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Published: Tuesday, 5/12/2009

Changing focus

AMERICANS may have been curious as to just what President Obama was signing the country on to when he provided a blanket commitment to the leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan in the White House last Wednesday.

After meeting with Pakistan Prime Minister Asif Ali Zardari and Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, Mr. Obama declared that America was deeply committed to helping defeat al-Qaeda and its extremist partners read, the Taliban and in helping democracy endure and flourish in their two countries.

No matter what happens, we will not be deterred, he said.

Just as the United States has been since the 9/11 attacks eight years ago, there should be no doubt that America is firmly committed to preventing al-Qaeda from mounting another such attack on the homeland. That remains one, if not the, top priority of any American president.

It s the other implications of Mr. Obama s blanket commitment to the governments of Mr. Zardari and Mr. Karzai that present potentially severe problems. America s forces can keep al-Qaeda s attack potential under control. The organization was quickly and easily rendered impotent in Afghanistan in 2001 and U.S. forces have punished them extensively in Pakistan since then. Drone aircraft attacks tend to create and expand a hostile civilian population in both Pakistan and Afghanistan, but they are nonetheless effective in pinpointing and destroying al-Qaeda targets, whether they be in those two countries or in Saudi Arabia or Yemen, for that matter.

But the kind of commitment Mr. Obama appears to be making includes causing grass-roots democracy to endure and flourish in those two countries. (Has he confused Afghanistan and Pakistan with Arkansas and Illinois?) He wants to get rid of the drug trade in Afghanistan, for instance, but it accounts for about 90 percent of that country s economy.

Most of all, Mr. Obama seems to be forgetting the situation of not only U.S. armed forces but also the economy. There are still 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. He has pledged an additional 20,000 troops for Afghanistan. The Defense Department budget stands at more than $500 billion, and his administration has asked for an additional $83.5 billion supplemental appropriation to fight the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

After the 9/11 attacks, the media were criticized harshly for not pointing out the reasons for the United States not to go to war with Iraq. The Congress was rapped for not cutting off the Bush administration s money to keep fighting that war for almost six years.

Now the Obama Administration is asking for an extra $83.5 billion and another $7.5 billion for Pakistan on top of the $11 billion it has had already.

Except for what is absolutely necessary to combat al-Qaeda and the Taliban, it is definitely time for the Congress to cut off the rest. Americans do not need, and cannot support, ambitious nation-building programs in Pakistan or Afghanistan.

The United States needs to concentrate now on its problems at home. Mr. Obama seems to understand that, but his open-ended commitments to Pakistan and Afghanistan suggest otherwise.



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