What Constitutes Victory in Afghanistan

By Kyle W. Nevins and Joseph R. Nevins
Sunday, September 6, 2009

Polls show that public support for the war in Afghanistan is eroding. Noted conservative columnist George F. Will counsels that it is "time to get out of Afghanistan." Will and others question our purpose there and point to a lack of clear strategy for victory or even clear measures of success.

For some, the conflict in Afghanistan has elicited memories of Vietnam -- a war with no clear battlefront and no clear end. But while the threat in Vietnam was hypothetical, the threat in Afghanistan is real: The Taliban did provide haven for terrorists who attacked America on American soil. And that attack on American soil claimed more lives than were lost at Pearl Harbor.

We are not professionals in the business of influencing public opinion. We write as the brother and father of a Marine infantry officer serving on the front lines of Helmand province in Afghanistan. Patrick was only 16 years old on Sept. 11, 2001. Yet he knew then that he would join the effort to protect our nation from another attack. He is now exactly where he wants to be: protecting our country from further violence in a theater he absolutely believes enabled the events of Sept. 11.

To end the war in Afghanistan is, in a sense, to attempt to return us to a state preceding the Sept. 11 attacks. Do we know for sure that military action in Afghanistan has prevented another attack? Of course not. But we do know that the Taliban in Afghanistan did provide the means for the horrendous carnage of that day. The 2001 attacks changed our world. There is no turning back. Like it or not, Americans must be prepared for a long war if we mean to protect our peace and our way of life.

To use an analogy from medical practice, we are fighting a chronic disease -- one with little hope of eradication. Our goal must be to control the threat even if it cannot be eliminated. In many respects, our plight following Sept. 11 closely parallels the experience of Israel of the past 61 years, a continuing threat that is unlikely to go away.

So, how do we measure our success in Afghanistan? We measure success as the continuation of our American way of life, day by day, and as going one more day without an attack at home. It is incumbent upon our politicians, in particular the Obama administration, to articulate this clearly to the public. The president must provide leadership and not simply react to polls.

We know that many of the men and women serving in Afghanistan do so because of Sept. 11 -- a nearly universal personal response not unlike the national response to Pearl Harbor. While their role in this conflict is a source of great anxiety to their families, for whom a sniper's bullet, an improvised explosive device or a grenade could spell disaster at any moment, this anxiety is overwhelmed by the pride in individuals who sacrifice daily for a cause that most Americans take for granted. Each day that goes by quietly on American soil is our measure of their success in Afghanistan.

Kyle Nevins is director of floor operations for the House Republican whip. Joseph Nevins is the Barbara Levine professor of breast cancer genomics and director of the Center for Applied Genomics and Technology at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C.

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