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The case for an early pullout from Afghanistan

For months -- nay, years -- you've been hearing top uniformed and civilian DoD officials make the case: We're turning the corner in Afghanistan. We're training the heck out of the Afghan army and police. Our guys now go swimming in the Arghandab River. We've killed a lot of the bad guys and kicked the rest over the border into Pakistan. Over the past week, the Marine Corps has had no fewer than three official stories about how well things are going in Afghanistan: About how the Arkansas wisdom of some Marines is helping them "succeed" in training Afghans; about the Helmand Agricultural Forum; and the effort to train Afghan soldiers how to deal with improvised explosive devices.

So when you hear all this good news, one natural response might be: Great. What are American troops still doing there?

Three U.S. senators wrote Tuesday in a column in The New York Times that they believe the U.S. should pull out its regular forces by the end of 2012, two years before they would come home under President Obama's current plan. Sens. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.; Rand Paul, R-Ky.; and Tom Udall, D-NM, argue that the job is done in Afghanistan. Now that we're all allowed to acknowledge the U.S. can't transform it into Switzerland, there's no reason to stay those extra years trying to build institutions or capabilities that Afghanistan has never had. All the extra time and work will just be a waste of money, they argue, at a time when that's exactly what the U.S. can't afford.

The senators wrote:

Nineteen months ago the president announced the surge strategy in hopes of stabilizing Afghanistan and strengthening its military and police forces. Today, despite vast investment in training and equipping Afghan forces, the country’s deep-seated instability, rampant corruption and, in some cases, compromised loyalties endure. Extending our commitment of combat troops will not remedy that situation.

Sometimes our national security warrants extreme sacrifices, and our troops are prepared to make them when asked. In this case, however, there is little reason to believe that the continuing commitment of tens of thousands of troops on a sprawling nation-building mission in Afghanistan will make America safer.

National security experts, including the former C.I.A. director Leon E. Panetta, have noted that Al Qaeda’s presence in Afghanistan has been greatly diminished. Today there are probably fewer than 100 low-level Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan. Al Qaeda has a much larger presence in a number of other nations.

Our focus shouldn’t be establishing new institutions in Afghanistan, but concentrating on terrorist organizations with global reach. And our military and intelligence organizations have proved repeatedly that they can take the fight to the terrorists without a huge military footprint.

We have urgent needs at home: high unemployment and a flood of foreclosures, a record deficit and a debt that is over $14 trillion and growing. We are spending $10 billion a month in Afghanistan. We need to change course.

The authors don't go into detail about how they'd accelerate the withdrawal, but it's fair to presume they'd endorse the Obama administration's current plans to leave behind a force of special operators that would continue to train the Afghans in small units and conduct direct-action strikes against lingering bad guys. The only difference might be the SOF guys would start their work early, to accommodate the withdrawal of the regular troops.

What do you think?

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