WASHINGTON, Feb. 23 (UPI) -- What is happening in Afghanistan today may be partially blamed on two basic problems with Washington's foreign policy: First, it is continuously reacting rather than pre-empting. And second, it has no continuity, changing direction every four, or sometimes eight, years.
However, what may happen in Afghanistan -- and its neighboring countries -- tomorrow will in large part be NATO's fault.
In both instances the repercussions are a cause of major concern to U.S. allies, particularly those that depend on Washington and, by extension, on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization for their survival.
What is happening in Afghanistan has been predictable for years. The reality that Afghanistan needed major surgery but was given only Band-Aids during the past eight years was all too obvious to just about any analyst who had spent time seriously looking at developments, and who had bothered to look into the country's history.
Indeed, the past often tells us much about the future. Many great armies have tried to subdue the Afghans and without much luck. From the mighty British Empire to the now defunct Soviet Empire, all have tried to dominate this fiercely independent people, but none has ever quite managed.
The solution to the Afghan problem lies not with foreign interventionists who seek a quick fix, but with the Afghan people themselves. But they need to be helped along with a strong commitment from the West.
Time in that part of the world has a different concept. While eight years is an entire political life cycle in the United States, for the Afghans who live by a different clock, it is a mere moment, a short pause in the country's history that can be traced back thousands of years.
For the last eight years the previous U.S. administration either chose to ignore these facts or, worse, was ignorant of the facts. Today there is a new team in the White House and a new team at the State Department, but the overall modus operandi remains very much the same; that is, short-term planning rather than in-depth and long-term strategic thinking.
From the outset of the conflict in Afghanistan it was more than clear that to succeed militarily, the mission needed to be successful from a political and socioeconomic standpoint.
In today's asymmetrical wars, winning the hearts and minds of the people is perhaps as important as winning the actual military battle. The Pentagon under the former defense secretary was big on rhetoric but short on follow-up in the field. And it was arrogant in its belief that it could conduct a blitzkrieg campaign in Afghanistan, to the point that, initially at least, the Pentagon declined all outside offers of help.
Now that it needs help, the allies are reluctant to commit themselves. In the study of conflict resolution there is an exercise dubbed the helicopter perspective, in which one "hovers" over an area, allowing some distance from the problem in order to obtain a better understanding of the situation. It would benefit the NATO countries to apply that theory to their policymaking regarding Afghanistan.
The Europeans are so much closer to the conflict geographically and therefore much closer to any fallout that may result as the outcome of a fumbled and short-sighted policy from NATO members not to actively participate in the war effort. This war is much closer to home than anyone realizes.
The current U.S. administration has grasped the concept that the conflict in Afghanistan requires serious attention, far more than it had been accorded. It also has realized that attacking the problem on its own is somewhat unrealistic and that its NATO allies need to play a major role in that conflict.
The Obama administration announced last week that it would be reinforcing U.S. forces in the country by dispatching an additional 17,000 more American troops. However, NATO defense ministers, who concluded a two-day meeting in Poland last weekend, gave little indication that members of the alliance would be contributing any considerable number of troops anytime soon. Instead, NATO members offered to contribute a number of civilian trainers to help the Afghan army and police. There is no doubt that training Afghan forces is the answer to the long-term stability of the country, yet that alone will not suffice.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which celebrates its 60th anniversary this year, has an impressive track record. It has managed to stave off communist expansion in Europe throughout the years of the Cold War, and has managed to defeat communism. It succeeded in bringing about the dismantling of the Warsaw Pact, its onetime nemesis, and to peacefully integrate some members of that former alliance whose very existence was meant to counter NATO. And it accomplished all that without a single shot being fired.
But today Afghanistan is a very different matter, with NATO facing a very different enemy, one that has adapted, whereas NATO still needs to adapt accordingly. Afghanistan's future can and will affect Europe's security. In failing to rise to the challenge in Afghanistan, NATO countries are committing a monumental mistake.
Afghanistan can still fall into the grips of the Taliban once more, and it can fall once again under the influence of al-Qaida. Should that happen, it would be rewinding the clock to where the world was in 2001, just prior to the Sept. 11 attacks. Except with much more blood having been spilled.
The threat of the rapid growth of Islamist takfiris today is all too real. This time the "domino effect" theory may well work.
(Claude Salhani is editor of the Middle East Times.)