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April 25th, 2009
08:00 AM ET

Dear President Obama #96: Afghanistan, Pakistan and The Taliban...Oh My!

Reporter's Note: On Pennsylvania Avenue, President Obama has asked Americans to help him run the country by sending him ideas. Frankly I’m close enough to bicycle over, but I continue posting a letter a day to the White House.

Troops from the United States fly over Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan.

Troops from the United States fly over Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan.

Tom Foreman | Bio
AC360° Correspondent

Dear Mr. President,

I grew up in a military family, the son of an enlisted man. My late father spent more than twenty years in the Air Force and retired as a Senior Master Sergeant. In other words, he was one of the guys who actually got things done while the officers played golf. (Ha! My father-in-law, a former Navy officer, will let me hear about that crack.) To put it simply, it is in my DNA to mistrust Generals.

That said, I have spent so many hours studying military and political matters in Afghanistan and Pakistan, I must say I am convinced General David Petraeus is spot on when he says those two countries represent a greater challenge than Iraq.

You have already shown your commitment to stabilizing Afghanistan and dealing with the Taliban there. These are the people who gave Al Qaeda the base they needed to launch the 9-11 attacks. These are the people who, in the name of faith, want their citizens…especially women…to live as if the world is still revolving through the 15th century. And these are the people gaining power in that region, while the Afghans and Pakistanis who favor democracy, human rights, and peaceful international relations find themselves under siege.

If the Taliban continues to push in Pakistan, they could bring to life a modern nightmare: An extremist, unstable government prone to keeping the company of terrorists, in possession of nuclear weapons. And all the foreign affairs experts have told me stopping the Taliban’s march, as General Petraeus says, will certainly take more than guns: It will take food, education, roads, bridges, and likely years of support from an array of encouraging nations including ours. But faltering in our commitment the help these countries, they tell me, could set back the entire world. And I believe them.

Sorry for such a bummer on a Saturday, but thought it should be said. Call if you can.

Regards,

Tom

Find more of the Foreman Letters here.

soundoff (26 Responses)
  1. Michael "C" Lorton, Virginia

    Freedom is not an "over the shelf item" that you can purchase from another country. Unless these governments belly up to the bar and be counted-–America will be paying "dearly,"--and not just with food, bridges, roads and.or material technology--in human lives. But it all stems around these governments--and how bad to they really want democracy? Are they willng to sacrifice what it takes to be free? We can lead the horse to water-–but we can't make him drink.

    April 27, 2009 at 9:31 am |
  2. Michael "C" Lorton, Virginia

    Freedom is not an "over the shelf item" that you can purchase from another country. Unless these governments belly up to the bar and be counted-–America will be paying "dearly,"--and not just with food, bridges, roads and.or material technology--in human lives. But it all stems around these governments--and how bad to they really want democracy? Are they will to sacrifice what it takes to be free? We can lead the horse to water-–but we can't make him drink.

    April 27, 2009 at 9:31 am |
  3. Jon Yerow

    Tom,

    What positive role can you envision we negotiate for Iran to play as our partner in Afghanistan and Pakistan? Is it possible to diffuse or lower tensions between India and Pakistan?

    April 26, 2009 at 3:39 pm |
  4. Umar

    Hi everyone!

    As a Pakistani i can confidently say that neither me nor anyone i know over here wishes to be overrun by the taliban. In fact it is extremely unnerving for me to learn that the taliban movement is slowly gaining momentum, expecially after hearing a taliban spokespersons statement "That Pakistan is our country and we can go wherever we like!" I think it is very important for everyone to understand the history of this region and the fact that at the beginning of the 21st century the British Empire in India cracked a deal with the then Afghanistan rulers which ended up in the demarcation of the international boundaries that exist between Pakistan and Afghanistan to this day in exchange for Afghan independence . Villages were cut in half, villagers would have their homes on the Afghan side and their lands on the Pakistan side or vice versa. To think that these are the same "Afghans" (in Persian the word means "Unruly" or "Aggressive") never gave in to Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, the Soviets and now the allies. I dont think controlling movement across the Pak-Afghan border is as simple as putting up Border Control points that probably exist between the US and Canada. The Pakistani public does not wish to be dictated by anyone, especially the Taliban. We value our freedom and our right to lead our lives the way we deem fit. But most importantly we want peace. It is increasingly difficult to remain optimistic but my wife and i try and stay positive for our own sake and most importantly for the sake of our son, a 3 year old who just wants to watch cartoons and doesnt care much for politics.
    Peace!

