In his NY Times column today David Brooks claims: “Only 6 percent of Afghans want a Taliban return, while NATO is viewed with surprising favor. This is not Vietnam or even Iraq.”

Also today the sad news is that yet another 5 of our troops have been killed in Afghanistan, heading us towards perhaps yet another record month of American lives lost (51 in August).  The push pull here is obvious.  How can we best help the Afghans restore some order to the life of their country without sacrificing our own best interests. Obviously there are two ways to go: 1) we can expand our military and try to pursue elusive enemies who seem better organized and ready to harm us than we are to expel them from their scattered locales — in a country with geographical features and mixed cultures far different than those of Vietnam (people fighting for independence from our interference) and Iraq (with far fewer internal conflicts) from which we are now pulling out to let them make or break it on their own.

If it is, indeed, the case that the Taliban are not wanted by the vast majority of Afghans, then our target should be the search for ways to help them rid themselves of this scourge.  I don’t see how more U.S. troops can achieve this end.  We are not fighting a war against a nation as we were with Vietnam and killing Afghans indiscriminately because we cannot distinguish friends from enemies is not the way to win anything but increased resentment.  The NATO nations are one by one showing us the way to go with their announced intentions to withdraw.

In my humble opinion, then, we ought to be giving the Afghans timelines just as we did the Iraqis.  It is their country and it is up to them to determine where they want it to evolve.  We don’t need troops to chase the Taliban — we can’t catch them anyway as they slip back across the borders into Pakistan. If we are going to spend monies, it should be with offers to help with basic construction — roads, schools, hospitals and other essentials much needed there.  If we cannot protect our own with the troops we currently have there, even sizable increases in numbers are not going to help — no way we can occupy the whole country.

Summarily, then, I am with those who are suggesting that it is time for us to start ending this ‘war’ — by setting the deadlines for our exit.  What these exactly should be I leave to others to determine, but announcing our intention to leave is the starting point.  It is David Brooks in the remainder of his column who is living with “illusions.”  More of the same is just that — more of the mess that we have already gotten ourselves into there — unhappily because we diverted our attention to Iraq at precisely the time when a Brooks solution might have worked.  We made a vast mistake with that move, but now it is time to correct it.

“A war is just if there is no alternative, and the resort to arms is legitimate if they represent your last hope.” (Livy cited by Machiavelli)

Ed Kent  212-665-8535 (voice mail only) [blind copies]

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