By Kathy Kemper – 11/03/09 09:20 AM ET
Said T. Jawad, Afghanistan’s ambassador to the U.S., has one of the hardest jobs in the world. How do you convince the American people — already psychologically drained after the war in Iraq — that they need to be patient as the U.S. tries to win Afghanistan, which everyone concedes is far harder to win than Iraq?
It’s a tough sell, but Ambassador Jawad made a compelling case last Wednesday at my IFE/INFO Global Connections Public Policy Roundtable. He said that the current struggle to defeat the Taliban and put Afghanistan on a path to self-sustainability “is a time that will determine our determination.”
Those who ask why the U.S. is in Afghanistan have what he calls a “9/10 mindset.” They don’t understand that an American failure there wouldn’t simply endanger Afghanistan’s future; it would endanger that of the world.
Furthermore, Said reminded us, it’s easy to forget the real gains that are happening on the ground in Afghanistan amid the endless stream of pessimistic commentary. Far from viewing us as they did the Soviets in the 1980s — that is, as occupiers whose presence was unjustified — Afghans welcome the U.S. presence and want to be assured that the U.S. won’t leave before it gets the job done.
Said also presented some encouraging findings from a new study of Afghan public opinion by the Asia Foundation:
· The level of violence in Afghanistan is 400 percent less than that in Iraq;
· Violent eruptions are occurring in less than 10 percent of the country;
· 64 percent of Afghans think that their security is good.
These gains, of course, are fragile and reversible. It’s not surprising that 36 percent of Afghans rank security as the country’s biggest problem. Given that the Taliban is rapidly spreading its influence even though there are 100,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, you can bet that a precipitous withdrawal would essentially hand the country over to terrorists.
There’s growing concern that the Obama administration is wasting precious time in deciding on an Afghan strategy. Gen. Stanley McChrystal couldn’t have been clearer in his assessment: Without a surge in resources and troops, Afghanistan will be lost. Former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff furthered this point by reminding the IFE/INFO attendees that Afghanistan is not an optional war.
The war in Afghanistan isn’t about “winning hearts and minds,” Said told us. It’s about defeating terrorists and preserving freedom. It’s time for President Obama to stop thinking and start acting.