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Katya Drozdova's op-ed column on Afghanistan: Should the U.S. remain involved, or leave?

 Josef Stalin eliminated the 'ideologically irreconcilable.'
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Date published: 11/28/2010


--We are in Afghanistan for the sake of two strategic concerns, namely, defending freedom and protecting the security of the United States.

Afghanistan is important to U.S. national security. The struggle in Afghanistan is here to stay. It is and has been a central part of a classical grand political chess game--involving the West, Pakistan, China, India, Iran, Russia, former Soviet Central Asian "Stans," and other state actors--that has shaped the world order.

However, the emergence of terrorist and other groups advancing jihadist ideology across borders has fundamentally changed the rules of the game from a traditional struggle for dominance among nation-states to one driven by ideological and religious beliefs. It is important to recognize that this is a war of ideas, not merely a political conflict.

America must think strategically. Our ability to influence events and to counter long-term threats will decline if we waver. A weak performance in Afghanistan jeopardizes national security. We must fight to win. The crucial question, then, is: What does "winning" mean?

What is the fundamental challenge to America in Afghanistan? It is the very same pan-Islamist jihad ideology that motivated the 9/11 attacks. This ideology inspires and drives terrorists around the world.

In the words of Osama bin Laden, "to kill the Americans and their allies--civilians and military--is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country." Certainly not every Muslim accepts this. Nevertheless, the threat from those who act on these ideas is very real and present.

America is founded on the ideas of individual and religious freedom. This makes it difficult to fight in the realm of ideas--especially religiously motivated ones such as Islamist jihad--because we tend to leave matters of faith and conscience to the individual. To the American way of thinking, ordered liberty has been designed for a government composed of accountable people, all of whom are believed to be equal before God.

Islamist ideology, however, calls for theocracy. Infidels have no place in society. Those who believe in such a theocracy threaten not only the West but also traditional, more moderate Muslims and other peoples. Afghanistan is part of this war of ideas, and Mullah Omar's Taliban, the Haqqani network, and al-Qaida are prime examples of the threat.

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Katya Drozdova is assistant professor at Seattle Pacific University, research fellow at the Naval Postgraduate School, and principal investigator of the Mining Afghan Lessons From Soviet Era research program.