Ron Paul knows even less about the history of our enemies than he does about their proper treatment under the Constitution. He actually interrupted Monday night’s Republican candidates’ debate so he could interject the following:
I would like to point out one thing about the Taliban. The Taliban used to be our allies when we were fighting the Russians. So Taliban are people who want — their main goal is to keep foreigners off their land. It’s the al-Qaeda — you can’t mix the two. The al-Qaeda want to come here to kill us. The Taliban just says, “We don’t want foreigners.” We need to understand that, or we can’t resolve this problem in the Middle East. We are going to spend a lot of lives and a lot of money for a long time to come.
Everything in this statement is wrong. Everything. Let’s start with the most basic point. The Taliban most certainly were not “our allies when we were fighting the Russians.” How could they have been, considering that the Taliban did not exist at the time of the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan?
I won’t belabor the point that it was not the United States but the Afghan mujahadeen, with the help of non-Afghan Muslims (mostly Arab), who did the actual fighting against the Soviets. We did, after all, fuel the anti-Soviet jihad with billions of dollars in materiel and other assistance — through our intermediary, Pakistani intelligence, with the Saudis matching our aid dollar-for-dollar. Presumably, this is what Representative Paul was talking about. Nevertheless, while a number of the Taliban’s eventual founders were veterans of the anti-Soviet jihad, the fact is that the Taliban was not established as an organization until 1994. That is five years after the Soviet Union skulked out of Afghanistan and three years after it collapsed.
Paul’s claim that the Taliban is just opposed to foreign interference in Afghanistan is patently absurd. To begin with, the Taliban’s creation was a direct result not of foreign invasion but of Afghanistan’s internecine tribal warfare after the Soviets left and the Americans lost interest. Its unabashed goal was to crush Afghan factions that impeded its establishment of a retrograde sharia state.
Moreover, the Taliban craves foreign interference, without which it would never have come to power. A Pashtun movement driven by Islamic scholars and spearheaded by Mullah Mohammed Omar in Kandahar, the Taliban owes its existence to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. These Muslim nations, two of the only three nations in the world to recognize the Taliban-led government in Kabul, nurtured, armed, and financed the Taliban in its origin. They did so precisely because the Taliban was an effective ally in their machinations against regional rivals — India for the Pakistanis and Iran for the Saudis. The alliance was also grounded in the Taliban’s espousal of Deobandism, an uncompromising construction of Islam propagated in Afghan madrassas built by the Saudis’ Muslim World League in conjunction with Jamaat-e-Islami, Pakistan’s supremacist Islamic movement.
It should come as no surprise, then, that the Taliban willingly gave al-Qaeda safe haven, knowing full well that bin Laden’s network was engaged in a global jihad that targeted the United States as its primary enemy. Al-Qaeda struck American interests several times while it had sanctuary from the Taliban, attacking American embassies in East Africa and the USS Cole in Yemen before orchestrating the 9/11 attacks. By quite consciously accommodating and protecting an international terrorist organization that was at war with the United States, the Taliban joined al-Qaeda and became an enemy of the United States. It was thus every bit as much a part of al-Qaeda’s attacks on the U.S. as was al-Qaeda itself. That is not only how war works, it is a straightforward application of the criminal-law principles that Representative Paul claims to like so much — a conspirator and an aider-and-abettor is responsible for the actions of his confederates.
Speaking of the criminal law, it bears remembering that the American invasion of Afghanistan was not inevitable. Contrary to Paul’s offensive depiction of a ravenous, empire-building America ever on the prowl for the next military conquest, the Bush administration did not rush to war. As I’ve pointed out before, in the weeks after 9/11, even after Congress authorized the use of military force, President Bush pointedly asked the Taliban to hand bin Laden and his organization over to the United States so that they could be tried — bin Laden having been indicted years earlier by an American grand jury. The Taliban repeatedly refused. Our choice at that point was either to invade, overthrow the Taliban, and smash al-Qaeda, or to let it be known that the United States would tolerate a massive attack on our homeland. That was no choice at all.
Ron Paul is dangerously delusional about the Taliban’s Weltanschauung. To be fair, these are delusions he shares with leftists — including members of the Obama administration– who insist that we must purge all references to Islam from our consideration of the threat we face.
The Taliban does not say, “We don’t want foreigners.” If you are an Arab jihadist, an operative of Pakistan’s heavily Islamist intelligence service, or a Saudi Wahhabist royal ready to build Afghanistan’s next-generation madrassas, the Taliban is delighted to have you in their country. It is non-Muslims they don’t want. And it is non-Muslim superpowers that they especially despise, since these they see as standing athwart their divine mission to subject the world to the rule of Islamic law.
That is why they protected al-Qaeda even at the cost of their own power. That is why negotiating with them is self-defeating and leaving them alone, as Paul would have us do, is suicidal. Of course we should avoid unnecessary wars. But when we find ourselves in necessary wars, we need to win them. To adopt the Paul rationalization that such wars are our own fault and that we can secure ourselves by shrinking from them is just as fatuous as rationalizing that democracy will tame the jihad.
— Andrew C. McCarthy, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, is the author, most recently, of The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America.