Afghan war wastes cash we need here
Last week, the House passed emergency funding of another $37 billion for the war in Afghanistan. At the same time, Congress failed to extend unemployment insurance benefits that have already expired for more than a million Americans who have been unable to find work.
This country is squandering lives, resources and allies on a war in Afghanistan in which even the military cannot define victory. More than 1,100 American soldiers have lost their lives in Afghanistan. We’re spending $100 billion a year on a war now headed into its ninth year. At a time when we desperately need to rebuild America, we are shutting down schools at home and building them in Afghanistan.
To what end? The president says our goal is to fight the al-Qaida terrorists who target America. The CIA director says that there may be about 50 to 100 al-Qaida operatives in Afghanistan. The insurgents we are fighting are the Taliban.
The president is a basketball fan and skilled player. One thing is clear from the NBA finals: home court provides a big advantage. The home team knows the arena; it enjoys support of the fans; its athletes return home at night and rest easily. The visitors are in a strange town, sleep in a strange bed, eat strange food, play in a strange arena.
In Afghanistan, we are pursuing a mission designed to fail. We are attempting to create a national government sufficiently stable to deny potential terrorists a base to work from. Our soldiers are engaged in nation building. They are supposed to win the hearts and minds of people in a country on the other side of the world where we don’t speak the language, and have neither historical nor cultural ties. We do this with a small force, committed to begin withdrawal in a year. We do it with a client government infamous for its corruption, headed by a president who had to steal his re-election. We do it with our adversaries–the Taliban–supported by our ally, the Pakistanis. In this maze, our soldiers are supposed to win friends.
We continue less because we think we will succeed–or even be able to define success–but because we don’t want to admit that we can’t succeed. We commit a professionalized military and $100 billion a year. A decade from now we will have lost a thousand more lives, generated tens of thousands more enemies, spent more than a trillion dollars, been abandoned by all our allies, and we will not be better off.
The Afghan tribes are famous for feuding with one another but uniting against outsiders. Zalmay Khalilzad, George W. Bush’s former ambassador to Afghanistan, warned about a favorite Afghan aphorism in regard to outsiders: “You have the watches, we have the time.”
It is time to bring the war to an end. Increasingly, Congress understands that: 153 House Democrats and nine Republicans voted for an amendment that would require a plan for “redeployment of U.S. troops” and allow Congress to stop war funding if troops don’t start leaving next July. And 93 Democrats along with seven Republicans supported an amendment by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) that would allow the new funds to be spent only on withdrawing the troops from Afghanistan.
It is hard to stop a failed war, as Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon demonstrated ruinously in Vietnam. Neoconservative hawks will charge cowardice or treason. The Republican opposition will accuse the president of losing the war. Military generals, anxious to salvage their own reputations, will claim they were on the verge of victory when the rug was pulled from under them.
So the best thing that could happen is if the new general in charge, David Petraeus, decides to declare victory–after all al-Qaida have basically fled–and get out. If not, then it will be up to us. Americans will have to build a citizens movement powerful enough to make politicians understand–as they finally learned in Iraq–that it is time to go. Before the misbegotten war in Iraq, citizens organized across the world in the largest anti-war movement ever–hailed by the New York Times on its front page as a new “world power.”
That was an effort to stop a bad war from starting. Now it is time to bring a lost war to an end.