Focusing on Afghanistan

The two presidential candidates did not agree on much of anything, but they did on the importance of winning in Afghanistan, which has become the politically correct mirror image of Iraq. If you are against the U.S. military presence in Iraq, at least you can burnish your credentials by saying you are for the engagement in Afghanistan. But that is as far as the consensus went. What to do about Afghanistan is a different matter. While Sen. Barack Obama spoke of launching U.S. military incursions into U.S. ally Pakistan, Sen. John McCain advocated an Iraq surge strategy to seize and hold rebel territory in Afghanistan.
In other quarters as well, Afghanistan is characterized as a cause for major concern. The violence is at its highest levels since 2001, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen has said he is “not convinced that we’re winning it.” Also, Afghans are looking at very bleak prospects as the winter settles in. According to a new report by Britain’s Royal United Services Institute, nearly one-third of Afghanistan’s population (8.4 million people) is facing a potentially catastrophic food shortage. The failure to improve infrastructure and prepare for winter will leave the Afghan population further disillusioned about the commitment of the international community, the report says. In other words, the effort to “win the hearts and minds” of the Afghan people will have foundered.

In a very different assessment, Bing West, former assistant secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs in the Reagan administration and a historian of the Iraq war, writes in a hard-hitting piece in the National Interest: “It’s strange to hear a military commander during war saying he can’t kill his way to victory.”

“Our police don’t tell us they can’t catch all the criminals. We expect our police to provide security even in impoverished areas. Similarly, we expect our military to destroy al Qaeda by killing its members. The American military mission is not nation building. To prevent more recruits for the Islamic extremists, we’d like to have a tolerant democracy and a thriving economy in Pakistan and in Afghanistan. But if we make that a precondition for crushing al Qaeda, we will be in Afghanistan for decades,” Mr. West writes.

Read the rest:
http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2008/nov/05/focusing-on-afghanistan/

By Helle Dale
The Washington Times

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