Saturday, March 28, 2009

Afghanistan -- Remembered too late?

It's hard to believe that it's been seven years ago that the US entered Afghanistan. I was in my early 40s back then -- serving as pastor of First Christian Church of Santa Barbara and my son, now in college, was still in elementary school. We went into Afghanistan to deal with Al Qaeda and the Taliban. We did manage, with the help of allies and Afghan rebel groups, to push the Taliban out of power, killed some of their leaders, but both groups -- who helped plan and support the 2001 World Trade Center attacks -- remain alive and seem to have restructured themselves. Afghanistan remains much as it had been -- a failed state. There is a government but it is holed up in Kabul and is corrupt.

Yesterday, Barack Obama took on this issue and proposed a sweeping new strategy that involves not only military options, but also diplomatic and development support. Afghanistan is a not a modern state. It is tribal and riven with rivalries that not only lead to corruption but make good government difficult. Although radical Islam plays a role, culture is more important. Obama also made clear that a solution would involve not just Afghanistan, but also Pakistan and other neighboring states. Here is where diplomacy comes in -- these issues won't be resolved in isolation. That is, the ability of Pakistan to effectively deal with the militants in the region bordering Afghanistan is dependent on lessening tensions on the border with India and in Kashmir.

As the NY Times op-ed piece points out, the new President has a lot on his plate. But he seems to have gotten it in proper focus. We don't know if this will work, but it is a major issue for us and we need to re-engage in a way that's different from previous attempts. We let Afghanistan slip from sight in our foolhardy adventure in Iraq. Let's hope it's not too late to rectify the situation. What is important to note is that Obama has no illusions that we can create a modern democracy there. Ours is not to dictate their government or future, but simply give it the stability to create its own future. In time it could overcome its handicaps and become a thriving nation. At home, our difficulty is that we are in an economic crisis and people are tired of war. Let us pray for success and for peace in that region.


Michael Westmoreland-White said...

I'm very skeptical of the military portions of this (as, apparently, was VP Biden). But, unlike the "Budget" of the GOP, I am trying to work with major leaders of the peace movement to construct a real alternative and make it politically possible.

Had we not needlessly, recklessly, illegally invaded Iraq, I definitely think we would have been out of Afghanistan by now. But this looks like a quagmire. Even the president's generals are talking 25 years!

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

Michael, even more important than Afghanistan, is getting things settled down in Pakistan, which is a nuclear power. Should those nukes fall into the wrong hands -- al quaeda or Taliban like group -- we could be facing big problems. The Iranians like to rattle sabers, but their not fanatics. They want to expand their influence, but I don't think they court martyrdom -- I'm not so sure about Al Qaeda.

Michael Westmoreland-White said...

I agree, Bob. That's why I have continued to press the Obama folk to take an independent transforming initiative for peace: Cut 10% of our nukes unilaterally and then announce a global summit for reauthorizing and strengthening the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. I'm betting that with good negotiators, we could get both Pakistan and India to agree to get rid of all their nukes if the other would--and if the U.S. and other Western countries would make big dents in reducing their/our nukes--with an eye toward a nuclear-free world, step-by-step. (Of course, negotiators also need to solve the Cashmir issue between India and Pakistan.)

If the U.S. cut some of its huge nuclear arsenal, I think we could get at least one major European nation to be the first nuclear power to give up all their nukes. (I'm not counting South Africa because it had not yet actually built a nuke. It was about where Iran is and N. Korea is until, after apartheid, it abandoned the whole thing.)

Obama is already scheduling mutual nuclear reduction talks with Russia. I just think he should expand these to go for the whole world. The global recession means that nations cannot as easily afford nukes and nations like Pakistan know that possessing them make them vulnerable to terrorists who desire to get them. Getting rid of them makes everyone safer, but people are afraid that the U.S. just wants only us and the people we CHOOSE to have nukes (like India and Israel). So, we have to make the first move.