Saturday, September 20, 2003


When faced with a job started but not finished, politicians have an almost universal reaction: change the subject!

Afghanistan is a case in point.

We invaded Afghanistan and threw out most of the bad guys -- al Quaeda and the Taliban. Fine. Is the job finished? It has barely started.

The Karzai 'government' has virtually no authority outside Kabul. Power elsewhere in the country has reverted to the 'war lords'. President Karzai has asked the international community for a $15-20 billion to get the reconstruction job started; the Bush administration has pledged $1 billion, and very few other countries have pledged anything. We have reduced our troop strength there to some 8,000, and the UN peacekeeping force cannot operate safely outside Kabul. American troops are still getting killed. Millions of Afghans are displaced, their homes wrecked by the war. The infrastructure remains a shambles. And the country is again Number One in poppy production for heroin.

After 30 years of war, in a country that has long been an economic, social and political basket case, Afghanistan's 'reconstruction' requires far more resources than the $87 billion the president has proposed for Iraq.

So what has the Bush Administration done? It has changed the subject: to Iraq. And when politicians change the subject, the media tends to follow. The result is that this desperate country has virtually disappeared from the headlines, and is rarely, if ever, raised as a serious issue by those who are running for Mr. Bush's job.

Are we seeing a replay of the past, when we armed what became the Taliban, encouraged them to throw the Russians out, made grandiose promises -- and then walked away?

US credibility throughout the world is at an all-time low. It cannot be helped by our failure to finish what we started. Or is Mr. Bush's tax cut really more important?