Tough Call on Afghanistan


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“War,” as the Roman historian Sallust once observed, “is easy to begin but difficult to stop.” Americans know this to be true because they have lived it in places like Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and now Afghanistan.

For good or ill, after nearly 10 years of war, the table is being set for President Barack Obama to declare victory in Afghanistan and pull the troops out.

“By us killing Osama bin Laden, getting al Qaeda back on its heels, stabilizing much of the country in Afghanistan so that the Taliban can’t take it over,” he said in a recent interview, “it’s now time for us to recognize that we’ve accomplished a big chunk of our mission and that it’s time for Afghans to take more responsibility.”

This is what Obama had in mind in late 2009, when he authorized the Afghan surge and concluded that “it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan,” before promising that “after 18 months, our troops will begin to come home.”

Those 18 months will have come and gone in July. Setting aside the bizarre notion that America’s “vital national interest” has an expiration date, the real question, it seems, is not whether or not “it’s time for Afghans to take more responsibility” but this: are Afghans capable of taking on more responsibility, capable of maintaining the institutions we have built to resist the impulses to jihadism, and if not, does staying the course serve America’s interests or does withdrawing?

Reasonable people can and do disagree about the answer to that multifaceted question.

On one side, there is growing sentiment in the White House and Congress to bring the troops home. Sen. Carl Levin, for instance, wants to withdraw at least 15,000 troops by the end of this year. This is a reflection of public sentiment. A recent CNN poll reveals that 58 percent of Americans oppose the war, and 54 percent think the U.S. should no longer be involved in Afghanistan.

It’s no wonder why the American people have tired of the war. With more than 1,580 American troops killed, $444 billion spent and nearly a decade of commitment fighting the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan, America has already made an enormous sacrifice. Moreover, many Americans simply don’t think this counterinsurgency can be won.

On the other side, Gen. David Petraeus, commander of the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, wants to press the initiative. He recently reported that ISAF has “inflicted enormous losses on mid-level Taliban…and taken away some of their most important safe havens” and that standing up new Afghan army units and creation of the Afghan Local Police is reintegrating “reconcilable insurgents” back into society, much like the Sons of Iraq program did during the surge he led in Iraq.

Petraeus said last week that progress against the Taliban and other insurgent groups is “fragile” and “reversible.” “We want to ensure that Afghanistan does not become, again, a safe haven in which [al Qaeda] might plot attacks such as those of 9/11…The only way to achieve that mission, of course, is to help our Afghan partners to enable them to develop the ability over time to secure and govern themselves.”

Likewise, outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates says that “if we keep this momentum up, we will deliver a decisive blow to the enemy and turn the corner on this conflict.” The operative phrase from Gates’ perspective is “if we keep this momentum up.” As Defense News notes, Gates finds himself “sparring at a distance with White House aides who are pushing for a faster drawdown of the 100,000-strong U.S. force.”

Incoming Pentagon chief Leon Panetta seems to share Gates’ view, arguing at a confirmation hearing that “to be able to finish the job, we’ve got to keep the pressure up.”

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  • Amused

    Tough decision ? Not at all . Get our kids out ASAP . Declare victory and LEAVE . There will NEVER be anything that even resembles democracy in this muslim tribal region .After 10 years , anyone who can't see that is BLIND .

  • BS77

    This "war" has lasted twice as long as WW II…consumed billions of dollars and thousands of US casualties….for what? As soon as we leave, the wretched Taliban will resume their hideous system of repression……what a sorry state of affairs.

  • Glennd1

    What's so "tough" about this decision? Our failed attempts to stand up a functioning Afghan democracy are plain for all to see. We never put enough troops on the ground to banish the Taliban, so that could never have been our goal. And Al Qaeda has simply set up shop elsewhere. Our troops our dying there for NOTHING and we are pissing away billions a month like a drunk sailor in port. Get out of there today. Line up the C-5s, C-17s and C-130s, and load 'em up. And give the repugnant Afghani's the finger on the way out. When will we learn that different cultures are not so easily changed. Not everyone wants modernity or our version of freedom. Wait till we leave Iraq and it falls to the violent elements there. Already, the big winner in the region is Iran – yet another unintended consequence of our meddling. Wake up America – we have idiots running our country.

