IN OTHER WORDS: Bad to worse

After years of denial and negligence, President Bush and his aides are finally waking up to the desperate mess they’ve made in Afghanistan. They have little choice, since the alarms are coming from all corners. In a rare moment of agreement, America’s 16 intelligence agencies are warning that Afghanistan is on a dangerous “downward spiral.” Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is publicly predicting that next year will be an even

“tougher year.”

A draft intelligence report blames three problems for the breakdown in central authority and the Taliban’s rising power: rampant corruption, a booming heroin trade and increasingly sophisticated attacks from militants based across the border in Pakistan. Unless all three are addressed quickly, the war in Afghanistan could be lost.

Imagine if Bush had not invaded Iraq in 2003 and instead put all of this country’s resources and attention into defeating Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. Even optimistic analysts say that things have now gotten so bad that, with the best strategy, it could take another 5 to 10 years to stabilise Afghanistan. That is one more reason why the next president must plot a

swift, orderly exit from Iraq and begin a swift and serious buildup of troops and aid in Afghanistan — the real frontline in the war on terror.