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General Buffett's strategy

The United States is investing far too much in a country it doesn't remotely understand.

By Leonard Boasberg

In taking issue with President Obama's decision to escalate the war in Afghanistan, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman cited what he called "the Warren Buffett principle": "Everything I've ever gotten in life is largely due to the fact that I was born in this country, America, at this time with these opportunities for its citizens," Friedman wrote. "It is the primary obligation of our generation to turn over a similar America to our kids."

There is another Warren Buffett principle that is relevant to the U.S. intervention in Afghanistan - namely, that one should never invest in a business he doesn't understand.

We Americans do not understand Afghanistan any more than we understood Vietnam or, for that matter, China, where we tried unsuccessfully to bolster Chiang Kai-shek's regime against the Chinese communists in the late 1940s.

In the 1980s, we did not understand the consequences when we supported the mujaheddin against the Russians in Afghanistan. And when the Russians went home, so did we.

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Indefinite commitment

Today, we do not understand how to end or even mitigate corruption in the country, where it is a way of life under the Karzai regime or any other.

We do not understand that even if, as Obama contends, the Taliban is not a broad-based movement, it's still an indigenous one - and that when we go home again, as eventually we will after expending more blood and treasure, the Taliban, though weakened perhaps, will still be there to be dealt with, or not, by the people of Afghanistan.

In his address at West Point, the president said he had determined "that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan." He also said that "after 18 months, our troops will begin to come home." Administration officials later took pains to emphasize the word begin.

"We are not talking about an abrupt withdrawal," Defense Secretary Robert Gates said. "We are talking about something that will take place over a period of time."

Gen. David Petraeus, the top commander in the region, told a Senate committee, "There's no question Afghanistan will require substantial international funding for years to come in a whole host of different areas, not the least of which is their security forces." He estimated the cost at more than $10 billion a year. He did not provide an estimate of casualties.

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Hegel's lesson

In the most recent New York Times-CBS poll, 51 percent of respondents approved of sending an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan, while 43 percent disapproved; 55 percent thought it was not a good idea to set a date to begin bringing the troops home, while only 41 percent approved of the idea.

In his Philosophy of History, the German philosopher Hegel wrote: "What experience and history teach is this - that people and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it."