  • Jim_C

    Leave yesterday, put a sign on the door that says "You're welcome," and underneath that "P.S. Don't try blowing us up again or we'll come back next time without the candy bars."

  • Lightning Jack

    Actually, there are no guarantees that Afghanistan and its provisional government will be able to function as a viable nation state even by 2014.

    It has also been reported that hundreds of millions in reconstruction funds have been embezzled by corrupt Afghani government officials and deposited in their accounts at the Bank of Dubai. As if this is a surprising revelation!

    We've had over 10 years in Afghanistan to defeat the Taliban and al- Qaeda, but the reason they're still there is because then, as now, politics and political correctness have dominated our strategic policy decisions. We believe that in time, we can eventually win their hearts and minds by fighting a kinder, gentler war. Rocks won't live that long.

    Afghanistan was, and is, a Muslim theocratic "Sharia" state, democracy is not compatible with its feudal tribal culture, or its base fundamentalist Islamic beliefs. Why not get out and just pay a mercenary force to provide future security and counter insurgency operations, they could do just as good a job, and it would be more cost effective in the long term.

  • ObamaYoMoma

    the real question, it seems, is not whether or not “it’s time for Afghans to take more responsibility” but this: are Afghans capable of taking on more responsibility, capable of maintaining the institutions we have built to resist the impulses to jihadism, and if not, does staying the course serve America’s interests or does withdrawing?

    I hate to have to rain on your clueless parade again, but like Iraq, Afghanistan is a Sharia state, and if you believe a Sharia state will resist jihad instead of inciting it, then I have a bridge for sale I need to sell you. When we finally leave Afghanistan, Afghanistan will rejoin to global jihad so fast it will make your head spin, and the same goes for Iraq. Of course, when inevitably reality hits you clueless neo-cons in the face, no doubt you guys will still deny it. Lord knows you guys have had plenty of practice denying reality for the past 10 years.

    We want to ensure that Afghanistan does not become, again, a safe haven in which [al Qaeda] might plot attacks such as those of 9/11…

    The only reason the 9/11 terrorist attacks were successful in the first place is because we had millions of Muslim stealth jihadists already living in America. Had we not stupidly, suicidally, and insanely let those Muslim stealth jihadists immigrate and infiltrate our country as a fifth column, the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which is really violent and overt jihad, would have been impossible. Nevertheless, although like loons the neo-cons are transfixed only on the violent and overt jihadists, the reality is the stealth and deceptive non-violent jihadists, of whom the neo-cons are totally oblivious, represents an exponentially far greater threat to us in the long run.

    Thus, if we banned and reversed Muslim immigration, not only could we save hundreds of billions of dollars a year by tearing down the Department of Homeland Security and the National Intelligence Directorate the Bush administration created to continue accommodating mass Muslims immigration and all of its excess baggage, but also we would not have to worry about domestic Islamic terrorist attacks, as zero Muslim stealth jihadists living in America equals zero violent jihad attacks, which you neo-cons like loons misconstrue as being terrorism.

    Likewise, outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates says that “if we keep this momentum up, we will deliver a decisive blow to the enemy and turn the corner on this conflict.” Likewise, outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates says that “if we keep this momentum up, we will deliver a decisive blow to the enemy and turn the corner on this conflict.”

    Talk about delusional, but you really have to be pretty damn delusional to make an utterly absurd statement like the one above. Indeed, it’s very sad, we don’t have a single person in our government that has the first clue about Islam, which makes me wonder if it is by design, since people can’t remain stupid for that long unless it is by design.

  • CS6

    Wardak also owns a huge home in Virginia. Reality is, the best Afghans — any of them with some measure of human capital — all have an escape plan. The country's population is 20% literate. The Army has similar numbers to the population, at the officer level it's about 80% literacy. Read that again. Glass half empty: one in five officers cannot read. And "Literacy" is loosely defined as "possessing a certificate that states one can read". These are obtainable by bribery.

    Compared to Iraq, which has at least some measure of human capital, and a readily exportable natural resource, Afghanistan has few things going for it. All the bribery remarks in the previous comments are true.

    We are wasting time now.