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News and Views

Not Iraq

by Matt Zencey

Anchorage Daily News


Afghanistan's ambassador to the U.S. was in Anchorage last week to tell the Alaska World Affairs Council about progress in stabilizing his country.

Speaking fluent English, Said Tayeb Jawad raced through slide after slide, describing accomplishments while also mentioning persistent problems. Even though the U.S., international allies and the Afghan army still don't have enough "boots on the ground," he said things "have improved tremendously in the last three years."

The legitimate economy is rapidly growing. There's a functioning national legislature and central bank. Women are moving into government and the workplace (27 percent of the parliament's seats are held by women and 28 percent of teachers are female). The number of children in school has gone from fewer than a million to 6 million. Eighty percent of the population has access to at least rudimentary health clinics. Afghans have 3 million cell phones.

Taliban terrorism is still a scourge, according to the ambassador.Foreigners have introduced the horrific tactic of suicide bombings, which violate Afghan traditions. The eradication-only strategy for stopping the Taliban's narco-trafficking in opium isn't working.

But, he said, Afghanistan is not Iraq. A BBC/ABC poll showed 88 percent of Afghans think the U.S. intervention was a good thing. The same percentage said they preferred the current government to the Taliban.

Afterward, Ambassador Jawad said that unlike Iraq, Afghanistan has a coherent national identity, despite significant ethnic differences. There is good progress toward building national institutions, such as the army and, to a lesser extent, the police.

And those comparisons got me to thinking:

In Afghanistan, the government we deposed had openly tolerated terrorists who planned a deadly attack on U.S. soil. There was widespread international support for the U.S.-led invasion. We were welcomed as liberators. There continues to be strong international support for the attempt to build a peaceful nation.

Afghanistan was not a pre-emptive war of choice against an illusory threat from weapons that didn't exist in a regime whose tendency to international aggression had long been contained by sanctions and military overflights.

In Afghanistan, U.S. casualties are measured in the hundreds, not the thousands. In Afghanistan, civilian casualties are measured in the thousands, not in the hundreds of thousands. In Afghanistan, refugees returned in droves, instead of fleeing by the millions.

Ambassador Jawad is right: Afghanistan is not Iraq.


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