Keeping The Progress Going

By Harold Ford Jr., a Democratic representative from Tennessee (THE WASHINGTON POST, 21/01/06):

I returned recently from a six-day trip to Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan inspired by the progress that has been made in the region. Afghans and Iraqis yearn for a new beginning predicated on freedom. In both places, the keys to a new future are identical: better security and improved services. Each country is at a different point in its development on both of these fronts, and each is at an important crossroads.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, Afghanistan stands at a more difficult and precarious junction than does Iraq. With a smaller U.S. military presence, Afghanistan is bracing for a larger NATO role in administering services and policing provinces and borders. This transition comes just as the insurgency in Afghanistan is gaining momentum.

As former ambassador Paul Bremer asserts in his new book about his time in Iraq, it’s best to destroy an insurgency in its infancy, before it gains strength. We should not help give birth and momentum to an Afghan insurgency by repeating the mistakes we made in Iraq. Instead, we should work with our allies to kill the fledgling insurgency in Afghanistan now, when we have the chance.

In addition, we need to continue to provide technical resource support, and we should begin training Afghan police leadership in U.S. and European police academies. We also need to redouble our efforts to help Afghan farmers make the transition from opium poppies to other crops, and to move the Afghan economy into the mainstream. The opium trade is financing the final vestiges of the Taliban and steadily entrenching an underground and criminal economy in Afghanistan.

In Iraq, the challenges are different, though no less significant. With the election over, Iraq must form a coalition government sooner rather than later to sustain the Iraqi people’s commitment to the political process and the American people’s commitment to continuing the present large-scale effort.

Shifting responsibility for rebuilding to provincial reconstruction teams is a good start. It should accelerate the infrastructure work already underway and place more responsibility in the hands of the Iraqis for building and maintaining new construction and essential services. Here are a few additional recommendations for President Bush:

· The president should end the domestic spying program. It has severely damaged his standing and credibility with the American people. If the president wants the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court to work faster and produce speedier resolutions to serious national security questions, we can introduce legislation in Congress to make adjustments. Frankly, I am still unsure how his hands were tied under FISA, but I’m willing to work with him to ensure that he has the authority he needs to keep the country safe. At the end of the day, we are a nation of laws. We cannot be in the business of exporting democracy and liberty if we cannot protect it at home.

· We cannot leave Iraq and Afghanistan until they have adequate systems in place to govern and defend themselves. There is conflicting rhetoric coming out of the administration on this front. One day we hear that a pullout or drawdown of U.S. troops is imminent. The next we hear the opposite. I want the troops home as much as anyone, but having to send another generation to that region to fight 10 or more years from now because we left too early would be a worse outcome than the situation we now face. We need to do this right the first time.

· The president should continue working with our allies and repairing our relationships around the globe. The United States alone cannot fight and win a global war on terrorism. We need the help of every freedom-loving nation.

· The president should make a major commitment to building a new United Nations, perhaps by involving former presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush in the effort. As much disdain as the current administration has for the United Nations, it can play an important role in peacekeeping, negotiating political agreements and providing humanitarian relief.

· Last, and most important, energy reform should be our top legislative priority this year. Until we reduce our dependence on oil, our national security will continue to be disproportionately and dangerously tied to our need for supplies of it from the Middle East.

Just as Afghans and Iraqis are at a crossroads, so are we. We can adhere to policies that have led to some disturbing results, or we can learn from our mistakes and correct our course. I left Afghanistan and Iraq with a firm belief that we can still help each nation move toward stability. But we must have the clarity of mind and strength of character to acknowledge our shortcomings and make changes where necessary. The stakes are too high to do otherwise.