History suggests, and our own experience confirms, that waging war in Afghanistan is a fool’s bet. Two great powers have come before us and failed: the British in the 19th century and the Soviet Union in the 20th. We went there eight years ago with a defined mission: destroy Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda base of operations responsible for terrorist attacks on the United States. We failed, perhaps because we decided Saddam Hussein and Iraq were the larger threat (or satisfied other ambitions), yet we failed nonetheless.
We now have 69,000 troops in Afghanistan. By all accounts, including most recently that of Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, we are failing still. The government we supported to replace the Taliban, which we displaced prior to taking on Iraq, is corrupt and unable to maintain security. Afghans view the Karzai government as illegitimate. The Taliban has taken control of the border areas with Pakistan and virtually all areas outside the capitol of Kabul. And, al-Qaeda operations now flourish in Pakistan—a state with 50 nuclear warheads. As a Taliban commander recently claimed in an interview with Richard Engel of NBC News, there is little difference between us [Taliban] and al-Qaeda: “We both want to kill Americans.” Yet, the only Americans they have killed since 9/11 are the ones we have placed there, in harms way.
Many argue the reason to commit more troops (40,000 more is the latest estimate by General McChrystal) is to, as Senator McCain argues, “protect the 69,000 who are there.” Others predict that not finishing the job means more 9/11s. But wouldn’t coming home better protect those troops? Is prevention of terrorist attacks less expensive than expanding efforts at counterinsurgency 7,000 miles away? And, what is “the job”?
The mission today has not been articulated beyond a stubborn resolve to “never give up.” No compelling argument has been made that defeating the Taliban and/or al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and the border areas of Pakistan will stop, or even curb the activities of terrorists—of those who hate us (for whatever reason). Even once those definitions and arguments are successfully made, a critical decision must be made: is it worth more troop fatalities and billions of dollars? Are there better opportunities to invest the talents of our troops and financial resources? Does it serve the best/highest interests of the United States of America?
Absent a fully articulated plan and cost/benefit analysis that proves more compelling than addressing other objectives like healthcare, education, alternative fuels, etc., perhaps we should set our stubbornness aside and come home.