Christine O’Donnell and the “Emboldening” Terrorists Rationale

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Christine O’Donnell cites a rationale for staying in Afghanistan which appears to be influencing both the policy and politics around the debate over that war. As O’Donnell put it in last night’s debate:

A random withdrawal, that [Democratic nominee Chris Coons] has said he supports, will simply embolden the terrorists to come after us even more, saying, ‘I’ve chased away the superpower.’

When it comes to foreign policy, O’Donnell obviously does not speak with the authority of a Council on Foreign Relations scholar. But I assume she’s channeling a talking point that came from within the GOP foreign policy establishment. (Update: Yep.) It’s one we’ll probably be hearing more of from the right as we approach July 2011, Obama’s target date to begin a troop withdrawal (of unspecified size and speed).

I recently talked to someone involved with Afghanistan policy who agrees that “emboldening” carries real currency among senior policymakers. And while he didn’t dismiss its logic out of hand, he raised an important counterpoint: Does it not also embolden terrorists when the U.S. military is bogged down in a Muslim country where we (unintentionally) kill civilians, raid homes, and detain often-innocent people under military conditions? And in a place where terrorists who may stand no chance of entering Europe or America can kill U.S. soldiers or at least martyr themselves trying? This is a complex question that requires more than one blog item to unpack. But it’s worth remembering that the status quo in Afghanistan is problematic for reasons that go beyond blood and treasure.