Updated: 04-20-11, originally published 12-01-09
When President Obama announces his plans tonight (5:00 pm pst) to increase troop levels in Afghanistan, the loudest uproar will come from citizens who voted for him. Apparently they chose to cover their ears when he repeatedly stated such intentions during his campaign. Hopefully, they will actually listen this time.
The future of Afghanistan is too important and too complex to be summarized in a poll question or sound bite. Unfortunately, that’s what will happen. Most Americans won’t listen to the President. Instead, they’ll rely on headlines or pundits to tell them in a single sentence what the entire speech boiled down to. Obama has taken weeks to come to this decision. The least we can do is take the time to listen to his reasoning.
I hope he talks about a new strategy in Afghanistan. I hope he ensures us that additional troops are only needed to stabilize the situation, temporarily, while this new strategy is implemented. I hope he focuses more on rebuilding the country and less on protecting Karzai and his illegitimate government. I hope he offers Afghanistan an alternative to war.
I understand the need for security, and the need to defeat the Taliban, but that victory must ultimately be attained through education and economic support. We need to build more schools and less compounds. We need to help the Afghans grow barley instead of opium. We need to build hospitals, not blow them up. We need to combat fear with hope.
The British invaded Afghanistan looking for trade routes, the Soviets invaded seeking a puppet, we invaded seeking the world’s most wanted terrorist. None of us succeeded. Let us be the first to leave this small, poor, breathtaking country and it’s people in better shape than we found it.
That’s what I hope I hear tonight. If not, I’ll cover my ears … and go back to the keyboard once again.
(If you think rebuilding Afghanistan is a worthy cause, you owe it to yourself to read “Three Cups of Tea” by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin or visit the CAI website at www.ikat.org ) Update 04-20-11: In the context of certain recent revelations about Greg Mortenson and the CAI, I would take the tea with a grain of salt. But I still believe the answer in Central Asia is education. If we don’t build their schools, radical Saudi’s will, with their own fundamentalist curriculum.