Is Afghanistan Really the Central Front?

David Brooks writes:

These are the realistic choices for America's Afghanistan policy -- all out or all in, surrender the place to the Taliban or do armed nation-building. And we might as well acknowledge that it's not an easy call. The costs and rewards are tightly balanced. But in the end, President Obama was right: "You don't muddle through the central front on terror. ... You don't muddle through stamping out the Taliban."

I don't know about this whole "central front" business. I thought President Bush made sense when he told the world that those who harbor terrorists would be treated no differently than the terrorists themselves. But in fact there is a difference. The Taliban on its own would not have attacked New York and Washington, even putting aside the issue of capability. The attacks of 9/11 were rooted in a particularly Arab dysfunction, not in some sort of Afghan (or Persian, for that matter) pathology. The goal of the Afghan war, after all, is to deny terrorists who are mainly Arab a safe base of operations. The central front was, is and will be the Arab world. I don't mean "central front," by the way, as an exclusively military idea, or even partially. The Arab world is the central front of a civil war between two Muslim ideas, the Qaeda idea and the idea of modernity, of an Islam existing in harmony with the rest of the world. We are a sideshow to that fight. And rebuilding Afghanistan or not rebuilding Afghanistan -- a country marginal to the development of Muslim thought -- is immaterial in that struggle.