Last Wednesday, President Obama announced that in July he will start drawing down American troops from Afghanistan. Ten thousand will be gone by December 31, another 23,000 by summer 2012. It’s more than time.
America’s post-9/11 invasion of Afghanistan was warranted to find Osama bin Laden and destroy the training camps he’d established under Taliban protection—camps that would allow more al Qaeda plots against America. This represented an anti-terrorist strategy. The country supported it.
Then things headed south. We removed the Taliban, but the Bush White House blew a prime opportunity to get bin Laden at Bora Bora by withholding American special operations forces and subcontracting to Afghan warlords, who let bin Laden escape. The hunt continued, but American troops were diverted to Iraq. Before the war, then-Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki stated that we would need many hundreds of thousands of troops to pacify and recreate that nation. The Bush administration terminated his career then implemented one inept policy after another.
Over 4,000 American servicemen and women were killed in Iraq. Many more were wounded grievously as the U.S. pursued a counter-insurgency policy to support an unpopular government in a nation riven by religious and tribal antagonism. Yes, the 2008 troop surge reduced the violence. Our troops conducted themselves magnificently. But the folly of remaking Iraq in our image and the incredible cost remained unchanged.
President Obama re-focused on Afghanistan and removed combat troops from Iraq. But the continued anti-insurgency policy propping up the corrupt regime of Hamid Karzai piled one mistake on another. Over 1,500 American troops have lost their lives for an Afghan government with no validity in the eyes of its people. Peace talks with the Taliban are under way, although any agreement will likely prove worthless. In any event, Afghans will have to determine their own future for good or bad—and, regardless of our best intentions, whether we like it or not.
So here we have it. The U.S., in the midst of grave economic challenges, has spent $443 billion on Afghanistan. It costs $1 million to maintain a single serviceman or woman each year. A drawdown of 33,000 troops will save $33 billion better spent at home. Further troop reductions will save more money—and lives. We won’t completely leave Afghanistan for some time though. President Obama stated that he won’t tolerate a safe haven for Al Qaeda and the Taliban—at least the Taliban who won’t deal honestly with us. So we’re shifting to a policy of anti-terrorism. America isn’t withdrawing into isolation, the president emphasized—Sen. John McCain promptly accused the White House of retreating into Fortress America—but taking “a more centered course.” I agree with the president. Why?
Leslie Gelb, President Emeritus and Board Senior Fellow of the Council on Foreign Relations, put it best. “Whatever happens in Afghanistan now or five years from now won’t determine America’s future; what happens with America’s crushing debt will.”
Want to respond? Click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.