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Under the Influence: When Winning is Nation-Building

Friday, Sept. 4, 2009

Here's a radical proposition: Withdraw from Afghanistan. That's just what stalwart nationally syndicated columnist George Will called for on Tuesday, setting off a week of stormy debate that culminated in the secretary of defense and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff responding to his Washington Post op-ed, titled, "Time to Leave Afghanistan." With deliberations in Washington set to begin in earnest about a newly delivered strategy by the new commander on the ground, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, Will has opened up the most fundamental question the country faces in foreign affairs today: Should the U.S. be in Afghanistan in the first place?

In a matter of days, a veritable storm of arguments gathered, some from the chattering class and some from the country's foremost institutions. But while the arguments that emerged contain flashes of both brilliance and bafflement, almost in their entirety they fail to reconcile the reality of the challenge: Nation-building lies at the core of any mission in a country as underdeveloped as Afghanistan, and whether done well or done badly, it will take not months or years, but decades. And to suggest otherwise is irresponsible. ...

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