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I can't wait to see the ruckus over this one from the left. Donald Rumsfeld, the US Secretary of Defense and all-around whipping boy of the left, has dared to write an op-ed in the Washington Post. One that is lucid, clear and makes sense.

That ought to make all hell break loose.

Yet from halfway around the world — with but a few weeks' notice — coalition forces were charged with securing a landlocked, mountainous country that history had dubbed the "graveyard" of great powers.

Given the circumstances, it is not surprising that military experts and columnists raised the specter of Vietnam and "quagmires" — both before and during combat operations. They cited the forbidding terrain, brutal weather and the Soviet Union's total failure.

Within weeks of our launching combat operations, however, the Taliban regime had been defeated, consigning yet another cruel regime to the dustbin of history. Coalition forces took control of Kabul, and since then the Afghan people have fashioned a new constitution and successfully held the first democratic presidential election in their long history.

Now, five years after the start of Operation Enduring Freedom, another signpost has been marked on Afghanistan's long, difficult road to stability: NATO took control of security operations for the entire country on Thursday, as well as the 24 Provincial Reconstruction Teams that are strengthening infrastructure across the nation.

This is an unprecedented moment for the NATO alliance. In 2001 NATO forces were for the first time deployed beyond their traditional European borders. Today the number of troops in Afghanistan from nations besides the United States has reached more than 20,000 — to add to the approximately 21,000 American troops serving there.

Rumsfeld also points out the warts that Afghanistan has in this piece. It is by no means a rosy picture – there are challenges. But he also points out that there is more than the day to day headlines:

· Economy: The size of Afghanistan's economy has tripled in the past five years and is projected to increase another 20 percent next year. Between 2003 and 2004, government revenue increased 70 percent, to $300 million. Coca-Cola recently opened a $25 million bottling plant in Kabul, and other large multinational companies are considering opportunities in Afghanistan.

· Education: In the past five years, more than 42 million school textbooks have been printed and distributed, and some 50,000 Afghan teachers have been trained. Almost 600 schools have been built, and now more than 5 million children attend school, a 500 percent increase from 2001.

· Health care: In 2001 only 8 percent of Afghans had access to at least basic health care; at least 80 percent do today. Some 5 million Afghan children have been vaccinated.

· Infrastructure: Thousands of kilometers of roads have been built or improved since the Taliban fell. Since 2004, 25 provincial courthouses have been built and hundreds of judges trained.

Building a new nation is never a straight, steady climb upward. Today can sometimes look worse than yesterday — or even two months ago. What matters is the overall trajectory: Where do things stand today when compared to what they were five years ago?

The Democrats right now are trying to flog the administration for not doing enough in Afghanistan. But if we abandon Iraqis to their fate as many cut and run types want and put all the troops into Afghanistan, how long until the voices on the left begin demanding that we leave those people to their fate?

I'd bet no more than a few weeks, if that. There is a trajectory here. It really is in a positive direction. But it is hard. Which is the real problem with the left. They don't do "hard" very well.

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