A Rorschach test on Afghanistan

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The NYT op-ed page that has just gone up, for tomorrow morning's paper, has as concise a paired description of options in Afghanistan as anyone could want. Each of the articles is by an American writer with experience in the region. One says we should send more troops; the other says that would be a mistake. Each is clearly written with a brief passage that distills the outlook and sensibility.

One says:

"The United States was born of our ancestors' nationalistic resentment of a foreign power whose troops we saw as occupiers, not protectors. The British never fathomed our basic grievance -- this was our land, not theirs! -- so the more they cracked down, the more they empowered the American insurgency....
"We have been similarly oblivious to the strength of nationalism in Afghanistan and Pakistan, particularly among the 40 million Pashtuns who live on both sides of the border there. That's one reason the additional 21,000 troops that President Obama ordered to Afghanistan earlier this year haven't helped achieve stability, and it's difficult to see why 40,000 more would help either."

And the other says:

"During 10 days spent in Afghanistan at the invitation of Gen. David Petraeus, the head of Central Command, I observed that a difficult task has been further complicated by the checkered results of the Afghan election. But what seems to be conspicuously absent from the conversation in the United States is the realization that Afghanistan's corruption problem, like its security problem, can be best addressed by additional troops.

"Given what I saw and heard on my visit, I believe it is indeed possible to get Afghanistan's politicos to do a better job -- you just have to watch them closely.... Poor governance is an argument for, not against, a troop surge. "

 The writers' identities are after the jump. I'm concentrating on the arguments themselves because I think they represent an extraordinarily pure Rorschach test. There are cases where you can listen to various sides and think, "Well, they've all got good points." But in this case, I bet most people will think: one of these perspectives rings true, and one sounds tragically deluded. Certainly that was my instant reaction -- and for that clarifying power I am grateful to both authors. Read, react, reflect.

_____
Item one ("no more troops") is by the NYT's Nicholas Kristof, here. Item two ("more troops") is by Max Boot of the CFR, here.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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