    April 26, 2009 at 1:45 pm |
  5. Anthony Penta

    I would post to the right blog entry but I can not find anything with what I want to post therefore I am posting where ever I can in the hopes of someone seeing the post. This is my real name and that is my correct phone number. I have a serious issue that can be better explained with a phone call. Alzheimers and Dementia. The legal system is taking advantage of a Alzheimer patient as well a a guardian. A Alzheimer patient does not have any rights and therefore is manipulated and robbed of all rights. Protection is a must for such patients,but what kind of protection. A protection that robs them because they can not protect themselves or a protection that truely looks out for there best interest. I am not interested in donating. I am interested in help and for a majority protest against the system that takes advantage of Alzheimer patients. I would like to be interviewed so that I may bring more awareness of what happens when a patiant is declaired incompetant. Please contact me and I will go into much more detail. 813-389-6559 Elderly lady held hostage. Attorney Jailed. Protective Services not assisting. Attorney not holding Client Attorney confidentiality. Documents covered up. You want a story then contact me

    April 26, 2009 at 11:07 am |
  6. ronvan

    As a 23yr. ret. Army Vet I can understand Tom's comments. While working at Ft. Benning I met & became friends with many soldiers of all ranks. What I found interesting, and disgusting, to me, was that so many of them talked about how political the Army was. Many saying that leaders decisions were often based on personal gain and of being politically correct. Sadly I watched many soldiers, enlisted & officer, return from their 2nd-3rd + tours, physically & mentally drained, with that glaze in their eyes from seeing the devastation of war. MANY were looking at ways to get out of the service! I am proud of everyone of them! However, multiple tours of combat will dehumanize all of us.
    Trying to change the history & traditions of these countries, while an admirable task, should not be our mission.

    April 26, 2009 at 9:44 am |
  7. Art

    War is hell. If that's what everyone wants than we should go in and do the job right. If not, we should bring our troops home. By the way, where's Bin Laden?

    April 26, 2009 at 8:24 am |
  8. Ali

    spot on! something that US should've done 20 years ago after Russians left, back then US was in Pakistani and Afghan people's good books, for US it was not worth the investment. Now, US is sneaking aid through anonymous channels, because their presence and agenda is looked upon with great suspicion.
    Also, US presences is a blessing in disguise for the Talibans, as it guarantees more of the same general population has endured in Pakistan for decades. I personally may oppose Talibans, Shari'a in Taliban interpretation and their brand of religion etc. but I am in no way duped by the reality of democracy, human rights, judicial system, Law enforcement and governmental infrastructure in Pakistan.
    It is non existent for the masses. US will fail Yet again, if it does not hold the Pakistani political leadership accountable for the aid dollars, keeps tabs on their swiss bank accounts, mansions in UK, where they run back to after looting the nation. corrupt leaders should be prosecuted under ICC banner to ensure accountability. If Corrupt politicians will not find safe havens in western countries, they will then have to ensure human rights, proper law enforcement and judiciary, hence, stemming the urge to replace the non-functional, outdated, and corrupt Pakistan Penal Code with something functional i.e Shari'a or whatever which masses hope may work.

    April 26, 2009 at 4:12 am |
  9. J.V.Hodgson

    You know Mr Obama and general Patraeus agree AfPak is a bigger problem than Iraq. So what is your point really, because I certainly did not get It.
    Here's a thought for you and others.
    If you ( we Americans) continue to push (impose) western style democracy and religious views and Laws on AfPak and Palestine, or anywhere else where Muslims ( =believers in the Islamic faith) are in the majority you will end up with a continuos never ending War or Jihad or intifada or whatever,because thier religion allows such Jihad etc to protect thier religious belief against the Infidel or non believers.
    The solution is simple Give them sharia law ( it has multitudiniuos interpretations) many of which are not wholly abhorrent. The Taliban are an extreme form of Islamic faith and a minority. They are painted in the media as the only form which is untrue, unrealistic, and a supposed justification for imposing western style law and democratic government.
    Just tell them OK do it your way and watch the war on terror become non existent, and have only fewer numbers of extremist Muslims.
    I am not a Muslim but as Rousseua said I will defend unto death thier right to believe in Islam and the style of law and governance they choose, and in fact that means whatever the "local" Iman preaches.
    Google Iman to see what it means.
    Regards,
    Hodgson.

