One helpful service the microblogging platform Twitter provides is that it allows mainstream journalists who are not supposed to express bias to demonstrate which opinions are not considered biased. Monday night, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted her views about the beginning of the war in Afghanistan:
All of Congress was wrong, including both GOP & Dem Party, and led my generation into a disastrous + wrong war that virtually all would come to regret, except for the one member who stood up: Barbara Lee.
And so yesterday morning, Jake Tapper, the CNN host and 2016 presidential debate moderator, had a batch of follow-up questions:
Congresswoman, could you please explain more about what you think the US should have done post-9/11 regarding Afghanistan? Should there not have been any NATO/US action versus AQ/Taliban in your view? A limited one? What would you have supported?
These are fine questions to ask about what policies the United States should have pursued in 2001. But why was Tapper jumping up to ask them of someone who was 11 years old when Congress passed its 2001 Authorization of Military Force? There are people currently in Congress, or on the presidential campaign trail, who were responsible for casting those votes then, and who probably could stand to think them through and explain what they might have done differently.
Instead, Tapper was challenging Ocasio to defend the claim that going to war in Afghanistan—a war we have been grinding away at for 17 years, at great cost and for no identifiable benefit—was “disastrous” and “wrong.” In a country that took any responsibility for the results of its wars, this would not even be in question. After thousands of American military deaths and tens of thousands of Afghan civilian deaths, the Taliban endure, and when Osama bin Laden was killed, he turned out to have been in Pakistan. The obvious and correct answer to “What do you think the U.S. should have done in 2001?” is “Literally anything other than what we did do.”
But Tapper was attacking the question from the other direction, on the premise that the only alternative to invasion would have been to do nothing about al Qaeda or the Taliban—the premise, after all these pointless brutal years of counter-evidence, that the war in Afghanistan was necessary. Ocasio replied to him, as she tends to when someone prominent demands justification for her possibly stepping outside the consensus:
I think that our decision to enter unlimited engagement in Afghanistan, particularly through the AUMF + Congress’ abdication of power + decision-making w/ passage of the AUMF, was a mistake.
Other options: targeting the network itself, limited engagement, non-intervention.
Tapper retweeted her but did not ask any more questions.
Most of the press doesn’t spend much day-to-day attention on Afghanistan after all these years. Jake Tapper is an exception to this: He wrote a book about the war; he tweets regularly about the people who have been fighting there, even as the regular news cycles have long since tuned it all out. But it’s a big jump from that to defending the decision to go to war, and the not-even-a-decision to have stayed at war. Before anyone can ask young John Kerry’s question, about how you ask someone to be the last one to die for a mistake, you have to be willing to accept that it was a mistake.