The first half of the column makes some decent points: the west isn't REALLY in peril of being wiped out by terrorists any time soon, it isn't helpful to describe the war on terror as being the west against all of Islam, etc. The problem is that he's not clear about who exactly he's arguing with. Observe:
To portray Islam as a whole as a concerted threat to western security, and to imply that the West’s democratic institutions and freedoms are not proof against that threat, is absurd and close to treason.
Who, exactly, is saying this? Why spend so much time using precious space at a major newspaper without naming names? I read dozens of pieces from the biggest names on the right every week and I never see anything along those lines. I read a heck of a lot more about needing to be able to counter the might of a different billion-people group, China. Neocons argue that we should seek to transform the Islamic world, and while the goal and its means are very debatable it's certainly nothing like the rhetoric used against (for example) the Soviet Bloc during the cold war.
Eh, wasted time and a strawman isn't what I came to gripe about anyway. This is:
This poison has not been generated by the teaching of Sayyid Qutb and his Al-Qaeda fanatics, but in the overreaction to them. After sowing their mayhem they, and not Iraq, should have been targeted and eliminated.
Wait a second, I can't be upset that someone wrote that, even if I disagree it's a perfectly reasonable and defensible... but that isn't what he wrote.
This poison has not been generated by the teaching of Sayyid Qutb and his Al-Qaeda fanatics, but in the overreaction to them. After sowing their mayhem they, and not Afghanistan and Iraq, should have been targeted and eliminated.
Excuse me? It's one thing to say that Saddam's Iraq, which wasn't a major base of Al Qaeda in 2002, should be left alone. It's quite another to say that we overreacted by attacking the Taliban, which refused to give up Al Qaeda and which is allied with them to this day. To imply that we "eliminated" either Iraq or Afghanistan, I'll chalk that up to simple word order, but at the very least it's obvious he means "targeted". First off it's just silly to say we targeted the entire countries, especially when it comes to Afghanistan. I'll skip back a moment for more insight on his mindset.
The chief threat to world security at present lies in the capacity of tiny groups of political Islamists to goad the West into a rolling military retaliation.
In other words, we should have a small fight against small groups of terrorists. That's all well and good if Al Qaeda was based in say the Swiss Alps, without the support of the Swiss. No need to depose a government there, just work with them to stage counterterrorism activities and clear out the bad guys. The problem is that when an active terrorist group is supported by a government, it is imperative that said government either renounce terrorism or pay the price. Let's ignore the notion that we committed some sort of moral crime in liberating Afghanistan; let's just focus on the fundamentals of the situation.
It is unimaginable to me that following 9/11 we should have tolerated the Taliban giving harbor to Al Qaeda. Even without the 9/11 attacks, everyone knew who Osama was and what his group stood for. The Taliban was comfortable with that. They gave a nod to "how do you know it was Al Qaeda" in refusing to authorize action against the AQ camps, but nobody really expected them to go along because the alliance between the groups was too deep. The point at which we go after Al Qaeda is the point at which it is necessary to deploy a significant military force, and since the Taliban refused to allow it the choice was between either taking the Taliban out as well or assuming that they'd just ignore our use of their roads and airports for military operations. I mean, I honestly don't understand this position.
It's one thing to say, "9/11 was an inside job and thus I opposed the war in Afghanistan". It's one thing to say, "we should show we're better by not fighting back and thus I opposed the war in Afghanistan". I disagree, but I understand. It's quite another to say "we should have attacked Al Qaeda but left the Taliban alone". If we'd tried to do that the Taliban wouldn't have left us alone to do our thing in Afghanistan. I almost feel like I'm trying to explain why one plus one equals two here, and I'm not sure if it's worth going into why the Taliban would have attacked our soldiers in Afghanistan if they were left in power.
We targeted the government of Afghanistan for facilitating the staging ground of the 9/11 attacks, and then refusing to end this policy after the attacks. Simply lobbing a couple missiles wouldn't have been sufficient unless they were nukes, thus there had to be a military deployment. This gets to the core of the problem behind the "we should only be targeting a few extremists" talking point: state sponsorship changes the equation. When a government is sheltering the extremists in question, going after them militarily with reasonable efficacy requires neutralizing the government as well. It's nasty but that's the reality of the situation.
Jenkins wants it both ways: he wants people to know he's against war, but he also wants to present himself as being willing to strike terrorists. When it comes to the aftermath of 9/11 those two things are very much contradictory.