In an uncharacteristically silly post, Erik asserts that all wars are either defensive or driven by “plunder.” He also suggests that the United States’ invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq were somehow motivated by a nefarious cabal bent on self-enrichment. I find this line of analysis wildly unpersuasive.
A quick survey of human history reveals innumerable wars that were started for reasons other than plunder or protection. A freak assassination and a series of strategic miscalculations by the Great Powers set off World War I. One of Erik’s own examples – the Crusades – was in many respects more of a religious revival than a military campaign. Pope Urban himself was caught off guard by the overwhelming popular response to his call to action, and contemporary accounts of the French nobility spontaneously taking the cross and selling off their worldly possessions belie the notion that this was some crude colonial venture. Godfrey of Bouillon, the first Frankish King of Jerusalem, actually gave up his estates to equip retainers for the journey East.
As for Afghanistan, I’m at a loss to explain how occupying one of the most impoverished countries in the world – an occupation that isn’t cheap, by the way – constitutes a war of plunder. I’m happy to debate the merits of our approach to Afghanistan (I’ve laid out the case for staying here and here, among other places), but I think it’s obvious that there are serious, sober-minded reasons to stay that go beyond pillaging the countryside.
Now we come to Iraq. In retrospect, it seems reasonably clear that Bush’s decision to invade was informed by some combination of strategic miscalculations and a genuine belief that the Middle East could be transformed through democracy promotion. I don’t doubt that some military contractors were enriched by the invasion, but one of my great frustrations with the antiwar movement is its frequent lapses into wild-eyed conspiracism, a tendency that does a great disservice to serious arguments against irresponsible wars. Ranting on about “no blood for oil” is the exact thing pundits across the political spectrum seized upon to discredit the anti-war movement in 2003, and I’d hate to see the debate over Afghanistan – or any other issue – muddled by similarly irresponsible claims.