Leaving Afghanistan Behind

When it comes to armed conflict, timelines for withdrawal mean nothing if the war is undeclared. Goals are always set in the vaguest of terms with the intention of prolonging the conflict to establish a long-term commitment and remove all possibilities of a total and complete withdraw.

So when we are told by the Obama Administration that the end is near for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s far too easy to be skeptical. The president’s intentionally vague plan to begin removing U.S. troops from Afghanistan in July 2011 is nothing more than a continuance of his campaign rhetoric meant to portray his administration as a sponsor of peace. Surely we haven’t forgotten about the president’s Nobel Peace Prize.

Now we hear calls by U.S. military leaders for the president to stunt his plans for a rapid withdrawal from Afghanistan on the argument that we’re just now getting it right after nine years. Those fearful of a swift withdrawal from Afghanistan can be rest assured that if there can be found a way for the government to drag its feet and reverse its commitments in the removal of U.S. troops, it will be used.

Naturally, the so-called timeline to begin U.S. withdrawal is only a meager start to what could remain an open ended commitment, despite claims to the contrary. In 2009, Defense Secretary Robert Gates commented that “we will have 100,000 forces, troops there and they are not leaving in July of 2011. Some, handful, or some small number, or whatever the conditions permit, will begin to withdraw at that time.” Secretary Gates noted that this plan for withdrawal is not an exit strategy but rather a transition. In other words:  We are NEVER leaving Afghanistan.

Of course what they are really transitioning for is a long term U.S. presence in the guise of providing support for an Afghan security force. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton laid out the Administrations intentions well when she said “we’re not going to be walking away from Afghanistan again. We did that before; it didn’t turn out very well.”

Any natural, rational human being can clearly see that the benefits of leaving Afghanistan far outweigh any contrived reasons for staying. The cost of human live has been vast. Nine years of an imperial military adventure in Afghanistan has ended the lives of 1,224 U.S. military men and women and ruined the lives of many more. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan recently reported that in the first six months of 2010, 1,271 civilians were killed as result of increased skirmishes between military forces and insurgents.

Aside from preventing the unnecessary deaths of thousands of U.S. forces and countless innocent Afghan civilians, ending the war there would also remove many of the incentives used to recruit others to take up arms against the United States. Foreign occupation on their lands isn’t typically viewed by local people through the neo-conservative colored glasses of spreading democracy and freedom. Instead, the American occupation is more likely to generate further resistance by those native to the region.

And just as the human cost of war is great, so too is the economic cost of funding an unnecessary war. From the very start of the war to the end of the fiscal year 2009, the costs of funding the war in Afghanistan checked in at $227 billion. Couple that with the $683 billion funding the other unnecessary war in Iraq and you’ll quickly find that maintaining an empire in the midst of a severe economic recession turned depression is economic suicide on a national scale.

These are simply facts that neither the president, Congress, Secretaries Gates and Clinton, or those military officials clamoring for more time to continue an illegal war care to thoroughly acknowledge.

Despite the arguments made by those who would call for an extended stay in Afghanistan, an undeniable timetable for withdrawal will come one way or another. Unfortunately it seems that a timetable will come in the form of a deteriorated economy no longer able to sustain these kinds of fruitless military adventures.

The time to begin a withdrawal from Afghanistan will have come at least ten years too late. The sooner we get out and save ourselves, the sooner the people of Afghanistan can begin to rebuild their country and their lives.

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