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(Photo by Danfung Dennis for The New York Times.  Gorgeous color in this shot.)

As the anniversary of 9/11 approaches, it is worth asking some five years after the fact, whether we are using our resources to most effectively make America more safe, to lower the threats posed to our great nation — or are we taking actions which weaken our nation over the long run and make security, both in the United States and for our interests abroad, less safe?

President George Bush gave a speech today which included a line that it is foolish to try to negotiate with al qaeda.  Well…duh.  No one but the GOP election-year straw man is advocating that as a strategy.  And it is a lie to say otherwise.

But are we using our limited resources as wisely as we ought to, as prudently as we should, as carefully as the lives of each and every serviceperson deserve?  Ah, now that is a question, isn’t it?  And the answer may be found all the way back in Afghanistan — where Bin Laden and his supporters see their influence growing again after we turned our nation’s eyes and resources toward Iraq instead.  Are we truly safer?

From the NYTimes:

On a July morning, Taliban gunmen shot dead the province’s most powerful cleric as he walked to the main city mosque to lead morning prayers. Five months later, they executed a teacher at a nearby village school as students watched. The following month, they walked into another mosque and gunned down an Afghan engineer working for a foreign aid group, shooting him in the back as he pressed his forehead to the ground and supplicated to God.

This spring and summer, the slow and methodical siege of this southern provincial capital intensified. The Taliban and their allies set up road checkpoints, burned 20 trucks and slowed the flow of supplies to reconstruction projects. All told, in surrounding Helmand Province, five teachers, one judge and scores of police officers have been killed. Dozens of schools and courts have been shuttered, according to Afghan officials.

“Our government is weak,” said Fowzea Olomi, a local women’s rights advocate whose driver was shot dead in May and who fears she is next. “Anarchy has come.”

The NYTimes article is lengthy, but well worth the read.  And the lost opportunities documented within it are painful: 

The problems began in early 2002, former Bush administration, United Nations and Afghan officials said, when the United States and its allies failed to take advantage of a sweeping desire among Afghans for help from foreign countries.

The Defense Department initially opposed a request by Colin L. Powell, then secretary of state, and Afghanistan’s new leaders for a sizable peacekeeping force and deployed only 8,000 American troops, but purely in a combat role, officials said.

During the first 18 months after the invasion, the United States-led coalition deployed no peacekeepers outside Kabul, leaving the security of provinces like Helmand to local Afghans.

"Where the world, including the United States, came up short was on the security side," said Richard Haass, the former director of policy planning at the State Department. "That was the mistake which I believe is coming back to haunt the United States now."

Afghanistan is used to being abandoned — but we gave them hope, and promises, that this would not happen when we invaded after 9/11 and routed the Taliban from Kabul. The Bush Administration has broken faith with Afghanistan, and has failed to live up to its promises through poor planning decisions. And the responsibility for that failure rests on President Bush.  And the rest of the moderate Islamic world is watching as we treat Afghanistan’s population as a throwaway pawn on the road to Iraqi conquest.

More on Afghanistan’s current plight and the increasing resurgence of the Taliban throughout the already war-torn nation can be found via Bloomberg and Guardian UK.

I watched the whole of George Bush’s speech today.  His ego is tied up in believing that Iraq is essential and that his fight…his ideas…his way is righteous.  He has surrounded himself with sycophants who tell him what he wants to hear, and who dispatch surrogates to tell the American public that Afghanistan is "going swimmingly," regardless of the facts.

But the question remains:  are the actions currently being taken by the Bush Administration lessening the threat of terrorism — or are these actions creating a larger pool of next generation terrorists who operate on an even more independent footing?  Poverty, anger and despair are powerful motivating factors — are our actions reducing or enhancing those feelings in the Middle East and further throughout the world?

The results of the 2006 election can have a profound effect on our nation’s policies — will the election serve as a check and balance to the Bush Administration, or will it reaffirm the need for non-questioning rubber stamping ideology?  Our nation functions best when there is a check and balance provided by the legislative branch on the chief executive — President Bush has had an almost unfettered hand on foreign policy and war-making from the GOP-controlled Congress. 

Will President Bush be allowed to continue to function in his unquestioning bubble?  Or is it past time to pierce the veil, and allow some reality to seep through in the form of a demand for accountability and for policies which are the best for our nation as a whole, best not just for today but for our generations to come — for my child and yours, and their children – and not just best for propping up the President’s ego?