    April 26, 2009 at 2:41 am |
  10. janette

    Oh Tom...Did you write Bush 100 letters,and if not why not???
    Was it because you thought he wouldn't get it??

    April 25, 2009 at 11:45 pm |
  11. janette

    Sounds like Terry 's been in Rush's "oxy".

    April 25, 2009 at 11:42 pm |
  12. Marty Mack

    I hope someone will apprise John McCain and Janet Napolitano that Canada cannot allow anyone into the USA. US Customs & Immigration decide who enters. They both need to get their facts straight. We don't have a large defence force because we are a peace loving nation but what we have, we are sharing and our men and women are dying beside yours. People can sneak into any country and no wall is going to stop that. We don't want them in our country either but fighting with your neighbours is not helpful.

    April 25, 2009 at 9:48 pm |
  13. Annie Kate

    Tom

    "If the Taliban continues to push in Pakistan, they could bring to life a modern nightmare: An extremist, unstable government prone to keeping the company of terrorists, in possession of nuclear weapons."

    How is this different than what it is today? Sounds like they are already there with this nightmare of a vision.

    April 25, 2009 at 9:32 pm |
  14. Juan M. Gomez

    I cannot understand why it is so hard for some people to understand that torture is a crime, inhuman and immoral. The US prosecuted waterboarding after second world war, it was used by the inquisition in Europe and calso in communist China as well as many corrupt police forces, from Khadafi to Pinochet .Is this company any good for anybody ? Are we talking about a Christian nation ?
    I'm also surprised not to have found widely this quote from G. Washington. The story is that during the war of independence, american soldiers get english prisoners and ask Washington if they should torture them, knowing full well that the english were torturing american prisoners. I remind you that the survival of the new nation was at stake. G Washington answers 'No, we're building a better country.' That is the true american spirit and should be a tradition. We should be proud of beeing humane. no matter what religion we profess.

    April 25, 2009 at 7:06 pm |
  15. Don, WA

    That is a bummer for a saturday.
    It is known that the greatest risk to the world comes from a suicidal gov't with nuclear weapons – and that, to me, means there is no choice but to constantly watch and act to keep that from happening.

    Now as for military officers, well when I was a navy enlisted, officers were called "O's" for short – which we enlisted good naturedly referred to as "zero's" instead. "Here comes a zero, look alive." Or, "Don't salute me, I work for a living." (And by the way, the best golfer on base was an enlisted).

    April 25, 2009 at 6:42 pm |
  16. Terry, TX

    What diplomacy didn't work with the Taliban and Pakistan... how about a letter from the UN....no...NATO you know they have the new capture and release program...well what about NJ Democrat Rep Payne he was in Somalia doing great..just there talking hope and change...no... they fired on his plane...
    Well I say send Hillary...quick she's in Iraq now..she's our secretary of state...you go girl...take Pelosi, Janet Napitalano and Eric Holder with you...they got your back girl. Handle it...handle it....No Soldiers for You

    April 25, 2009 at 5:46 pm |
  17. Steven Vozzola

    First, love the show 360! Took a tour of your families house that is now a museum in Rhode Island. Keep us updated on Afghanistan and Pakistan ..... Would also like to hear some more information on the British sensation Susan Boyle. I think your mother is a wonderful and strong woman. Your show on CNN is the best, I hope you realize that ...... would like some more information on this government bailout "keeping them honest", and I love your little skit during the show when you give out t-shirts. Stay on CNN and keep up the good work, I think you are the best newsman out there!!!! Take care, and by the way I think your hair looks great considering your probably younger than I am.
    Steven Vozzola

    April 25, 2009 at 3:52 pm |
  18. Christi Hart

    While I agree that it will certainly take years of assistance, I would like to add that it will also require a willingness on the parts of the countries we are trying to help. We can give them everything they need, but if they don't want our help, they will only begin to hate us more. I do support this effort wholeheartedly, so long as we do it with forethought and care.

