To do that, let`s think about why it`s our problem. Why isn`t it also India`s and Pakistan`s and Russia`s and Iran`s, just to name a few of the countries that have to live with Afghanistan`s historic tribalism?

The short answer is Israel. We, more than any other country in the world, are the object of fundamentalist Sunni Muslim rage because of our unwavering support of Israel  (not to mention handing over Iraq to a Shiite majority influenced by Iran).  We can and should question the nature of our commitment to Israel, but not the commitment itself. When it`s defined by Israel`s land-grabbing extremists it`s as dangerous to us and others as Islamic extremism.

We might not like the Taliban, but the Al Qaeda the Taliban harbors was born of our refusal to pressure Israel to make rational compromises with its Arab neighbors. Instead we increasingly subscribe to the Israeli argument that there are no Arab moderates and no possible compromise. We have bought the argument that Israel`s interests are ours, pulling the carpet out from under Arab moderates.

We are enchanted by the lesson of World War II, namely that compromise with the Nazis failed and inevitably led to war. But the Holocaust was well under way when Neville Chamberlain foolishly tried to appease Adolph Hitler. The West simply didn`t want to see it. We bend history to ideology when we try to frame the current situation in the Middle East with pre-World-War-II European facts.

The problem we`re attempting to address in Afghanistan, just like the problem we created in Iraq, is not Muslim extremism, it`s extremism in every form, whether Christian, Jewish, Muslim or Hindu. The problem is the refusal of ideologues to reach consensus. Ideologues cause wars, and until we accept that fact ideologues will keep dragging us into wars.

Unless we re-examine the nature of our support of Israel "I am not saying we should abandon or even dilute it "Afghanistan is likely to bankrupt us, and it will certainly impede our arduous climb up out of the worst recession since World War II.

Afghanistan is a region containing a collection of tribes. It`s not a nation merely because it has a name. We are in Afghanistan to prevent it from becoming an Al Qaeda base. Is that our problem alone? No, it`s everyone else`s, as well as ours. But we persist in accommodating a world that is happy to view it as our problem alone.

We should have three priorities: a settlement between the Palestinians and Israel, catching or killing Osama bin Laden, and destroying Al Qaeda. To achieve these goals do we need to do what no one in the long history of the world has done, namely make Afghanistan a coherent and stable nation? We would do better to pay attention to the accelerating fragmentation of our own nation, thanks to the politics of acrimony which was issued its first license to destroy consensus by the Southern Strategy of the 1960s.

Instead, we`re persuading ourselves, with the help of our new president, that doing what Alexander the Great and the British empire could not do is in our best interests. It`s not as feckless, however wrongheaded, as it seems "it`s about the care and feeding of our military-industrial complex. That`s why it`s hardly surprising we have more civilian contractors in Afghanistan than soldiers. What we need is contracts in this country to rebuild a middle class laid low by corporate greed.

Why can`t we rise to the task of jockeying Israel to a reasonable position at the negotiating table? The answer is that the fundamentalist wing of the Republican party, which is the party`s engine, and the most progressive wing of the Democratic party are unalterably opposed to pressuring Israel: the Republicans for religious reasons, and the Democrats because of politics, historical memory and money.

Given this political impasse at home, we seem poised to send more of our children into the killing fields and sabotage our economic recovery in the same way that the Iraq war guaranteed we would sink into abject debt and economic misery.

We "re not thinking this through because we`re not thinking in terms of the entire picture. We are playing chess tit for tat instead of playing out of knowledge of the whole history of the game. It`s a loser`s ploy; it`s not even a strategy. It`s like playing chess by merely responding to your opponent`s next move.

Are the Taliban odious? Yes. Is it a tragedy to see them oppress women, trade in drugs and keep their own country hopeless? Of course it is, but it`s not within our power to police the world. Nor is it the only tragedy to afflict the world. Another tragedy is playing out just south of our border as Mexico, like Afghanistan, becomes a lawless drug state.

We must clear our heads in order not to ruin ourselves. Even in the glorious reign of Elizabeth I, Muslims were raiding the British and Irish coasts, carrying off hostages. Muslim societies themselves have suffered horrifically at the hands of Muslim fundamentalists.

Our policy today is very like the homeowner on Halloween night who steps outside his door when the bell rings and finds a paper bag filled with manure on fire. He quickly stamps it out and you know the rest " and the tricksters run off giggling. Next year they`ll be back.

Putting our troops in Afghanistan and then complying with everything the generals ask, as George Bush boastfully did, is preposterous. And it`s a betrayal of the generals and their troops. That`s not a strategy, it`s not even a war; it`s a lethal farce. We must confront the central fact that we are there, as we are in Iraq, because our support of Israel has cost us dearly and is likely to cost us more:
it has made us the bull`s eye in the sights of Muslim fanatics.

Do we abandon Israel? No, but must we go on stomping bags of manure wherever they`re set on fire?

Djelloul (jeh-lool) Marbrook was born in 1934 in Algiers to a Bedouin father and an American painter. He grew up in Brooklyn, West Islip and Manhattan, New York, where he attended Dwight Preparatory School and Columbia. He then served in the U.S. Navy.

The pioneering Online Originals (U.K.), the only online publisher to receive a Booker nomination, published his novella, Alice Miller`s Room, in 1999. Recent fiction appeared in Prima Materia (Woodstock, NY), vols. I and IV, and Breakfast All Day (London, U.K.).In his younger days his poetry was published in literary journals including Solstice (England) and Beyond Baroque and Phantasm (California). Recent poems appear in Arabesques Literary and Cultural Review (www.arabesquespress.org), Perpetua Mobile (Baltimore), and Attic (Baltimore). He is the English language editor of Arabesques Literary and Cultural Journal (www.arabesquespress.org).

He worked as a reporter for The Providence Journal and as an editor for The Elmira (NY) Star-Gazette, The Baltimore Sun, The Winston-Salem Journal & Sentinel and The Washington Star. Later he worked as executive editor of four small dailies in northeast Ohio and two medium-size dailies in northern New Jersey.