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AFGHANISTAN POLICY, PAST AND PRESENT

Saturday, March 28, 2009

President Obama's announcement yesterday of a new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan marked a distinct shift in how the war in Afghanistan is framed. In contrast to former president George W. Bush, Obama makes no mention of bringing democracy to the war-torn country and does not dwell on the Taliban's ideology; he even suggests some Taliban members could be reconciled to the Afghan government. Obama is also much tougher on the failures of that government. Below are excerpts from Obama's remarks yesterday and Bush's remarks in Kabul, the Afghan capital, a month before he left office, with key phrases highlighted.

-- Glenn Kessler

President Obama, March 27

"To succeed, we and our friends and allies must reverse the Taliban's gains and promote a more capable and accountable Afghan government. . . .

"Afghanistan has an elected government, but it is undermined by corruption and has difficulty delivering basic services to its people. The economy is undercut by a booming narcotics trade that encourages criminality and funds the insurgency. The people of Afghanistan seek the promise of a better future. Yet once again, we have seen the hope of a new day darkened by violence and uncertainty. . . .

"We cannot turn a blind eye to the corruption that causes Afghans to lose faith in their own leaders. Instead, we will seek a new compact with the Afghan government that cracks down on corrupt behavior, and sets clear benchmarks for international assistance so that it is used to provide for the needs of the Afghan people. In a country with extreme poverty that has been at war for decades, there will also be no peace without reconciliation among former enemies. . . .

"There is an uncompromising core of the Taliban. They must be met with force, and they must be defeated. But there are also those who have taken up arms because of coercion, or simply for a price. These Afghans must have the option to choose a different course."

President Bush, Dec. 15

"In 2001, the Taliban were brutally repressing the people of this country. I remember the images of women being stoned, or people being executed in the soccer stadium because of their beliefs. There was a group of killers that were hiding here and training here and plotting here to kill citizens in my country.

"The interest is to build a flourishing democracy as an alternative to a hateful ideology. . . .

"It's difficult because extremists refuse to accept the beauty of democracy. They've got a different vision, and so therefore they're willing to kill innocent people to achieve their objectives.

"There has been a lot of progress since 2001 -- after all, girls are back in school. I happen to believe that's important. As a father of twin girls, I couldn't imagine living in a society where my little girls couldn't have a chance to realize their God-given potential. . . .

"There's been good progress made, but there are a lot of tough challenges. One of the great, interesting things that I'll be watching -- since I believe so strongly in democracy -- are the upcoming elections. . . . It's in our interest that Afghanistan's democracy flourish."

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