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At Claire’s Kitchen Table Talk in St. Louis just before last Christmas:

one audience member pleaded with her to urge Obama not to get sucked into Afghanistan. Claire wasn’t having it: “We cannot stand by…We cannot stand by and allow terrorist camps and training to go on without any real consequences in our world. We just can’t.”

If you watch the video, you can hear the resounding applause from an audience that is basically liberal. I react to both McCaskill and the applause the same way sarah jo did when she wrote about the military “solution” in Afghanistan: “Excuse me while I run around the block naked, screaming at the top of my lungs.” But certainly Claire and the clappers are not alone, among those that lean to the left, in believing that al Qaida and the Taliban must be controlled with weapons. A Post-Dispatch editorial last week asserted that:

Mr. Obama also knows he can’t leave Afghanistan to its own devices without creating more problems for neighboring Pakistan, which has nuclear arms and a nervous nuclear-armed neighbor in India.

The concern of the P-D editorial staff about the shaky, nuclear-armed government in Pakistan seems, at first blush, like a rational argument for military action. But consider that the writer did not explain how leaving “Afghanistan to its own devices” will create more problems. Does he fear that al Qaida will revive from its current debilitated state of 100 fighters in Afghanistan? Global sanctions have weakened the organization and its chances of revival are slim.

Perhaps, then, the editorial writer is concerned about the Taliban threatening Pakistan’s weak government. If so, let me refer him to Gail Sheehy’s review of Robert Greenwald’s documentary about Afghanistan

The strongest argument in the film against our mission is made by Robert Baer, the former CIA field operative in the Middle East, whose book See No Evil was the basis for the film Syriana: “The more we fight Afghanistan, the more the conflict gets pushed across the border into Pakistan; the more we destabilize Pakistan, the more likely it is a fundamentalist government will take over the army… and… [we] will have al Qaeda-like groups with nuclear weapons.”

Baer spent a couple of decades understanding how military solutions in the Middle East produced all the wrong outcomes. His warning is credible. So is Molly Ivins’ observation that “it’s damn hard to convince people you’re killing them for their own good.” Every time we bomb villagers into oblivion, we strengthen the Taliban’s hand. Which brings us back to sarah jo and the idea, presented in “Three Cups of Tea”, that education is the key to peace in Afghanistan.

President Obama should earn that Nobel Prize by sending most of our tired troops home, letting those that remain guard all the schools we should build, and focusing on honest elections. And if that solution sounds too Pollyanna, think about the alternative: recall how getting bogged down in Afghanistan contributed to the breakup of the Soviet Union. That’s not ancient history and it’s not in another hemisphere. The very same Taliban that did for the Soviets is now, just twenty years later, sucking us into the same quagmire.

Claire worried about allowing terrorist training camps to go unchallenged. But al Qaida has been challenged and has mostly succumbed. And if we want to keep the Taliban from getting hold of nuclear weapons, then perhaps we should refrain from pushing them into nuclear-armed Pakistan.