In the wake of President Obama’s announcement of Osama Bin Laden’s death, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton rushed to preempt an idea that must be coalescing in the minds of many Americans even though most corporate TV pundits seem to be missing it: Now that Bin Laden is dead, it’s time to bring our troops home from Afghanistan.
Although Clinton’s comments may have been directed at Taliban fighters, it seemed clear that she was really speaking to an American public that had long-since grown tired of the war. (By January of this year 72% of Americans said they favored an accelerated withdrawal from Afghanistan, while 58% overall were opposed to the war — breaking down to 59% of independents and 71% of Democrats.) She spoke without any apparent sense of irony, as if this were 2002 instead of 2011:
In Afghanistan we will continue taking the fight to al Qaeda and their Taliban allies while working to support the Afghan people as they build a stronger government and begin to take responsibility for their own security… Our message to the Taliban remains the same, but today it may have even greater resonance: you cannot wait us out, you cannot defeat us…
The problem with all of this is, of course, that we invaded Afghanistan based on the pretext that the then-ruling Taliban refused to hand Bin Laden over to us in 2001. Never mind that this was not true; that the U.S. declined an opportunity to make a deal that would have brought him into U.S. custody and avoided the invasion and subsequent occupation altogether. Never mind the fact that the other presumed benefits of our invasion – Democracy, nation building, global security, and women’s liberation – were thrown into the mix after the fact, and never actually materialized.
Simply put, killing Bin Laden and disrupting Al Queda were THE stated reasons for invading and occupying Afghanistan. At this point our own intelligence estimates of Al Queda numbers in Afghanistan are negligible – no more than 50 to 100 fighters – and can hardly justify a massive occupation force.
And it’s worth remembering that the occupation force we’re talking about currently totals 90,000 U.S. troops combined with another 40,000 from other countries – not to mention anywhere between 130-160,000 mercenaries, or private civilian military contractors, as they’re referred to in polite circles.
Ten years on, the violence and destabilization we visited on Afghanistan through our invasion and occupation have now spread to nuclear-armed Pakistan. In Afghanistan itself, we are failing by almost every measureable benchmark – including tactical/military supremacy, political stability, civil and human rights, Democracy, economic growth, and the suppression of illegal drugs. Our continued presence will only cause more violence and suffering, and ultimately prevents Afghanistan’s people from determining their own future.
For those who would still like to believe that our motives match our rhetoric and that the U.S. has acted in Afghanistan without any imperial designs, Bin Laden’s death creates a long-awaited opportunity to declare victory and get out of Dodge. There aren’t likely to be any cleaner opportunities if we wait longer.
It’s time to go!
(Cross-Posted at Skundered!)
War Deaths in Afghanistan since 2001:
Occupation forces: 2441
U.S Forces: 1566
Afghans: Unknown, but low estimates would put the figure in the tens of thousands
Thought-provoking piece, Tom. If history teaches us anything, it’s that the Afghan people will ultimately decide their own fate. Any other conclusion is pure arrogance, I think.
Thanks, John. I wish our decision-makers could get your point. I guess national exceptionalism means never having to pay attention to anyone else’s history, much less your own!
History isn’t on the test.
I worry that this is our only chance to leave. Then I am reminded we are still in Korea, Germany and Japan, to name a few places.