Charles Krauthammer bashes Democrats who call Afghanistan the site of "the real war" on terror. I'm sure it's true that Democrats prefer talking about Afghanistan to Iraq because it's an easier moral case. But Krauthammer's argument is built around an awfully glib view of Afghanistan's strategic value.
Thought experiment: Bring in a completely neutral observer -- a Martian -- and point out to him that the United States is involved in two hot wars against radical Islamic insurgents. One is in Afghanistan, a geographically marginal backwater with no resources and no industrial or technological infrastructure. The other is in Iraq, one of the three principal Arab states, with untold oil wealth, an educated population, an advanced military and technological infrastructure that, though suffering decay in the later years of Saddam Hussein's rule, could easily be revived if it falls into the right (i.e., wrong) hands. Add to that the fact that its strategic location would give its rulers inordinate influence over the entire Persian Gulf region, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the Gulf states. Then ask your Martian: Which is the more important battle? He would not even understand why you are asking the question. [emphasis added]
But is Afghanistan really so "geographically marginal"? I would say that Martian might take careful note of Afghanistan's neighbor, Pakistan. He might wonder why Americans aren't downright panicked that an unstable nation infested with Islamic radicals constantly trying to assassinate its dictator has a substantial arsenal of nuclear weapons. And moreover that a top Pakistani nuclear scientist, A.Q. Khan, has shared nuclear secrets with America's enemies. And that other Pakistani nuclear scientists are reported to have met with Osama bin Laden himself.
I see the Pakistani bomb as a greater near-term threat to my own life than anything that might happen in Iraq in the next few years. Given the proximity of Afghanistan to Pakistan, and the way Islamic radicals play the two countries off one another, it seems to me that creating stability and a climate
inhospitable to anti-American terrorists there is no "marginal" thing at all. Surely Krauthammer's Martian could understand that.