Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Why we cannot stay through 2014

Today, Wednesday, June 22, 2011 President Obama outlined America’s timetable for the war in Afghanistan. Before the speech he said that he would announce a substantial drawdown of US troops. Tonight, he declared that he would remove 10,000 troops by the end of the year, leaving 90,000 in the country. After the summer of 2012 a total of 33,000 would be withdrawn, leaving 67,000 troops in Afghanistan. That is nearly two times the number of troops we had in Afghanistan when Obama took office. He said that the combat mission in Afghanistan would end in 2014, leaving a support mission akin to our current situation in Iraq. By any estimation, this is not a substantial drawdown. Obama should have reduced the number of troops in Afghanistan by at least 30,000 by the end of this year.

Since 2001, 1,633 US military personnel have died in Afghanistan. Hundreds more will die every year that we stay in Afghanistan. Thousands received PTSD and other mental disorders from the battlefield. Some will be physically disabled for the rest of their life.

Civilians in Afghanistan face even larger casualties. From 2007 through 2010, 9,759 civilians have died in the Afghan war, according to the United Nations Mission in Afghanistan, most of which were the result of attacks by the Taliban and their allies. The financial cost is also high; we spend 120 Billion dollars on the war each year.

Afghanistan is not a democracy, it is an oligarchy. The central government cannot even provide a functioning court system to the Afghans under their control. The Taliban still control much of the country. The most that we can hope for is a power sharing agreement between the central government and the Taliban. We should try to accomplish this goal. It may or may not be successful. Last year we spent time negotiating with someone pretending to be a Taliban leader. The ceasefire ending the US involvement in Vietnam didn’t last long. But the Taliban cannot be killed off or run out of the country. They are there to stay. A ceasefire is our best and only hope at ending the violence in Afghanistan. But if we cannot reach a ceasefire one year from now, we must leave. If an agreement isn’t reached within a year, it won’t be reached in 3.

Afghanistan provides no threat to our security. There is less than 100 Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. They have moved their base of operations to Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan. What would improve US security would be if we stopped being so involved in the Middle East. If we ended our constant military interventions in the region, Al Qaeda and their allies would leave us alone. The Mujahedeen did not follow the Russians back to Moscow; the Vietnamese Communists did not follow the French back to Paris.  

Even though I am a staunch liberal, I could very well vote for an anti-war Republican over Obama in 2012. I would support congress setting a timetable for withdrawal requiring all troops be out of Afghanistan by the end of 2012. After that date I will be in favor of an immediate withdrawal.

Unfortunately, it is unlikely either of these proposals will be implemented. It seems that the end to America’s longest war will be very long indeed. 

Originally Published June 22, 2011

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