The American involvement in Afghanistan had little to do with fighting terrorists. Al Qaeda had no responsibility for 9/11: always eager to appropriate other terrorists’ laurels, Osama has only announced that he knew about the attack a few days in advance. It is unimaginable that Obama risked his dream of a caliphate and that the Taliban risked their state by attacking America. Even stretching the facts to allow for Al Qaeda’s involvement would justify a punishing raid, but not occupation. Not because the occupation is unjust—who cares about justice to others—but because it is impossible.

As Machiavelli noted, nations which do not learn to live under state control are inherently ungovernable. An occupier can exterminate them but not rule over them. The Taliban were sensible enough to enforce their order in major cities but leave the rural areas alone. They did not try to defeat other groups, but merely pushed them out of sight. The Russians, and later the Americans, were bent on bringing their order into every last village, a strategy which is certain to fail.

Democracy, a good order for homogeneous states, is destructive in tribal societies. In Iraq, democracy brought the Shiites to dominance over the Sunnis. In Afghanistan, democracy means suppressing smaller tribes. As often happens, small tribes are the most militant, and they dominate the state; they won’t accept being made to relinquish their power in the democratic process. To that problem the American planners reacted with a parliament in which every ethnic group has its quota. Not has only this little to do with democracy, but such an arrangement simply brings the suppression of dominant groups one step forward: they are suppressed in parliamentary voting rather than in elections.

The planners of something like 9/11 do not need training camps in remote mountains; an apartment will do. Destroying Al Qaeda camps was senseless in terms of global security, especially as the camps provided neither sophisticated terrorist training of the PFLP type nor guerrilla training like Hezbollah’s camps. Al Qaeda camps were the perfect place for foreign intelligence services to spot would-be international terrorists in one place and track them back to their home countries. Al Qaeda camps doomed the terrorist enterprise to massive infiltration.

The American invasion of Afghanistan stemmed from the rationalist delusion that large-scale security could be built. The notion of American security being developed in remote mountains halfway across the globe is suspect. This might be so for a very concentrated threat—say, a lab which develops bio weapons—but a regime such as the Taliban is normally so little concerned with American affairs that dislodging it just does not pay. Both security and retaliation are most effective if they are local. The United States can refuse visas to Afghanis, and perhaps to anyone who has traveled through Afghanistan, just as Israel should do for Palestinians.

A proper retaliation for 9/11 should speak the Afghani language: revenge. An air raid destroying everything Al Qaeda and Taliban would be understood and respected. A punishing raid could be effective in Afghanistan because the Taliban was strong there: a strong government can be punished into compliance while a weak one like the Lebanese government cannot. Failed occupation, like any failure, seeds disrespect and paves the way to further attacks on the United States, especially since the Afghanis won’t easily forget the American support for the Northern Alliance.