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Bush Has an Obligation to Build an Afghan Peace

Authors: James M. Lindsay, Senior Vice President, Director of Studies, and Maurice R. Greenberg Chair, and Ivo H. Daalder
November 24, 2001
International Herald Tribune

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WASHINGTON. Now that the end of the war in Afghanistan is in sight, a debate is brewing across the Atlantic about how to secure the peace. While Britain is leading the charge to send troops to help stabilize the situation in Afghanistan, the United States appears unwilling to join the effort.

The debate partly reflects differing assessments of what is required, including whether any Western presence is appropriate. But at its core the debate is over the respective roles that the United States and its European allies should play when it comes to the use of military force.

A year ago Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, called for "a new division of labor" between the United States and European militaries. Americans should fight wars. Europeans should conduct peace operations.

Although Ms. Rice's remarks were widely criticized at the time, they now appear to summarize the principle guiding U.S. engagement in Afghanistan. From the outset, Washington made clear its preference to go it alone militarily. It politely declined most allied offers of help.

Only when political support for the war effort began to flag in Europe did the administration realize that saying "no thanks" had real costs. So earlier this month - before the fighting abruptly turned - Washington accepted offers of direct military participation from France, Germany, Italy and others.

Now that the Taliban have been routed from much of Afghanistan, key European allies are prepared to send in significant forces to help stabilize Afghanistan. British forces have already taken control of Kabul's main military airport, and Prime Minister Tony Blair has put 6,000 troops on standby for deployment on 48 hours notice. French troops are in Uzbekistan ready to deploy to Mazar-i-Sharif.

Washington is giving these deployments a decidedly cool reception. Nothing in the events of Sept. 11 appear to have diminished the White House's hostility toward using U.S. troops as peacekeepers. Key officials have acknowledged that the United States must not repeat the mistake it made in 1989 when it walked away from Afghanistan after the Soviet Union's defeat. However, they have steadfastly opposed committing any U.S. forces to help stabilize Afghanistan. As Ms. Rice said last month, "there's nothing wrong with nation-building, but not when it's done by the American military."

This view is short-sighted. Washington has a vital interest in restoring Afghanistan's stability. The United States went to war not just to destroy Qaida and overthrow the Taliban but to make sure that Afghanistan never again becomes a terrorist haven. That requires a concerted and sustained American effort to win the peace.

Economic assistance will form a key part of that effort. The Bush administration was right to join with other countries in pledging upward of $10 billion in aid to Afghanistan.

But economic reconstruction cannot begin if Afghanistan remains wracked by instability. And Americans know from experiences in Haiti, the Balkans, and East Timor that only a few countries possess the military muscle needed to restore order and security to a war-torn land. U.S. allies are ready to do their part. So should the United States.

A major U.S. and allied peacekeeping operation in Afghanistan would be needed only for a limited time - a matter of months, not years. The need is greatest now, when competition for political advantage is most intense and the humanitarian situation most urgent. Once stability has been assured in key areas, responsibility for maintaining essential security can be transferred to the Afghans themselves or, if they are not ready, to an international force drawn from other Muslim countries.

The new division of labor is also short-sighted for a broader reason. In waging a war the United States has a responsibility not only for defeating the adversary but also for securing peace.

If Washington refuses to join with Europe in a peacekeeping operation in Afghanistan, it risks poisoning the immense well of sympathy and political support it has enjoyed since Sept. 11. It will confirm the claim of those who argue that the United States is a "high-tech bully," more interested in destroying things than building them.

In proving these critics wrong, the United States would ensure allied support for and participation in future phases of the war against terrorism.