Vermont Public Radio Comments for April 20th, 2012

          The war in Afghanistan spiked this past week- even as diplomatic talks with Iran over its nuclear program have resumed after more than a year’s hiatus. This morning, commentator and retired ABC News diplomatic correspondent Barrie Dunsmore brings us up to date.

          The Taliban attack on Afghanistan’s parliament and the diplomatic area of Kabul reminded me a little bit of the 1968 Tet offensive when the communists shocked all Americans by attacking hundreds of towns and cities including the South Vietnamese capital Saigon. In magnitude- either in the size of the attacks or the casualties- there is absolutely no comparison. What is similar is that as with the communists this new assault by the Taliban was to send a political message. In its simultaneous attacks in four parts of the country including Kabul, the Taliban was seeking to undermine civilian confidence in NATO and the Afghan military - by disrupting normal life and terrifying residents for more than fourteen hours.

          Coming not long after the rioting and killings that erupted following the inadvertent burning of copies of the Koran by US troops- and the slaughter of 16 Afghan civilians including 9 children by an American soldier who apparently snapped, things have not been looking good for the U.S. in Afghanistan. And recent polls reflect that. Earlier this month more than two thirds of Americans - 69 percent- thought that the United States should no longer be at war in Afghanistan. Several key NATO countries are coming to the same conclusion. I would not expect any major American withdrawals to occur this year but an accelerated withdrawal next year down to about 20,000 seems increasingly likely. After the decade of war since 9/11, the American people are showing the signs of battle fatigue. The heavy human loss and the astronomical economic costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are greater than any benefits these sacrifices have brought.
          And yet, almost under the radar with virtually no national debate, President Barack Obama and the Pentagon, are struggling to avoid being dragged into still another war, this time with Iran. Such a war has the potential to be far worse than anything we have seen in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, it is not inevitable.

          Washington Post columnist David Ignatius is highly respected for his Middle East experience and excellent contacts in intelligence circles. This week he published a remarkably upbeat column about chances for success for the new diplomatic talks between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany, over Iran’s nuclear program. The Iranians are under great pressure from new draconian economic sanctions that could totally cripple their economy – and from continuing Israeli threats to bomb their nuclear facilities. Ignatius offers persuasive analysis that as these new talks proceed, Iran will probably eventually agree to the key demand that it cease reprocessing uranium to potentially weapon’s grade levels - and in return, sanctions will slowly be eased as Iran opens up to UN weapons inspectors.

          Either Iran or Israel may still choose the war option. But there are now signs that another, even more devastating Middle East war can be avoided - if creative diplomacy is given a reasonable chance to succeed.

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