Regarding the Feb. 17 Opinion piece, "A reality check for Obama on Afghanistan": False historical analogies make bad policy, but they make excellent headlines. There simply is no comparison between the Russian military occupation of Afghanistan and the American intervention. The former sought to dominate and impose a foreign culture, the latter to reconstruct and stabilize a devastated nation.
For US policymakers, confidence building will be key during the transition from the Bush to the Obama administration. Afghanistan's leadership must be reassured that their country will not fall victim to American political infighting, which would abandon them to the designs of their neighbors.
Afghanistan may be a "land polka-dotted in graveyards beyond counting," as the author insists. However, that does not mean that Afghanistan is condemned to a future of protracted conflict and pervasive suffering. President Obama and his special envoy Richard Holbrooke must head off these criticisms by assertively arguing that Afghanistan is neither Iraq nor Vietnam. Our national leaders must prepare US citizens for a generational commitment and further sacrifices, while defining specific benchmarks for success. Defeating Al Qaeda or the Taliban were never realistic goals, and the former administration failed to speak frankly about the nature of the Afghan mission.
Afghanistan has been the graveyard of many empires. But the American mission in Afghanistan is not imperial. The Afghan people recognize that they are not victims of a crusade against Islam, and that their future lies in a partnership with the US and the international community. Now is the time for solidarity with the Afghan people, not for false analogies.
This commentary's excellent message needs to reach President Obama. Even a brief review of the history of Afghanistan and our past involvement in Asia makes it clear that a military victory will never be possible. Increasing US military force is a mistake that this visionary president must not make. Setting a date for withdrawal of US forces and intensive diplomatic work with the regional powers to develop a plan for providing stability are the only ways out of this quagmire.
The citizens of the US must not be docile on this issue. It is our problem and we need to demand new solutions from our leaders. We must all let Mr. Obama and our representatives in Congress know that we do not support the "usual American mind-set of throwing money and advisers at a problem." We want a solution that does not increase hatred toward the US and that leads to a just and lasting peace.
and Steven Gary
Walt Rodgers's position on Afghanistan is not only well-timed, but full of in-depth knowledge of the country and the region. Who would not want to see a more modern, unified, democratic Afghanistan, where women's rights were fully respected? But to ignore the harsh realities of the nation and region would be completely foolish on our part. We can only hope that Mr. Obama and his administration are far wiser and more intelligent in their approach than the last administration was, and will learn from the failures of the Soviets and of so many others before.
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