THE ATTEMPTED bombing in December of a Detroit-bound airliner, which received as much attention in the United States as any terrorist incident since 9/11, raises the question of why the biggest thing the White House currently is doing in the name of counterterrorism is a counterinsurgency in Afghanistan. The would-be bomber was a Nigerian, radicalized while a student in the United Kingdom and further influenced by an extremist imam in Yemen who had spent half his life in the United States. The plot had nothing to do with Afghanistan. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was outfitted with his explosive underwear by a group of Saudis and Yemenis, none of whom was taking orders from anyone hiding in the hinterland of South Asia, even if they figured it was advantageous to adopt the al-Qaeda brand name. The link was ideological, and the ideology will persist whether those in the borderlands of AfPak are dead or alive.
Eight years ago, the United States led a just intervention in the Afghan civil war as a direct response to 9/11. After ousting the Taliban from power and rousting its al-Qaeda friends from Afghanistan, the United States-disquieted by a sense of having abandoned the country after stoking the war against the Soviets-did not declare victory and return home. Now Americans have a president who, after admirably having opposed the misadventure in Iraq from the beginning, is demonstrating his, and the Democratic Party's, toughness and counterterrorist bona fides in the so-called "good war." This is the wrong decision.