President Obama has declared that a U.S. soldier's massacre of 16 people from three families in a village in Afghanistan will not derail his plans for an orderly winding down of the U.S. war there. The president is right that single events, even one so terrible as this, should not dictate policy.
But in the broader context of the fight there, the massacre near Kandahar is just one more ugly event that illustrates the broadening gulf among the U.S. military, the people of Afghanistan and the corrupt government there. Taken as a whole, the situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating, and the United States cannot get out of the country fast enough.
Last month, riots broke out after burned copies of the Quran were found in garbage at Bagram air base. In the aftermath of that incident, two American officers were assassinated within an Interior Ministry compound in Kabul. That suggests that resentment of the continued American occupation runs so deep that the Afghan government cannot protect U.S. forces in any place in the country.
When the situation deteriorates to that extent, after more than 10 years of warfare, it is past time to bring U.S. forces home.
Late last year, there were conflicting assessments among U.S. officials about progress in turning back the Taliban and securing the country for the Karzai government. But that government is hopelessly corrupt and has little legitimacy among the people. No matter how hard it works to win the trust of the people of Afghanistan, the U.S. military is trying to accomplish the impossible. In such an atmosphere, the Taliban insurgency inevitably will make a comeback.
Not that the Taliban themselves are popular. But at least they are not outside occupiers and infidels.
The common people blame both the Taliban and the Americans for atrocities against the civilian population. That's the context for the recent massacre by an American sergeant. When you are in company like that, you are not likely to win a contest for hearts and minds.
Nor has the United States found a way to stop the Pakistanis from supporting the Taliban. So long as insurgents have a ready haven in Pakistan, the insurgency will continue.
The U.S. and Afghan governments are in talks to continue a strategic relationship beyond the 2014 deadline for the withdrawal of most American forces. Under the current circumstances, however, it is hard to see what will be accomplished by an additional U.S. investment of blood and treasure in Afghanistan. It's time for the U.S. to cut its losses and come home.