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Secretary Panetta, Afghanistan needs a peace settlement, not more war

US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta arrived in Afghanistan, where US policy has been mostly military. Washington continues to view Afghanistan through the lens of war when it most needs peace – a negotiated settlement with insurgents and neighboring states like India and Pakistan.

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US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta (right) speaks with Afghanistan Defence Minister Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak during a joint news conference in Kabul June 7. Op-ed contributor David Cortright says 'many of the obstacles to a negotiated peace agreement could be reduced if the US were to apply to peace even a portion of the resources it now devotes to war.'

Jim Watson/Reuters

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If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail, to paraphrase psychologist Abraham Maslow. United States Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta arrived in Afghanistan today, where America’s policy toolkit has been mostly military. More than 90 percent of expenditures related to Afghanistan are channeled through the Pentagon, and so Washington looks mostly for military solutions to the problems there.

Why do policymakers in the United States continue to view Afghanistan through the lens of war when what the country needs most is a focus on peace?

At the recent NATO summit in Chicago, the US military allies confirmed that they will withdraw most of their troops by 2014, but the US plans to maintain a residual military force to train and support Afghan security forces as they battle the insurgency. This will “Afghanize” the war, lowering US casualties and costs but maintaining military operations to kill and arrest insurgents.

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