- The Washington Times - Monday, November 10, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

President-elect Barack Obama’s foreign-policy path is murky, and that holds true for what to do about Afghanistan as well.

We are now moving well beyond the initial objective of preventing al Qaeda from having a safe haven by removing the Taliban from power. Afghanistan is among the poorest countries in the world. Many Afghanis view America as responsible for economic dislocation and turmoil. Some even rally to the Taliban. One reason this is occurring is because of the opium-growing enterprise in Afghanistan. Farmers who grow the crop are trying to sustain themselves and their families on the one hand, but fueling terrorism because the Taliban provides farmers with sanctuary on the other. Growing other crops could lead to absolute impoverishment.

It is easy to interpret that, as Mr. Obama moves forward, the centerpiece of his foreign-policy agenda is Afghanistan.

Mr. Obama says the Iraq war is a mistake and the primary theater of the war on terror should be Afghanistan. He wants to redeploy troops from Iraq to Afghanistan. He also wants to cajole NATO into contributing more. In other words, America has been fighting the wrong war since September 11.

Mr. Obama wants an approach in Afghanistan that includes renewed diplomatic efforts, increases in troops, negotiations with the Taliban and large investments to rebuild the nation’s security and infrastructure. He wants to commit an additional “$1 billion in non-military assistance every year,” according to his speech delivered in July in Washington, “A New Strategy for A New World.” He wants investments not just in Kabul, but also in the provinces, with safeguards to prevent corruption. In short, Mr. Obama’s plan as he laid it out during the campaign is nation-building.

He says when a child sees an American helicopter, this should inspire hope not hate (and he is right on that point). Mr. Obama must soon clarify his objectives for the region and articulate a path to achieve those goals. In this manner, when we see our helicopters leaving to perform dangerous missions abroad, we, too, can hope that our resources will be wisely used.

Fighting the war on terror does not mean that America’s treasure - human lives - will be committed indefinitely to create an entire infrastructure for another nation. Nor does it mean that America has a bottomless pit of tax dollars. Until the economy stabilizes, Mr. Obama should steer clear of laying out “A New Strategy for A New World” and revisit the strategy that not only proposed the surge in Iraq but successfully executed it.

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