At the Al Smith Memorial Dinner in the waning days of the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Hussein Obama joked, “I got my middle name from somebody who obviously didn’t think I’d ever run for president.”
But, as president, Obama’s name may serve him well when it comes to his relations with countries in the Middle East, especially Afghanistan. It may encourage trust in Americans from a region that has grown increasingly distrustful of American actions and motives.
The damage that has been done cannot be repaired overnight, but the United States can make some positive changes in Afghanistan:
The first thing to do is make it a priority to take Osama bin Laden into custody. In spite of George W. Bush’ bravado in 2001, bin Laden, who launched the 9/11 attacks from Afghanistan, has never been caught, dead or alive.
Over the years, he has been rumored to be in many places, but there have been few confirmed sightings and a distressing lack of visible effort has been made to find him.
If he still has a base of operations in Afghanistan, that should be the focus of U.S. military operations in that country. If he is not in Afghanistan, but his location can be determined through sources in that country, they should used to their fullest extent.
Osama bin Laden may never be captured. But the war he brought to Afghanistan, while initially ridding the country of the Taliban government, has been responsible for increasing instability. Ever since the invasion of Iraq, and even before that time, Afghanistan was reduced to a low order of priority. Over the years, more and more troops have been deployed to Iraq while fewer have been deployed to Afghanistan.
As the troop levels in Afghanistan have dropped, instability has risen and elements of the deposed Taliban government now pose a renewed threat.
Other countries that have been involved in the war on terrorism have followed America’s lead, notably Great Britain.
But the British are shifting their emphasis. Agence France-Presse (AFP) reports that the British budget for Afghanistan will “soar by more than 50 percent” in 2009 as England “switches its focus from Iraq to fighting the Taliban.”
It’s time for America to do the same. No doubt many of the soldiers currently in Iraq have more than done their part and deserve to be brought home. But many can be re-deployed to Afghanistan to help complete the mission there.
In September, Carlotta Call reported in the New York Times that more than a quarter of Afghanistan’s population is facing “an acute food shortage this winter.”
In the aftermath of World Wars I and II, America accepted the responsibility of providing food and other necessities to the refugees of Europe, understanding that restoring stability was key to earning their trust and allegiance to the cause of democracy.
It may be too late to avoid what the British charity Oxfam termed a “humanitarian crisis” – or some of the resulting “civil unrest” of which Call warned. And American financial resources are already spread much too thin.
But it is in the long-term interest of America, if not Western culture, to invest in this effort and provide food, clothing and shelter where it’s needed.