Former ambassador says Afghanistan war must succeed

The war in Afghanistan is worth fighting despite the lives and money it costs, the former U.S. ambassador to that country said Friday during a visit to Hilton Head Island.

After posts in Bahrain and Algeria, Ronald Neumann was appointed ambassador to Afghanistan by President George W. Bush in 2005 and served two years. He is the president of the American Academy of Diplomacy, and his talk before hundreds of members of the World Affairs Council of Hilton Head was titled "Afghanistan for the Long Haul: Is it Possible and Worthwhile?"

Neumann said civil war probably would break out if the United States pulled its troops. Such an outcome would destabilize Central Asia, involve Pakistan, Iran and Russia, and put the United States at greater risk from extremists, he said.

Instead, the United States should continue efforts to reform the country's government and strengthen Afghan armed forces, he said.

"We are an impatient people, and impatience is a quality that has allowed this nation to do incredible things in its short history," he said. "But impatience is also the quality that leads small children to walk away from complex projects half-done."

Afterward, council member Jack Ayers said Neumann's speech didn't change his mind that the cost of the war is too high, particularly with the economic problems the United States faces at home.

He is not alone. A national poll released Tuesday by Quinnipiac University, based in Hamden, Conn., indicates 51 percent of Americans believe the United States should not be involved in Afghanistan.

But council member Bill Ritchie was so impressed he bought a copy of Neumann's book "The Other War: Winning and Losing in Afghanistan."

Ritchie said Neumann's reasons for continued support for the war were "right on."

The World Affairs Council, which boasts 800 members, aims for an improved understanding of international issues and the role of the United States in global security through bimonthly talks and lectures.