11:57 a.m. Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Interviewing one of our country's foremost historians the day after the inauguration of America's first African-American president was a career highpoint for me. As a student of history, I have always had great appreciation for Doris Kearns Goodwin's insights. For my generation, this was one of the most defining moments of our lives. I was so eager to know where she felt it was comparable to any inaugurations. She said that President Obama's was truly unprecedented. I also asked if she had known of any other president who wrote his own inaugural address to which she responded, "Lincoln."
Interestingly enough, it is Lincoln to whom President Obama seems to have likened his ambitions most. I told Doris about the day I visited the Lincoln Memorial
this week. There was a line that stretched a quarter of a mile around the monument. As a history aficionado, I was elated to see that so many people were wanting to acquaint themselves better with Abraham Lincoln's presidency and most importantly with history. President Obama is doing for history what Oprah did for books: renewing interest. Very cool.
I said that Obama's brilliance and gift of oration cannot be denied, but I asked her if the junior senator from Illinois would have become president if the previous administration had not made so many blunders. She told me that Obama tapped into that urgent, desperate desire for change, and became a leader for whom the world has been yearning. After all these years of living in fear and terror alerts, it certainly has been nice to feel a sense of hope and optimism. These are sentiments that the world seems to have confirmed this week.
To say that the road forward will be tough would be to grossly understate the enormity of what lies ahead. One of the president's biggest challenges will inevitably be the war in Afghanistan. This is a country that has been a big part of my life. I visited Afghanistan for the first time in 1994, when I was 21 years old. It was the story that propelled me to want to continue pursuing journalism as a career. I got into a taxi here in Washington, D.C., the other day, and the driver happened to be from Afghanistan and had returned from Kabul only a couple days prior to our meeting. I asked him what he thought of Obama's plan to send thousands more troops to his country. He said, "If they send a million more troops to Afghanistan, they will be defeated."
A staunch opponent of the Taliban, he reiterated the fact that they are relentless and highly skilled fighters. Afghanistan is a country that has been actively engaged in war for nearly 30 years. There has been no lull in fighting for three decades! Having been there a couple of times, I have always maintained that war alone is not a viable solution for Afghanistan—it would be an unwinnable pursuit. A multi-pronged approach that incorporates education, building infrastructure and overall development is imperative.
The taxi driver also vehemently warned against employing solely a military plan without the aforementioned. He said that the past five years have been a failure because we underestimated the Taliban's resourcefulness, and its relationship with Pakistan. I asked if he thought President Obama would do the right thing in his country. He said, "I like that he [Obama] wants to help the people. Nobody ever thinks of helping the people."
If I may offer an opinion having spent time with many Afghans who do not support the Taliban, they need to be won over—and not with more war. That being said, if President Obama can win over millions of people around the world, hopefully he can win over Afghans, as well.
As I was about to get out of the taxi, I noticed something affixed to the lapel of my driver's jacket—an Obama button.