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Opinion

Forget Afghanistan. Let's nation-build at home first.

Given our high dropout and unemployment rates, we must reprioritize.

By Walter Rodgers / October 2, 2009



East Otis, Mass.

The assessment of the war in Afghanistan from the top US general there is grim. Without more troops, Stanley McChrystal warned in a report that was leaked recently, "The conflict will likely result in failure."

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His candor should be applauded. It gives President Obama and the American public – nearly half of whom now oppose the war there – an opportunity to ask themselves how we are going to save Afghanistan when we have not figured out how to engage in successful nation-building at home.

There's no question we need it. Thirty percent of our students drop out before finishing high school. Our border with Mexico is awash in drugs and violence. Mexican and Russian mafias have strong criminal footholds in our cities.

Some of our Rust Belt cities have unemployment levels on par with third-world countries. Michigan, once America's industrial heart, is on government life support. California, once the country's dynamo, is near bankruptcy.

Taking on these tough challenges will require US leaders, both Democrat and Republican, to relinquish the idea they can remake much of the world in America's image and likeness.

Giving up that idea is hard to do in Washington, even for presidents. It requires them to defy powerful pressure.

Mr. Obama should recall that in 1962 President Kennedy instinctively resisted Defense and State Department pressure to send more troops to Vietnam. President Johnson was also wary of a troop buildup in Vietnam, but he fell prey to his own fears that Republicans would accuse him of being soft on communism if he flinched in the face of a festering Viet Cong insurgency.

America has a poor record of nation-building abroad. The George H.W. Bush administration and Clinton White House failed in Somalia. The most recent Bush administration bungled it in Iraq, where Iraqis continue to blow one another up now that Americans are increasingly out of reach as targets.

And now, bright as he is, Obama is showing us he learned next to nothing from the nine-year Soviet attempt at nation-building in Afghanistan that helped hasten the collapse of the Soviet Union.

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