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Glass Half Full

Fareed Zakaria looks on the bright side in Afghanistan.

It is worth reminding ourselves that Afghanistan is not in free fall. The number of civilian deaths, while grim, is less than a tenth the number in Iraq in 2006. In the recent Afghan election, all four presidential candidates publicly endorsed the U.S. presence there. Compare this with Iraq, where politicians engaged in ritual denunciations of the United States constantly to satisfy the public's anti-Americanism.

My understanding is that the relative absence of anti-Americanism really is a huge difference between Iraq and Afghanistan. The reason Afghans like the United States is that they don't like the Taliban, and they don't like the Taliban because music and beer and television and bare ankles turn out to be popular. That doesn't mean there's no scenario in which a resurgent Taliban gets a foothold in this or that province, but it's difficult to see them retaking the country, just as it's difficult to imagine us fully pacifying and uniting the fractious land. That points, at least in my mind, to the opportunity for a more limited mission in the area.

By Ezra Klein  |  September 14, 2009; 11:29 AM ET
Categories:  Afghanistan  
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Fareed himself made the point this last week that to get a police force large enough to handle the job in Afghanistan would require an expenditure of an amount equal to 300% of the current GDP of that country. My fear is this places us there for a long long time, draining our resources, killing our kids and boosting terrorist recruitment efforts.

Posted by: scott1959 | September 14, 2009 11:42 AM | Report abuse

I've not seen much evidence of the beer and bare ankles in Afghanistan, but very much appreciation of new elementary schools for 6 million girls and boys, new health clinics, and new roads to remote mountain villages connecting them to the outside world.

carry on.

Posted by: cynwhitehead | September 14, 2009 1:07 PM | Report abuse

One pessimistic view about Afghans' opinion of America comes from Sarah Chayes, who has been living in Afghanistan for almost a decade, working with Afghans and various NGOs to create business opportunities, build better housing, and so on. One of her ventures is using locally-grown botanicals (rose petals, apricot, almonds) to make luxury soaps for export.

In her interviews on NPR's Fresh Air, PBS's Moyers, and elsewhere, she paints a picture of a remarkably corrupt government. To do basically anything -- even such routine things as paying an electricity bill -- several bribes must be paid. And so the people are shaken down during the day by the government, and at night by the Taliban. How this relates to feelings about the U.S. is this: we were the ones who installed the Karzai government, we are the ones who installed the warlords (or let them come to power), and we are the ones who look the other way as corruption crushes the hopes of everyday Afghans.

Posted by: meander510 | September 16, 2009 1:12 PM | Report abuse

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