Forget Afghanistan. Let's nation-build at home first.
Given our high dropout and unemployment rates, we must reprioritize.
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Not long ago, a friend, a high Canadian government official, met with his Chinese government counterparts. The discussion turned to the subject of the United States. My Canadian friend told me that the Chinese delegate coolly observed, "We always expected the American empire to collapse, but we had no idea it would collapse so quickly."Skip to next paragraph
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The US military speaks of winning the hearts and minds of Afghans when it's almost certainly the case that the Americans will always be seen as "infidel outsiders" occupying a Muslim country, just as the Russians were seen on the same real estate in the l980s.
Even if the Obama administration were to send half a million troops, the results would be little different. Just as the Communist Vietnamese enjoyed havens in Cambodia, Laos, and North Vietnam, so the Taliban and the rabidly anti-American Islamists in Afghanistan would enjoy similar sanctuaries in Pakistan and Iran.
Few US politicians have had the courage to tell the public that Afghanistan has a corrupt, tribal government, too weak to go it alone without US troops. Obama unwisely made Afghanistan his problem by escalating, rather than winding down, US involvement upon taking office. Now, the US is committed to policing it, creating a modern infrastructure out of a medieval society, while providing Afghans security and jobs.
How does this count as an intelligent investment when we are struggling to do the same thing here in the US? American political leaders have a moral obligation to repair their own republic before they try to reengineer Afghanistan. Nation-building at home will be at least as challenging as in Iraq or Afghanistan and far more important.
A prerequisite for this domestic nation-building is a spirit of goodwill with civil discourse that scorns rabid political posturing. Members of Congress must see themselves as colleagues, not enemies, and the public must not let buffoons with megaphones shape the debate at the expense of serious-minded observers.
No matter how great their material wealth, democratic nations cannot long survive, let alone mend themselves, without a spirit of public goodwill in the body politic. The run-up to the American Civil War demonstrated this.
Today, a similar ideological malice stalks the land. It is arguably more destructive than any Islamist terrorist threat spawned in Afghanistan. And this malevolent public rancor needs to be addressed with far greater urgency than Afghanistan, which is probably too broken to fix.
Walter Rodgers is a former senior international correspondent for CNN. He writes a biweekly column for the Monitor weekly print edition.