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Jonathan Power: Downhill in Afghanistan

How far is downhill? Well, that's like asking how long is a piece of string. But whatever the answer, the American/NATO military effort in Afghanistan, triggered by 9/11, seems to have all the marks of a quick descent. In Barack Obama's phrase, American public opinion doesn't get it. How could they when Obama himself, supposedly a fresh eye on the international scene, bangs the drum for more troops and yet more force? Does European and Canadian opinion get it? Apart from the Canadians, who have had the good sense and the foresight to give a date for the withdrawal of their troops, public opinion appears to be asleep at the switch. Our Afghanistan policy, made within hours of the atrocity of 9/11, seems still to be to try to bomb the country to cinders, irrespective of the number of civilian casualties. How is it possible that Americans have yet not learned the lesson of Dresden, that wild and merciless bombing rather than leading to capitulation merely reinforces local opinion against the aggressor. And troops on the ground have continued to alienate local opinion with their seeming inability to differentiate between fighters and civilians. The war is being lost as the Taliban, whether actively defending Al Qaeda or just fighting for their own piece of ground, gain the upper hand, improving their strength and their military skills by the month. The poppy growers watch their profits soar, with plenty of coin going to Taliban coffers, because the West is unable to face honestly the one policy that might work—legalization of the drug trade, as the former minister of finance of Pakistan, Sartaj Aziz, suggested in Prospect magazine. (He argued for a controlled experiment in one province.) President Bush, the American military, and now Obama seem to think the only way out is to take their failed tactics into Pakistan, despite the opposition of the government in Islamabad and its powerful military chiefs. (So much for territorial integrity, the war cry of NATO for Georgia.)

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