The cost in blood and treasure is too great. The chance of success, however defined, is too remote. For these reasons, President Obama must not commit more U.S. soldiers to an open-ended war in Afghanistan. Rather, he should begin the diplomatic and military preparations to bring U.S. forces home.
Everyone understands the stakes. Everyone regrets that Osama bin Laden and the other leaders of al-Qaida have eluded capture or death at U.S. hands. Everyone understands that as the Americans and their allies leave Afghanistan, civil war will certainly ensue and the Taliban could once again emerge victorious, creating in their wake a new safe haven for al-Qaida and other terrorists.
It is obvious, as well, that Islamist radicals pose an existential threat not only to Afghanistan but to neighboring Pakistan, a nuclear-armed state.
But the fundamental question is whether the American army in Afghanistan helps or hurts U.S. security. It has become increasingly apparent that the ongoing eight-year war there cements hatred of the United States among the Afghans because the Americans are viewed as infidel invaders and occupiers who support a corrupt and illegitimate government. The fraudulent election that returned Hamid Karzai to power has revealed it to be so.
Nor does there appear to be much chance that the warlords the United States put in power during the fighting to topple the Taliban can be dislodged and replaced by a democratically elected government based on some western model or even an Afghan one. Without a legitimate government as partner, the U.S. effort to pacify the country and somehow protect the civilian population from the predations of the Taliban and tribal warlords is, if not hopeless, a very long shot.
Without a claim on the loyalty of the people, Karzai's government cannot reasonably be expected to field a national army and police force capable of protecting them.
Gen. Stanley McChrystal's request for up to 40,000 more U.S. troops, in addition to the 68,000 already committed, is an honest plan to turn back the Taliban tide and shore up Karzai's government, but given the political facts of Afghanistan, it is hard to see how it can work.
In addition to the human cost, the price of that effort would be an additional $40 billion to $54 billion a year. Given the weak U.S. economy and trillion-dollar federal deficits, that is more than the American people can afford.
It's time to plan to get out.