The good news is Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama continues to project withdrawing U.S. combat troops from Iraq by mid-2010. The bad news is, he is proposing to transfer a significant number of those troops to Afghanistan.
Obama has repeatedly called for getting out of what he has termed an “unnecessary” war in Iraq in order to refocus on the “real battleground” to eliminate Al Qaeda and win the “battle against terrorism.”
But if there is a lesson to be learned from the experience of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan over the last seven years, it is that relying on military force will not root out terrorism or set the stage for the Afghan people to overcome the severe and worsening economic and social difficulties they face.
A few things to keep in mind:
• Al Qaeda and its ally, the extreme fundamentalist Taliban, originated in earlier U.S. Cold War interventions in Afghanistan during the 1980s.
• The Bush administration’s policy toward Afghanistan following the Sept. 11 tragedy has only served to continue the country’s fragmentation and polarization.
• Afghanistan has among the world’s lowest living standards, life expectancy and literacy, and those indicators are sinking further.
In outlining his approach to foreign policy, Obama has repeatedly emphasized the need to renew American diplomacy. He has pledged to launch “the most aggressive diplomatic effort in recent American history” to help to stabilize the Middle East. He sees this effort as crucial to creating conditions for Iraq’s successful reconstruction.
Obama has also pledged to embrace the UN’s Millenium Development Goals to cut extreme poverty in half worldwide by 2015, and says the U.S. must help the world’s weakest countries improve their social and economic conditions.
All these are welcome changes that the world is longing for.
Terrorism of any sort — individual, group or state — has no role to play in building a world of peace and economic and social justice. Diplomacy and a foreign policy that emphasizes sharing resources and cooperating to solve problems are the surest ways to overcome the poverty and despair that terrorist groups like al Qaeda exploit.