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Losing Hearts and Minds in Afghanistan

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What a difference two days -- and a deadly riot can make.

On Saturday, President Bush painted a halcyon picture of Afghanistan that made the former Taliban stronghold sound like Mayberry in The Andy Griffith Show, describing a "liberated Afghanistan" where "women are working, boys and girls are going to school, and Afghans have chosen a president and a new parliament in free elections." I could almost hear Louis Armstrong singing in the distance: "I see friends shaking hands, saying 'How do you do?'/They're really saying 'I love you...'"

But yesterday's deadly rioting revealed a seething anti-Americanism -- and growing Afghan resentment at the presence of the American military forces there.

According to press reports, the rioters shouted "Death to America!" and condemned Hamid Karzai (that freely elected president) as "a puppet of the Americans."

"We are against America," said one demonstrator, "all Afghans are against them."

Among the rioters carrying sticks and stones were some of those school children Bush had offered as symbols of the new Afghanistan. Apparently, they're learning a different version of the old adage about "sticks and stones." School children were also among the dead and severely wounded.

Although there were conflicting accounts of the accident that set off the riots, some Afghan witnesses described it as a hit-and-run, where a U.S. military convoy plowed into dozens of vehicles, drove towards shops and crowds of people, then fired on enraged protesters before speeding off.

"Afghans often complain that U.S. military convoys drive recklessly," reports the L.A. Times. Americans respond that "they drive aggressively to avoid roadside bombs and suicide attackers." Either way, Kabul clearly isn't Mayberry.

The U.S. military and President Karzai each promised a full investigation into yesterday's incident, with Karzai saying that any American soldiers found guilty of wrong-doing would be punished.

This comes on top of the investigation Karzai ordered last week into a U.S. bombing raid that left at least 35 villagers dead near Kandahar, and a U.S. inquiry into seven family members killed in a separate airstrike gone awry.

Wasn't Afghanistan supposed to be the big success story of the war on terror -- the Mission that was actually Accomplished?

The president and his representatives have spoken often of winning the hearts and minds of the Arab world. Incidents like these, and the scandal brewing over the killings in Haditha in Iraq, are having the opposite effect -- and speak volumes about the dangers inherent in imperial adventures.

We need to keep that in mind next time the president waxes lyrical about spreading democracy and liberty across the globe.