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Eight Years After 9/11, Does Afghanistan Matter?

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On last week's "Left, Right, and Center", Arianna Huffington spoke forcefully about Afghanistan. Ridding the country of the Taliban was possible right after 9/11, but now, eight years later, it is folly to continue the fighting. Bush blew an opportunity leaving Obama entangled in a war he cannot win.

Her arguments were rooted in solid strategic thinking.

George Will, a hawk if there ever was one, came to the same conclusion. Afghanistan is a fool's errand. Stop wasting our young soldiers' lives and pouring good money after bad. Get out now.

Even President Obama's own party doubts that Afghanistan is a good investment. Speaker Pelosi and Senator Carl Levin have said publicly that sending more troops will meet resistance.

Only the always-gets-it-wrong Bill Kristol has sided with President Obama.

But what are we to make of a recent article in the New York Times Magazine by Dexter Filkins who tells the story of 17-year-old Shamsia Husseini, one of the Afghan girls who was attacked last fall by men on motorcycles who sprayed battery acid on their faces and bodies. The girls were attacked because they were attending school, something the Taliban violently opposes.

The story he tells is emotionally devastating.

Because Shamsia's face is scarred, no one will marry her. What's worse, she wants an education but the acid damaged her eyes so she reads with difficulty if at all. Filkins offers to fly her to the United States where he has arranged for corrective surgery. Her family will pay nothing. Filkins will take care of everything.

Her parents at first agreed then changed their minds. Shamsia cannot have the surgery. Why? Because her family has been threatened by the Taliban. They do not approve of her leaving the country to have the surgery.

Filkins uses Shamsia's experience to frame a larger story. When the Taliban were in power they persecuted women mercilessly. The story is well-known. Although Shamsia's attackers are identified as hirelings of the Pakistani ISI, their Secret Police, Filkins suggests that the evidence is unreliable and that the Taliban was actually behind the attack.

No one doubts that if the United States and NATO leave the country, the Taliban will regain control. So if Arianna and George Will are correct, that we cannot defeat the Taliban, then it follows that we will turn our backs on Shamsia and all the other women of Afghanistan.

President Obama, on the other hand, argues that we have to stay in Afghanistan because the Taliban are a threat to our national security. They proved that before 9/11 by harboring Osama Bin Laden. Their actions in Pakistan also confirm their intention to spread their dominance over that country as well. Public outrage goaded the Pakistani Army into pushing them out of the Swat Valley and back into the border areas. But if the Taliban recapture Afghanistan, it is plausible to believe that they will move back into Pakistan.

So on the one hand there are those who say Afghanistan can't be secured and others, like President Obama, who argue that we cannot allow the country to be retaken by the Taliban because we risk our own safety.

And then there is Dexter Filkins who has been on the ground in Afghanistan, unlike the majority of people arguing about its fate. He has risked his life to talk to people there face to face. He has gotten emotionally involved.

If the Taliban retake the country, the fate of Shamsia and all the other young women of her generation is easy to imagine. They will not be educated. Their schools will be closed or burned to the ground. They will be persecuted. If they are physically or emotionally abused, there will be no protections for them.

Obama's argument about the national security threat posed by the Taliban does sway me. It "logic's out". But I don't like to read about the enormous cost of the war, nor the tragic deaths and injuries suffered by our military anymore than does Arianna or George Will.

But I can't stop thinking about Shamsia and the other Afghan girls. How can we turn our backs on them? Knowing as we do, what will happen when we leave.

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