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October 20, 2004
The Afghan Success Story

Today's New York Times analyzes the impact of the successful Afghanistan elections which appear to affirm Hamid Karzai's leadership and demonstrate that the Afghanis enthusiastically support the ideas of freedom and representative government. Typically, the Times gives short shrift to the American efforts that allowed Afghanistan to shake off one of the most oppressive regimes in recent memory, but the point gets made anyway:

The success of the Oct. 9 election, experts and officials said, stemmed from three things: an aggressive American-led security and reconstruction effort in Afghanistan in 2004, pressure on neighboring Pakistan to rein in Taliban remnants, and most important, a passionate desire among average Afghans to choose the country's leader through a peaceful, democratic election.

Whether all three factors can be sustained, especially as the country looks ahead to far more complex parliamentary elections in the spring, is an open question. ...

A sea change in Bush administration policy in Afghanistan was also credited with aiding the election. After being heavily criticized for paying too little attention to Afghanistan in 2002 and 2003, the administration pumped $1.76 billion in reconstruction funds into the country in fiscal 2004. After blocking the expansion of an international peacekeeping force in 2002, Washington now advocates it. After initial leeriness toward nation building, the United States is deeply engaged in it.

In 2004, the Pentagon nearly doubled its forces in Afghanistan to 20,000 from 11,000, deploying small military reconstruction units across the country and marines to scour unstable southern areas. American-financed initiatives also trained thousands of Afghan soldiers, police officers and civil servants.

Supporters of Mr. Kerry have dismissed the administration's sudden push in Afghanistan as an election-year effort to produce a foreign policy success to counter continuing problems in Iraq. Administration officials say they have been steadfast in their support for Afghanistan since 2001.

Whatever the motivation, the huge security operation by beefed-up American, NATO and Afghan forces thwarted a variety of planned Taliban attacks, according to Afghan intelligence and American military officials.

Afghanistan provides a model for allowing a nation to rebuild itself after removing a totalitarian regime, especially one without an entrenched military/security apparatus. One reason the total troop commitment can be so much lower than Iraq, despite roughly equivalent population numbers, is that Taliban security elements were nowhere near as large as the military and intelligence operations under Saddam Hussein. That springs from a lack of oil revenue; the Taliban simply did not have the means to fund anything approaching the Iraqi security system, which was one reason the Northern Alliance could continue to operate. That allowed the US and its allies to keep their own troop levels lower and support Afghani efforts to eject the Taliban on their own.

Make no mistake; before the Americans removed the Taliban both through direct action and by uniting and supporting the native resistance, Afghans did not aim for democracy but for a change in authoritarian regimes. The Times can claim that enthusiastic Afghanis weakened the holdover Taliban elements, but the vote wouldn't exist in Afghanistan without the insistence of the US. Even some of our allies questioned the wisdom of holding elections in a country with no traditions of democracy, and here at home we heard the same objections about the imposition of democracy by force and gloomy predictions of its failure, both in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Nor have those objections come strictly from a lunatic fringe element in our political scene. John Kerry said essentially the same thing in May, when he discounted the importance of creating a representative government for Iraqis, a strange notion for a man campaigning for election as President of the US:

"With respect to getting our troops out, the measure is the stability of Iraq. [Democracy] shouldn't be the measure of when you leave. I have always said from day one that the goal here . . . is a stable Iraq, not whether or not that's a full democracy."

As I wrote at the time, trading democracy for stability is the same impulse that the West has indulged for a century in Southwest Asia, and that impulse -- to write off the indigenous peoples as unworthy of freedom -- created the problems we face now in the Middle East. If we are to truly defeat Islamofascist terrorism, we must change the oppressive nature of the regimes in the Islamic region so that powerlessness disappears and people can resort to ballots instead of bombs. Afghanistan's election and the insistence on establishing the same in Iraq prove that the Bush Administration understands and uses this truth to defeat the terrorists. Kerry's vision of laissez-faire law enforcement and management of terrorism to "nusiance" levels proves that he is completely inadequate for the task.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at October 20, 2004 5:44 AM

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