Matthew C. Moeller
years ago today, the fall of the Berlin Wall, brought German re-unification,
revolutionary marches throughout Eastern Europe, and the Soviet Union's disintegration.
While the war of ideas that shattered the Iron Curtain was waged in Europe,
Afghans fought the bloody battle against communism and demoralized the Brezhnev
The Afghan vs. Soviet proxy war paralyzed Afghanistan with a million dead, millions
of displaced refugees, and countless millions disabled. As the Red Army
withdrew forces, the U.S. in turn shifted its attention away from Afghanistan.
Who would have imagined that sole remaining superpower would return to
Afghanistan and find itself bogged down in a long military conflict? Or that
this landlocked nation would become the new schwer punkt, the new focal or resistant point of the post-Cold
war battle against terrorism - in short, the new Berlin.
the Berlin Wall fell, many predicted market expansion into former Eastern bloc
states, but few would have predicted the nexus of events converging on
Afghanistan. The arms race between India and Pakistan resulting in nuclear
testing, energy rich Central Asian states proclaiming independence. Osama bin
Laden and Al Qaeda network launching terrorist operations in Afghanistan.
Iran's drive for nuclear enrichment, India and China's growing influence in
Asia. And the re-emergence of a market-oriented Russian Federation. Landlocked
Afghanistan, flanked by resource-rich and nuclear-armed neighbors transitioned
as the center of gravity.
The anarchy in Afghanistan beginning in the post-Cold War created unmitigated
desperation, and soon Afghanistan emerged as the world largest exporter of
opium and refugees. In the vacuum of the chaotic fighting between mujahideen
warlords, the Taliban rose to power. Sure enough, the Taliban brought security
but with no semblance of civilization - no basic rights, no civic institutions,
no functioning economy, no freedom of religion, and no recovery from war.
Plain and simple: No front is more important than Afghanistan where the stakes
of descent into chaos poses a severe threat to the region and U.S. strategic
interests. An Afghanistan or nuclear-armed Pakistan overrun by extremists
endangers the entire world. The potential loss in human life and treasures from
a nuclear strike is unquantifiable. I'm no economist by any means but I can
assure you that nuclear fallout will be more than the $243 billion price tag on
Afghanistan since 2001 and more than the $2 trillion cost of the September 11
But misguided pundits have been sold on the tactical idea of Afghanistan as not
worth the fight. Dismissing the necessary war as a 35-year civil war, or
blindly making the Vietnam analogy ignores the facts. The Afghanistan War is
the central front in a cross-border and global conflict. It is by no means a
local war. How can the foreign intervention and militarization of Afghanistan
during the Cold War, the rise of Islamic extremism that rose out of the ashes
of the Afghan-Soviet War, and the 9/11 terrorist planning on Afghan soil that
targeted the symbols of world commerce and U.S. national security murdering
thousands en masse, only make it an Afghan conundrum?
Afghanistan has more in common with Cold War Berlin than it does with Vietnam.
The Vietnam comparison of the Taliban insurgency and Al Qaeda neglects the
fundamental difference that the Viet Cong and the
North Vietnamese never posed any direct threat to the U.S. homeland. The U.S.
was able to strike a peace accord with the Vietnamese in Paris, but is it
possible to negotiate with leaders Mullah Omar and other Taliban leaders whom
we've labeled terrorists and targeted for the last eight years? Maybe, if we
could only find them.
In the last decade, the Taliban's brand of Islamic doctrine has evolved to a transnational jihadi movement, bent on
chasing out the international community out of the region and establishing a
pan-Islamic state. That would certainly give Al Qaeda an unfettered safe haven.
Allowing the Taliban to return to power would be an enormous victory for Al
Qaeda's propaganda and Islamists around the world.
terrorism with aerial bombings into the Afghan plains or in neighboring
Pakistan is not going to address the issues that breed extremism and recruit
the next generation of extremists. In western Europe, communism was "contained"
with a Marshall Plan that rebuilt the continent. Addressing human rights issues
and building the civil capacity of the region with a viable development plan
will quell the insurgency. Sustainable peace is possible but it will take time
for a new generation to transform the breeding ground of terror into a beacon
August 2008, while running for president, Barack Obama warned a Berlin crowd of
250,000 of the dangerous currents in Afghanistan. "For the people of Afghanistan, and for our shared security,
the work must be done. The Afghan people need our troops and your troops; our
support and your support to defeat the Taliban and al Qaeda, to develop their
economy, and to help them rebuild their nation. We have too much at stake to
turn back now," Obama said.
Americans, with British and French allies, created a miracle in fortress
Berlin and rescued a devastated Europe after World War II. Today with NATO's
first mission outside of Europe, a UN mandate, a majority of Afghans' support,
and nearly all the world powers supporting the U.S. led mission in Afghanistan,
we have an opportunity to remake the world as the post-World War II generation
did so a half century ago.