- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 2, 2001

The United States would prefer that the Afghans themselves form a stable government in the post-Taliban era without the aid of international peacekeepers, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said yesterday, emphasizing that nation-building has a spotty record.
Mr. Rumsfeld made his comments during an interview on CNN's "Evans, Novak, Hunt & Shields." He was asked whether the United States would have to "lead a major nation-building effort" in Afghanistan and also participate in a peacekeeping mission in that country, once the war is over and the Taliban regime is ousted.
"With respect to a peacekeeping force, people on the ground are the ones that you would want to provide the peacekeeping first, if they are able to do it," Mr. Rumsfeld said.
"That is to say if the Northern Alliance or the tribes of the south are able to create a secure environment that is sufficient so that the humanitarian aid can come in and the aid workers can get there, and they can provide the kinds of assistance to the terribly suffering Afghan people," they should do it, he said.
He added: "We need to provide that stability. But the best way to do it is to let the forces on the ground do it."
Talks on Afghanistan's political future in Bonn moved into a decisive phase yesterday, after the Northern Alliance said it was prepared to transfer power to an interim council backed by the United Nations and to allow an international security force.
Some members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have charged that the United States helped allow the ruthless Taliban government to come to power by failing to stick around after the Soviet Union was driven out of Afghanistan in 1989 after its failed decadelong occupation of the country.
The United States provided covert military and intelligence aid for Afghan rebels against the Soviet invaders but did nothing to assist in the creation of a replacement government after the war.
To prevent a repetition of that, the Bush administration through the State Department has been involved in advisory efforts aimed at establishing a stable interim Afghan government to succeed the Taliban: one that does not threaten U.S. security. In fact, the United States helped set up the U.N.-led talks now under way in Germany. It actively pressured the reluctant Northern Alliance to participate.
Throughout the 2000 presidential campaign, Mr. Bush adamantly opposed the United States' being involved in nation-building.
"If we don't stop extending our troops all around the world in nation-building missions, then we're going to have a serious problem coming down the road. I'm going to prevent that," he said in the Oct. 3, 2000, presidential debate.
He was referring to nation-building missions by U.S. military forces under the Clinton administration in Haiti, Somalia and the Balkans.
Asked about the policy reversal at a White House news conference two weeks after the September 11 terrorist attacks, Mr. Bush said, "We're not into nation-building. We're into justice." Administration officials repeatedly have said that it will take Afghans themselves, not outsiders, to establish a new government that has any chance of survival in that ethnically diverse country.
Mr. Rumsfeld echoed that sentiment yesterday on CNN. Asked if the United States should play a key role in nation-building in Afghanistan, he said:
"Nation-building does not have a brilliant record across the globe. It's a very hard thing to do. It's a hard thing for the people in a country to make a nation work well, and it's even harder for foreigners, strangers, to go into a country and think that they know what the template, what the model ought to be for that country."
Mr. Rumsfeld further said: "Now, we do have a responsibility, and we care about what happens in Afghanistan after we leave. When we leave, we want to make sure that we do what's right from a humanitarian standpoint.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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