in Afghanistan. If there is a less-evil alternative to warfare, Republican leadership has yet to consider it.
And we’ve killed anywhere from half a million to 4 million, depending on how “Global War on Terror” is defined. In any case, we’re talking about casualty rates that can easily be described as “evil” no matter how you look at them.

Dean was right: in 2005, Republican leaders were doing evil things. And, if you do evil things over a lifetime, you end up shaping your character into an evil thing, too.

But Dean was also wrong: the Republicans launching a poorly considered, unwinnable, expensive, highly lethal war on questionable legal grounds was evil, but that doesn’t mean that Democrats are good. While we can imagine that Al Gore would have responded differently to the attacks of September 11 (After all, his predecessor had responded quite differently to the truck bomb attack on the World Trade Center in 1993.), we just don’t know. And while Democrats tend not to rush headlong into war, Congressional Democrats overwhelming supported military intervention and, on the homefront, a frightening expansion of executive power.

I don’t think that both sides are equally evil. I also don’t think that Democrats are good enough to be called good. But, one day, we could have politicians who are.


*In an earlier version of this post, I mistakenly said we had been in Afganitan for 18 years. That wasn’t accurate, so I have updated the post.

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