Friday, September 05, 2003

Scott McClellan answering journalists' questions during last Tuesday's White House briefing on the Taliban's re-emergence in Afghanistan.

Q: The Talibans are back now in Afghanistan and are fighting and we have multinational forces, that's true. But how come the Talibans are still there?

Mr. McClellan: We continue to make progress in Afghanistan. There, again, you have enemies of peace and enemies of freedom, and enemies of the people of Afghanistan. That's why we're continuing our efforts to bring those former -- those Taliban members to justice, as well, and bring any terrorists there in that country to justice, too. We're making some important progress.
Important progress? What progress? Take the reconstruction of the Kabul-Kandahar highway, for example. The United States, Japan and Saudi Arabia collected $180 million dollar to re-build the road, mainly consisting of potholes and shell holes. Newsweek's Richard Wolffe comments on the road and the "progress" that has reported to been made on the road:
[T]he road is still short of money, in spite of the international promises to help pay for the project. Aid workers complain that the new road is being built so quickly now "to meet the end-of-year deadline" that it will rapidly fall apart. Administration officials insist such criticism of the road construction is misplaced. "Are you going to finish a road that is useful or half-finish a road that is perfect?" asked one.

However, supporters of President Bush's foreign policy team believe the road project faces an even more fundamental problem than the depth of its asphalt. Republican senators who recently returned from the region concluded that the road will remain half-finished without adequate security to protect those driving along it. "You've still got a security vacuum in the south," says one Senate aide. "The big question is: if you increase traffic along this road, aren't you going to create a soft target for bandits, looters, thugs and the Taliban?"
Not exactly what you read in the New York Times, is it? Instead of re-building the 300-mile road that takes 2 days of travel, the White House has resorted to look-good politics. Yes, the road will be finished, but as the reporter asked: is it going to be a nice photo-op or a job well done? An obvious observation is that Afghanistan has essentially fallen off the radar screen, especially in the wake of the war and occupation of Iraq. Afghanistan has been neglected. Even though I'm happy that our $900 million of our tax-money is going to Afghanistan, most of it goes re-training the Afghan army, police and shoring up Karzai's unstable government. A small fraction of that amount goes to rebuilding Afghanistan, in the sense of the word. If the Bush administration chooses to help the Afghan people through aid--unlike Iraq where intentions and priorities are different--than Afghan aid must be the highest priority. And to answer the question of the so-called Senate aide: if we build and secure this road, than trade, travel and commerce will resume. A NATO-peacekeeping expansion may be necesarry, but if that is what it takes, than the Bush administration must push for it.

My nation has been devastated by nearly a quarter-century of continuous war and it is scarred by tribal feuds that go back centuries more. In addition, time may not be on our side. The resurgent Taliban is recruiting more members and becoming increasingly bold in Afghanistan's southern and eastern reaches. Iraq has tended to suck up most of the oxygen in the war on terrorism and it has pushed Afghanistan down the agenda as a Bush administration priority. But Afghanistan is where the war began, and, lest we forget, the mastermind of 9/11, Osama bin Laden, and his host, Mullah Mohammed Omar, are still at large. "Have we forgotten?" was the question, when television networks made clear that they had no special programming to commemorate the second anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. I ask that very same question. Have we forgotten?


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