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.”

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  1. Carolyn Power on June 24, 2011 at 9:10 pm

    The price of democracy and the freedoms we take for granted is great. The price we would pay for not safeguarding our interests abroad would be even greater.

  2. Joan Sutton on June 25, 2011 at 2:47 pm

    We’ve wasted billions that could have gone to help the people of our own country in its time of great need. In addition to all the suffering inflicted upon our troops, maimed both physically and mentally, or deprived of their lives, what about the damage we’ve caused the people and environments of Iraq and Afghanistan? I’m sure we’ll never know accurately how many lives we’ve ruined, or how much damage has been done to cities and countrysides, how many children we’ve traumatized.

  3. Ron Laupheimer on June 26, 2011 at 1:59 am

    Nothing anyone can say will justify our actions in Iraq or Afghanistan. The money we have spend in those two wars (please also do not forget our actions in Libya!) should have been spent at home, educating people and putting them back to work. Wasted is the only way to describe our efforts in all three places. We want everyone to believe what we allegedly believe in. That is a big mistake. It is not our place to make everyone believe like we do.

    The amount of damage that we have done around the world trying to get people to accept our way of life (in every kind of detail as Joan correctly points out) is totally misspent. Spend the money where it needs to be spent—right here at home in the United States. Make the corporations pay taxes for using foreign facilities and people. Take care of United States citizens first. In my opinion, that is the way we must go if we want to move forward successfully as an American society.

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