EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece appears in the March 28, 2005, issue of National Review.
The first free election in Afghanistan’s history was a seminal event for that country and for our own. With their votes, Afghans risked their own personal security and advanced our national security: They implemented the first concrete act of President Bush’s transformative foreign-policy strategy to replace tyranny and terrorism with liberty and opportunity. To borrow a phrase, Afghans’ first step for individual freedom was a giant leap for world peace.
Despite the significance of these events–their potential to transform the Islamic world–both Western and Middle Eastern media have devoted scant coverage to them. My friend Rush Limbaugh and I were both frustrated by–and curious about–this virtual news blackout, and were delighted when USAID gave us an opportunity to join a delegation to see the progress in Afghanistan for ourselves.
At 30,000 feet, the appeal of Afghanistan to its many invaders is clear. Flying over the miles of snowcapped mountains and sweeping plateaus positioned in one of the world’s most geographically strategic intersections, I thought of the ancient conquerors–Darius, Alexander, Genghis Khan–who swept across this land; of the traders who forged the Silk Road and fused European and Asian cultures; of the British and Russians whose clandestine Great Game left Afghanistan a legacy of institutional bribery; even of the American hippies who invaded in pursuit of the most meditative mountains–and (allegedly) best hashish–in the world.
This romantic history receded rapidly with altitude. Closer to the ground, Afghanistan’s tragic modern history becomes all too evident. Between the savagery of the Soviets and the Taliban, and the devastating civil war, the once lush land has been reduced to a giant pile of smoky, gray rubble; as we descended into Kabul, the crystalline blue majestic aerial Afghanistan gave way to a muddy, outdated airbase secured by barbed wire, cement roadblocks, and lots of guys with big guns…
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