The following editorial appeared in Wednesday's Washington Post:
The Bush administration's conduct of the war in Afghanistan has won it much justified praise. But its postwar thinking seems dangerously split between two visions. On the one hand officials say things like, "We are determined that when we're finished, that Afghanistan will be the sort of country that doesn't once again become a sanctuary for terrorists," as Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz put it on Monday. On the other hand, the administration has been reluctant to accept that Afghanistan's reconstruction is likely to require foreign peacekeepers, preferably including an American contingent. By laying out ambitious goals but refusing to provide the necessary means, the administration is risking the national prestige that its successful military campaign has generated.
Nobody pretends that peacekeeping is easy. Afghanistan is more than 10 times larger than Bosnia, where peacekeeping has been challenging enough. Past efforts to contain the rivalries of warlords -- notably in Somalia -- have ended in disaster. The goal cannot and should not be to police every corner of the country. But a foreign force could help secure the main cities and transport routes, protecting aid shipments and aid workers. Without a minimum level of security, the interim government due to take power Dec. 22 with American blessing will be stillborn. The ensuing power vacuum will invite drug traders and new terrorists. And American credibility in attacking the next state sponsor of terrorism will be compromised.
The administration hopes that Afghans can provide the necessary security themselves. That would be ideal. But with the Taliban's defeat, some local warlords may turn to profitable pursuits such as plundering food aid or rebuilding the heroin business. An Afghan central government may not have the strength to stop them.
The British are offering to anchor a small peacekeeping force to secure the capital that could report to Central Command in Florida, thereby ensuring that it would not obstruct efforts to hunt down remaining terrorists. Some administration officials -- apparently not including those at Central Command itself -- fear that this proposal would involve them in the dreaded "nation-building" business. The administration is also resisting British requests to contribute to the force's capabilities. But though other countries should take the lead -- the United States has already provided air power, special forces and Marines -- it's important to remember that peacekeepers deter violence as much through reputation as muscle. Precisely because the United States has led in liberating the country, its participation in a peacekeeping force would greatly boost its credibility.
If there were a plausible case for ignoring the reconstruction challenge, the critics of nation-building within the Bush administration would be making it. But there is no such case, so the administration is talking the reconstruction talk while refusing to recognize what it will take to turn talk into real policy.
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