Our senior editor David Pryce-Jones has written 25 books, something like that, and his latest is Treason of the Heart: From Thomas Paine to Kim Philby. It is about British people who took up foreign causes, usually because of hatred of their own country. Like all of P-J’s books — certainly all the ones I have read, and I’ve read probably 15 — it is wise, stylish, and compelling.
On Monday, he spoke on a BBC radio program called, appropriately enough, Start the Week. You can find that broadcast here. I always love to hear P-J talk: It’s one of my favorite pastimes. But I’m afraid it was a bit of a chore to hear another author, Sherard Cowper-Coles, speak first. He was the British ambassador to Afghanistan. And he has the usual Foreign Office things to say about world affairs, and America. As you might guess, I don’t mean “usual” in a complimentary way.
Especially galling was what Cowper-Coles had to say on this program about why the United States and its allies went to war in Afghanistan. He believes we should simply have waited for the Taliban to expel al-Qaeda, for those foreigners had “betrayed their hospitality” — the hospitality of the Taliban. But “realistically, the pressure on the United States president for violent revenge, the pressure from the American people to do something violent and immediate after the appalling atrocity of 9/11, was overwhelming.”
I recall what Donald Rumsfeld, at the DoD, said. This was not a matter of revenge — not a matter of retaliation or retribution. (I dubbed those the “three wrong R’s”: retribution, retaliation, and revenge.) There was nothing you could do for the dead of 9/11; you could not bring them back. But you could prevent future massacres, future victims. Al-Qaeda had pledged to hit us again and again and again. They had not said, “This was just a one-time deal, guys: Now we’ll be good boys. Shall we have a discussion?” In their minds, 9/11 was just the beginning. And what choice did we have but to go get them? To stop them, rout them, before they could strike us again?
We gave the Taliban an ultimatum: Cough them up or be invaded. They did not cough them up. And we invaded.
I realize there is always, or often, room for interpretation. Absolute truth in human affairs is scarce. But historical revisionism can be a terribly powerful and harmful thing. Once the Left gets full control of the Afghan War — as they seem to get full control of everything — what will people be taught about that war? That American bloodlust — our need for “violent revenge” — had to be sated? Will the Cowper-Coleses win? I would not bet against them.
P.S. Here’s one thing I appreciate about traditional Brits: the old pronunciation of the Afghan capital, Ka-BOOL. I have never reconciled myself to “Cobble.”