By the end of the year, 10,000 American soldiers will be brought home from Afghanistan and 90,000 will remain until at least 2012 and possibly until 2014. President Obama is trying to have it both ways and he cannot. His generals tell him not to withdraw troops quickly because we could lose gains we have made on the ground. Politically, the American people, by a majority of 57%, want it over now and all the troops brought home. He is running for re-election so he is trying to split the baby down the middle and billions will be spent and lives lost in the meantime and, at the end of the day, Afghanistan will still be a broken country unable to control its own fate.
The generals tell Obama to leave as many troops as possible for two more fighting seasons. They point to progress in driving the Taliban out of southern Afghanistan, killing their leaders, and restoring some normalcy to the area. The problem is the Taliban are native to Afghanistan. They wont go away. As long as they can retreat into Pakistan, they live to fight another day. They are being encouraged to join the political process, but there is no indication they will. Even more troubling is Pakistan doesn't want them to negotiate. The last time it was revealed some Taliban leaders were engaging in secret peace talks, the Pakistani intelligence service arrested a number of them. The message was clear. Pakistan sees the Taliban as their surrogate in the fight to keep India from gaining influence in Afghanistan. Pakistan is not interested in peace if India gains because of it. The real war has always been in Pakistan not Afghanistan and American troops don't effect that equation in any real way.
What the generals also fail to mention, is the corruption of the Karzai government negates any military gains on the ground. There is no government to turn over control of the nation to and without popular support, military gains are meaningless. Karzai's's brother is still a major drug dealer in southern Afghanistan. Karzai's's relatives looted Afghanistan's central bank. Just this week it was announced the head regulator of the bank had fled to the United States for asylum out of fear for his life because his investigation showed higher ups in the Karzai administration were involved in hundreds of millions of dollars in bogus loans. He had to get out of dodge or be killed by the people in charge. The same people we will say will run the country after we leave. Karzai stole the last presidential election and is so despised, many opponents of the Taliban joined with them driven to an alliance by the criminal enterprise which is the Afghan government. No matter what our troops accomplish, they have to hand the nation to Karzai and he can't hold it together. (The parallels to Viet Nam are striking here.) Without a solid central government, supported by the people, the military gains are all an illusion which will disappear the moment we leave whenever that is accomplished.
Politically, the President may get away with kicking this problem down the road for the time being. Some of his Republican opponents cover themselves in hypocrisy as they attack him for not bringing the troops home sooner. These are the same members of Congress who had no trouble abandoning the Afghan effort so George Bush could invade Iraq. These are the same feckless wonders that refused to raise taxes to pay for two wars and supported the increase in troops in Iraq. Now these chicken hawks have become deficit hawks squealing about cost as a reason to end our involvement in Afghanistan. (By the way, this is the same Iraq currently engaged in talks with Iran increasing Iran's influence in the area as the U.S. withdraws and Afghanistan and Pakistan are also meeting with Iran and talking about future alliances. We go to war with Afghanistan and Iraq and Iran wins. Well done, President Bush.) With the Republicans in disarray about Afghanistan and Libya, the will find it difficult to use either as on issue against Obama in 2012. However, the lack of political courage on the President's part is not attractive.
It is time to bring the troops home. The generals are wrong. The military gains they sight are fool's gold. With little popular support, the Karzai government cannot take advantage of the Taliban's defeats. Pakistan doesn't want peace and certainly doesn't want to see a strong democracy in Afghanistan. A democratic Afghanistan would naturally gravitate toward alliances with the strongest economic power in the region...India. Pakistan has nothing to offer the people of Afghanistan. India can offer economic aid, trade, and an improved life. Pakistan knows this and they will advise the Taliban to wait us out. The extra years, and extra loss of blood and treasure, will be wasted in the end. With the death of Osama Bin Laden, it is time to declare victory and come home. Unfortunately, President Obama is unwilling to take this step for ear of being attacked by the Pentagon and the likes of John McCain during an election year.
If pressed, I wonder how President Obama would answer Cindy Sheehan's iconic question? What cause are American men and women dying for in Afghanistan? Do you think he would have an answer?