We Needed a New Approach in Afghanistan -- and This Isn't It

By Jim Wallis 12-02-2009

091202-afghanistanThe decision by President Obama to send additional troops to Afghanistan saddens me. I believe it is a mistake, it is the wrong direction for U.S. foreign policy, and it is disappointing to many of us in the faith community and our friends who spearhead the on-the-ground development efforts in Afghanistan and around the world.

We needed a new approach to the very difficult and complicated situation in Afghanistan, and this isn't it. We were promised fundamental change in the direction of U.S. policy around the world, and this isn't it. We were promised change we can believe in, and this military escalation is not something many of us as faith leaders can believe in. This is still a primary reliance on military solutions and occupations to defeat terrorism -- a strategy which has not succeeded. The defeat of violent extremism is a necessary goal of the international community -- but old thinking, old ideas, old strategies, have failed time and time again to do that. And we have no reason to believe it will succeed this time.

Two weeks ago, we delivered to the White House an open letter to the president calling on him to lead with a different kind of "surge" -- a surge of strategic and focused international development, diplomacy, and targeted humanitarian assistance (and, yes, the necessary security to support it), rather than again relying on more military escalation. Seventeen thousand people have signed on to that letter. We heard little of that new approach in this announcement of sending more troops to fight terrorism. To undermine, isolate, and roll back the influence, capacity, and power of groups like al Qaeda is a necessary goal, but we still fail to fully comprehend how the presence and consequences of foreign military power serve to strengthen the extremism we seek to weaken. The plan that the president announced last evening is still the wrong kind of surge, and the emphasis of this policy is still in the wrong place. The history of the troubled country of Afghanistan, the lack of a reliable governance partner, the absolute failure of every other occupation of that nation, and the consistent mistake of leading with military solutions all predict sad outcomes for this old approach. Our nation's growing skepticism about this war is well-founded.

Ultimately, only a whole new approach to Afghanistan will have any chance of success. And many of us will continue to call for that, in the hope that the Obama administration will eventually listen. In the meantime, we will pray for our servicemen and women who will continue to sacrifice for a tragic strategy, for more innocent civilians in Afghanistan who will die from more military escalation, for a president whose deepest instincts we still trust, and for the soul of our own nation. May God save us from our well-intentioned mistakes.

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