Next steps in Afghanistan

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One of the Obama administration's most important actions has been its decision to thoroughly review U.S. objectives, goals and strategy in Afghanistan. That this is being seriously debated over a period of weeks, with voices heard from all sides and decisions held in abeyance, is a highly significant change from the practice of previous administrations.

As this discussion approaches its end, the call is rising for a decision to consider our country's true security needs and to recognize the need to help the Afghan people rebuild their conflict-shattered lives. Common themes include no escalation of U.S. and NATO troops, a clearly defined exit strategy and support for Afghan-led economic, social and political development.

The latest expression comes from the 300-member executive board of the California Democratic Party, which overwhelmingly passed a resolution on Nov. 15 entitled "End the U.S. Occupation and Air War in Afghanistan." The resolution calls for a timetable to withdraw U.S. military personnel, an end to using "mercenary contractors" and to air strikes causing heavy civilian casualties. It urges President Obama to "oversee a redirection of our funding and resources," increasing humanitarian and development aid. It calls for multiparty talks in Afghanistan to ensure "democratic and legitimate representation," and multiparty regional diplomacy "for safety and stability of neighboring countries."

Wise words from the biggest state organization in the president's own party.

Two bills now before Congress carry a similar message. HR 3699, by Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., would bar funds for a troop increase, and HR 2404, by Rep. James McGovern, D-Mass., calls for a military exit strategy.

Voices within the administration, including Vice President Biden, have also warned against deploying more troops. Last week U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry, who not long ago commanded U.S. troops there, expressed major reservations about increasing troop levels. Obama's call for further clarification of the options he is being offered is also an important development.

A year ago, September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, whose members lost loved ones in the 2001 Al Qaeda terror assaults, called for "a drastically revamped U.S. policy focused on diplomacy, negotiation, aid, reconstruction and international cooperation." 

As the administration's review comes to a close, we hope such principles will underlie the president's decisions.

But even if such wise counsel doesn't, inevitably this will be the plan for true security and stability for the region and the United States. And it will continue to be the plan that the U.S. people will continue to embrace and push to fulfill.

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