Wednesday, September 30, 2009

My New Dordt Diamond Column: The War in Afghanistan

Dear friends,

Here is the text of my column in today's Dordt Diamond. Any thoughts you fine people have would be more than welcome. It'll take me a while to respond to them, though, because this afternoon begins Dordt's Tristate break. Until Monday, I will be in Kansas City. One of my dear flatmates from Egypt is getting MARRIED there on Saturday (OMG! OMG! OMG!) and eight of us who were in Cairo together last fall are coming to celebrate with him. It is guaranteed to be a hafla. (That means "party" in Arabic.)

So a very merry Tristate break to you all. I'll be back soon.

Reality Check: The War in Afghanistan

“With regret, I have to say you’re really going to get the hell kicked out of you,” said the Russian government official in the week after 9/11, recalling his own nation’s war in Afghanistan.

“We’re going to kill them,” replied Cofer Black, head of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center. “We’re going to put their heads on sticks. We’re going to rock their world.”

Eight years later, we haven’t exactly gotten the hell kicked out of us, but the swift victory most of us hoped for has not come either. Osama bin Laden remains at large, and Taliban insurgents have waged a back-and-forth struggle against the U.S. and its allies for the past eight years. Over 1,400 soldiers from the U.S., U.K., Canada, and elsewhere have died. The fight we wanted has degenerated into something far less exciting and far more painful: a dirty, drawn-out, guerrilla war. Now, the top general in Afghanistan, Stanley McChrystal, is asking for 45,000 more troops for the fight.

In the face of all this, many are questioning the need to continue the war, from Democratic legislators to conservative columnists to allied heads of state. Support for the war among Americans has fallen to 39%.

But abandoning or downsizing the war in Afghanistan would be a terrible mistake. Ignoring Afghanistan during the 90s resulted in the murder of 3,000 people, and the murderers have promised to kill millions more if we give them the chance.

If the Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan, they would be in a position to destabilize already-unstable Pakistan next door – and Pakistan possesses nuclear weapons. Last spring, Taliban forces extended their rule to within 60 miles of Pakistan’s capital Islamabad. They did that without a safe haven in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is a country the size of Texas with a population of 18 million in the heart of the Islamic world. Leaving it to the wolves is not an option, strategically speaking.

Neither would it be moral. Many things separate us from the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan, but an affinity for Islamic terrorism is not one of them. Polls show that only ten percent of Pakistanis support the Taliban, and only four percent of Afghans would trade the current chaos in their country for a Taliban government. The Afghans and Pakistanis know the horrors of Taliban rule all too well. If the West leaves them now, it will be their disaster and our disgrace.

This war is not hopeless. The key is setting up an Afghan government strong enough to take care of itself. Gen. McChrystal’s strategy accomplishes this by accelerating training for Afghanistan’s army, sending troops to protect Afghan civilians, and using incentives to ply Taliban leaders away from the fight. President Obama should give General McChrystal the troops and resources he needs, and we should give President Obama the political support he needs. The struggle will be long and difficult, but a just peace is still possible. The Afghans wish to be free, and that is our biggest advantage.

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