LAX ATTENTION TO WORLD EVENTS IS DANGEROUS POLICY

Georgie Anne Geyer

WASHINGTON -- I'm writing this on Halloween and know I should be writing about ghosts and goblins, but we've had too many articles already about the tea party Republicans. I could be tweaking the serious, older Republicans, asking whether they still have a party left, but I hate to see grown men and women cry.

Moving over to the Democrats, two weeks ago you would have had to bang a few pots together to get them to stop bragging about getting the Republicans to shut up over the government shutdown. Then came the mess of the health care website, which surely they could not afford.

So, my fellow citizens, I decided to write not about a specific domestic policy, but about the dangers of not understanding what is waiting for us behind our foreign policies. As an opener, I would like to introduce you to a writer and his book, both of whom you ought to know.

Roy Gutman, who has served as foreign editor for McClatchy newspapers and as senior editor of the U.S. Institute of Peace, is one of our most heroic foreign correspondents. His last book, "How We Missed the Story," carries journalism beyond reporting.

Gutman writes about our involvement in Afghanistan in the 1990s, when, having armed the mujahedeen to win against the Soviets, we arrogantly went home, leaving those armed and radicalized men to devolve into al-Qaida, the Taliban and other unspeakable anti-American militias. That led directly to 9/11 and to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which only helped lead to more violence with "Made in America" written on it.

This is not unusual. It is not common for countries or movements to vigilantly study whom they are up against before conflicts happen. But if the United States, a country with thousands of university scholars who could study the dangers ahead and journalists who practically alone know all the players, could not figure out the dangers, no country could.

The attack on the Twin Towers in New York City even had a predecessor attack -- the same busy-busy al-Qaida crowd tried to blow up the building in 1983. Isn't there a saying about criminals always striking twice in the same place, or did I make that up?

So, we are now living through another period similar to the '90s, when the world is full of precarious and presumptuous intentions and we are focused on our own problems, almost totally oblivious to the dangers outside. Much of the situation today is different because we do have a far more active anti-terrorism and homeland security defense, and we have certainly experienced more horrors, from Boston to London to Nairobi. Yet we get only a little of the news -- newspapers are dying and foreign reporting is withering.

What might we worry about if we had more newspaper and television coverage of foreign affairs, or what, at the very least, might we learn?

Surely, Afghanistan would be first. We have now been engaged there 12 years, longer than any war we have fought. More than 38,000 troops remain there, and the military cannot decide how many should stay beyond 2014. Most NATO troops have left, and the NATO nations are totally disenchanted and unlikely to follow the U.S. into any more adventures.

The big story now is that billions of dollars in American gear is being left behind to be sold as scrap metal. U.S.-funded reconstruction projects worth billions in far-flung regions of the country will soon be impossible for American officials to safely visit. In other words, it will almost all be left for the Afghans or the Taliban.

The British indulged upon similarly foolish attempts to take over Afghanistan in the 1840s and left with even less dignity than the Americans. On one famous pass through the mountains, the Afghans destroyed all the Brits but one, who was left to tell the story. But they at least left behind forts still used to this day.

Other stories that should cause concern include Somalia, where a certain gratifying rebuilding of the city center in Mogadishu has occurred, but extremist groups from Kenya are now sending fighters to join the radical Somali al-Shabab. Jihadists are taking over parts of Syria in great numbers, giving tremendous worry to the West that the foreign jihadis could take over that country. (Analysts say they are coming in greater numbers than into Afghanistan against the Soviets in the 1980s.)

In Iraq, which the U.S. left a year ago, believing the situation would more or less lead to a balance between the Shiite and Sunni, violence is once again tearing the country apart. One of the newer fights is occurring in Nigeria, where local vigilantes are taking over from the organized radical group Boko Haram, which has been terrifying the north. And in Tunisia, the once-peaceable country where an early suicide by a young Tunisian began the entire "Arab Spring," there is violence again between the Islamists and the modernists.

The world out there is a troubled one that we cannot afford to ignore. This world is not anti-American, but it is a world that constantly awaits intelligent American leadership. We cannot afford Roy Gutman's '90s again.

(Georgie Anne Geyer has been a foreign correspondent and commentator on international affairs for more than 40 years. She can be reached at gigi_geyer(at)juno.com.)

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