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Jewish World Review Jan. 24, 2001 / 12 Shevat, 5762

Michael Kelly

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Seeing It Through -- THERE was good news this week: U.S. efforts to raise money to rebuild Afghanistan have been met with favor. With the United States, Japan and the European Union leading, nations from around the world pledged $4.5 billion to fund the rebuilding effort.

The good news, though, contained its own antidote. Even as they pledged their aid, representatives of donor nations worried that they were throwing money away, while representatives from Afghanistan's neonatal government worried that they might end up seeing more in the way of promises than cash. These were sound concerns.

Afghanistan, which remains in a state of heavily armed, factionalized semi-anarchy, is, even by Third World standards, a likely candidate for failure in any program of international aid. Even as the pledgers pledged, the United Nations reported that last Thursday a group of armed men had raided a U.N.-operated warehouse in the city of Qaisar; the bandits beat U.N. employees and stole 40 tons of food. It was the second such raid in a week; earlier, Afghan soldiers had held up a U.N. delivery convoy and stolen two trucks containing, again, 40 tons of food.

Meanwhile, American and other Western military and diplomatic sources report a growing Iranian effort to arm and otherwise support the Afghan chief Ismail Khan, who is attempting to establish a fiefdom in a large western region of the country that shares a 540-mile border with Iran. The Iranian effort threatens to undermine the already long-shot efforts to forge Afghanistan into anything like a coherent nation.

Also meanwhile, a helicopter crash killing two Marines brought January's U.S. military death total in Afghanistan to 10, the highest one-month figure since the campaign began in October. All but one of the deaths were caused by accidents occurring in the routine performance of duties.

And the European liberal press is up in pens over the supposed mistreatment of al Qaeda prisoners held in the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. And Afghanistan is suffering a severe drought, which has cut food harvests in half and is turning farmers back to the more lucrative business of growing poppies for the heroin trade.

In America, support for the war remains strong, early reactionary opposition by some elements of the hard left having failed to find any meaningful reception, even within left-liberalism. But interest has waned: Who wants to read about hijacked food trucks? The bottom-feeders of television programming, who are paid to know the precise current depth of the lowest common denominator, believe the mood is ripe for "The Chair" and "The Chamber," two new offerings that rest their hopes on the premise that man (especially 18- to 29-year-old man) is vile.

This is the period that will test whether a war that has been described, correctly, in epic terms is met with eventual success. The great danger in this war was never that the initial military aims would fail; it was, and is, that initial and limited success in these aims would convince a people not eager for epic struggle (no people ever are) that victory was theirs, and that it was time to open another bag of Doritos.

War is mostly a slog and a grind, and the tedious police and diplomatic work necessary to build upon military success is even more of a slog and a grind. Like other empire-nations before it, America is rich enough to support a great foreign legion (of soldiers, governors, aid-givers, spies) who slog and grind professionally. The sacrifices required by the rest of us are, most of the time, at a minimum.

But the minimum is there. It is to support the slog and the grind; to lose interest, perhaps, but not heart or patience; to remember the long goals and to accept the long costs.

This doesn't mean the abandonment of other interests, including by all means frivolous ones (as has never been more clearly demonstrated than in the liberation of Afghanistan from the theocratic fascism of the Taliban, the pursuit of happiness is frequently the pursuit of frivolity). It doesn't mean the end of politics or of criticism of the government.

It only means accepting that a lot of tedious and difficult problems (stolen food trucks and drought in Afghanistan, terrorism-bankrolling in Saudi Arabia, a madman in Iraq) are now ours to address; that failure in these regards will mean failure in the large regard; and that failure in the large regard cannot be allowed to happen.

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