Mission accomplished? Hardly. Mission impossible? Possibly. Perhaps it’s fitting that almost no one on any side of the Afghanistan war debate reacted with much force to President Barack Obama’s speech Wednesday outlining his plan for a gradual removal of American troops from the nearly decade-long effort.
Perhaps it’s fitting that almost no one on any side of the Afghanistan war debate reacted with much force to President Barack Obama’s speech Wednesday outlining his plan for a gradual removal of American troops from the nearly decade-long effort.
For some, bringing home 10,000 troops this year and another 23,000 in 2012 is a glacial pace for withdrawal. Others criticized Obama for moving too quickly, and not listening to Gen. David Petraeus, who advocated a markedly slower reduction in forces.
“… Mr. Obama’s withdrawal decision, with no clear basis in strategy, increases the risk of failure,” concluded The Washington Post in an editorial on Thursday.
The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, no fan of Obama by any means, took a more cynical view: “Mr. Obama was laying out his re-election theme as a Commander in Chief who ended George W. Bush’s wars and brought the troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan.”
For tea party conservatives like Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., Obama’s pace for withdrawal is woefully timid. “Considering the elimination of Osama bin Laden, terrorist bases and Taliban presence, it is time to turn our attention to bringing our troops out of Afghanistan,” Paul said after the speech. “We cannot and should not police nations, build their bridges and roads, and spend endless resources doing so when here at home we are struggling with our own financial crisis.”
Ever since the Iraq War went off the tracks, we’ve resisted Vietnam analogies. But we’ll apply a few here, four months ahead of the 10-year anniversary of our efforts in Afghanistan.
Those critical of Obama for supposedly disregarding Petraeus and the military should read up on Gen. William Westmoreland’s steady advice as we became more and more entangled in Vietnam. To Westmoreland, the answer for every problem in Vietnam was more: more troops, more weaponry, more money. We always were on the verge of “victory.”
The other Vietnam parallel is that the American populace is a fairly good judge of a war’s worth — far better than its military leaders generally recognize. Public support for Vietnam waned as our involvement became heavier while our goal grew ever more faint. Clearly, that is what has happened with Afghanistan 10 years in. Not only does Afghanistan still lack a stable government, but President Hamid Karzai now openly mocks us.
The killing of Osama bin Laden would not have been possible without our base in Afghanistan, but that mission illustrated clearly that the road to eradicating terrorism goes through Pakistan more so than Afghanistan.
We understand the sentiment of American servicemen and women who say they want to stay until the job is complete. We are grateful for their dedication. Again, though, that refrain sounded in some corners after Vietnam as well.
Obama’s announcement was cause for neither joy nor angst. Rather, it was a public acknowledgement of what so many Americans have thought for years now. Afghanistan is not a failure, but it never will be the success we once hoped. After 10 years of trying, it’s time to bring our troops home.