    April 25, 2009 at 3:14 pm |
  19. William

    DOUBLE STANDARD – Recently, a member of the United Arab Emirates royal family, was caught on tape torturing a man. Why is there such a worldwide uproar? Afterall its' only torture! The water boarding advocates are downloading the video as you read this comment and the Catholic Church are calling them to convert. Torture is torture, whether you are stuffing sand or water into a persons mouth and/or sodimizing little children, unfortunately something the United States shares with the Catholic Church, is still torture! So, does this mean , that if I fill up the gas tank, at the local pump or visit America and attend church, that makes me an advocate for torture? IT'S TIME TO CHANGE THE STANDARDS!

    April 25, 2009 at 2:19 pm |
  20. sharon

    Perhaps you can find the time to tell your audience that the 911 hijackers DID NOT enter from Canada. Apparently that FACT has not made it to John McCain or Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. Both of them spread this myth again this week.
    I guess it is true : print the myth when the truth hurts.

    April 25, 2009 at 12:07 pm |
  21. samantha dalrymple

    I think that Obama like many presidents just tell you waht he want you too here.He cant even speak in a town meeting without saying ,"huh," every other word.I think that he has too have alot of people speak for him and then he sounds like he really know whats going on and he speaks clearly.I also have problem with him claiming too be a Christian , he anounced that we are a nation of citizens.What makes us who we are is our Religion and for him to put that on the back burner just too make usa more "like able" is rediculouse.A true Christian would of said yes we are a nation of Christians but , that doesnt meen that we cant make changes for the best.He is not a Christian point blank.The Bible clrearly many will claim to know me 'Jesus',but they do not.Obama i think is one of those,i cant say for sure bc i dont want too judge him.i just want to state facts...i honestly think that he is Muslim and just changed and said he was Christian too get votes.No one would of voted a Muslim into the White House but we did.Now what?It scares me how he tells all exactly what they want too here.There are many who believe he is the Anti-Christ..It is something hard too shake off if you read the Bible and actually Study the words.He fits all the criteria..I just wish he wasnt in the White House i dont think he has a back bone.He just wants to please every nation instead of taking care of the us.We made a huge mistake..May God help us.

    April 25, 2009 at 11:39 am |
  22. Kevin Ishpeming

    I never find the truth as a bummer no matter the day. I agree with Tom. It will take more than guns indeed. It will take changing a nations lifestyle as they know it and that will not be easy. Is it possible to do something this extreme?

    April 25, 2009 at 10:45 am |
  23. Amay

    While I agree with all that was said in this article, I must say that some of the education needed will have to start in this country. We have let our own education system falter to the point that a large percentage of high school students in the U.S. would probably have trouble locating Pakistan or Afghanistan on a world map. We have to place an emphasis on education of our own if we hope to be any help for anyone else in the future.

    April 25, 2009 at 10:11 am |
  24. tony brooks

    Now these are the pressing issues that belong in the spotlight.I fully agree with you Tom and am willing to take that bike ride with you whenever you're ready....

    April 25, 2009 at 10:10 am |
  25. Maria

    Happy morning Tom,
    It is raining here and thunderstorm never stop.
    Yeh Pkaistan and Afghanistan should never give up democracy and should librate themselve from Taliban, and to understand Pakistan response, it is fair enough 2 say that the growing tension with India disctract them, I think Pakistan is going thru critical revolutionary time, but I think they will overcome Taliban in the near future and US sould pay attention 2 what is going on.
    Is it raining in DC?
    It is here, but hey it is Saturday, the day of outing, shopping, and get things done.
    I wish u a lovely day and weekend
    Maria

    April 25, 2009 at 9:17 am |
  26. Susan Williamson

    Tom,

    We just have to love ya! Great letter. Reading and letting those wheels turn this early in the morning. The last line was the best!!

    Have you thought of writing another 100 letters? President Obama can use extra insight, you educate the public, and it might help keep Fox News at bay. Those folks are down right crazy!

    I hope you will consider my suggestion. Have a great weekend.

    Regards,

    Susan 🙂

    April 25, 2009 at 9:15 am |

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