Associated Press
An Afghan solider, left, stands guard at the scene of a suicide attack in Lashkar Gah.

Yes: America needs to exit quickly to stop all of the mindless killing

By Mark Weisbrot

WASHINGTON — There is perhaps no time in American history when our leaders have fought a war with so little support.

More than 60 percent of Americans want out of Afghanistan. Even at the peak of the anti-Vietnam War movement, after a majority had turned against the war, there were still a large number of citizens who believed in the war and its official justifications. Today, as my colleague Robert Naiman of Just Foreign Policy notes, "Western leaders have largely given up trying to explain or justify why Western troops are still in Afghanistan and why they are still killing and being killed."

Yet the war goes on, and even the White House plans for too slowly reducing the U.S. troop presence meet resistance from the Pentagon.

In a replay of the internal fight over the American withdrawal from Iraq, U.S. commander Gen. George Allen was pushing just a few months ago to keep the current level of troops for another year. The military would also like to maintain a permanent presence of 6,000 to 15,000 troops.

That is not going to happen, as the Afghan people don't want foreign troops in their country any more than we would want armed fighters from al-Qaida here in the United States. But the attempts to establish a permanent base of operations will make it more difficult to negotiate an end to war.

And yes, ironically, the United States will most likely end up negotiating with the Taliban to end this war, something our government refused to do after 9/11 when it launched the invasion instead. So, 11 years of war, more than 2,000 U.S. troops dead and tens of thousands wounded will have all been for nothing, to arrive at the same opportunity that was available without America's longest war. In the meantime, thousands of Afghans have been killed and the population has suffered enormously.

The invasion of Iraq was disaster on an even larger scale, with more than a million estimated dead, including more than 4,400 U.S. troops.

Hundreds of thousands came home wounded or with brain or psychological trauma, and bleak job prospects.

Besides the fact that the war was launched on the basis of lies, it is hard to see how anyone could excuse this crime even in retrospect. As the revolution in Egypt showed, people can get rid of their own dictators; foreign intervention is much more likely to create or vastly expand a bloody civil war.

Meanwhile, U.S. drone strikes carried out "secretly" by the CIA are becoming institutionalized, widening the so-called "war on terror" to more countries, in addition to the hundreds of strikes already carried out in Pakistan. These attacks, which have killed hundreds of civilians and have even targeted rescue workers, are each day making more people want to kill Americans.

Our country and our media have too much reverence for the U.S. military and the CIA, which are not making us safer but rather helping to create new threats.

As The Washington Post reports, some of our generals have an "array of perquisites befitting a billionaire, including executive jets, palatial homes, drivers, security guards."

Even worse, many officers later join the boards and executive suites of military contractors, where they rake in millions making corporations such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics, Raytheon and Northrop Grumman richer at taxpayer expense, and sometimes promoting war itself on the network news.

Our military-industrial complex is as corrupt and rotten as any institution of America's broken democracy, and more deadly than most in its consequences.

We need to end this war in Afghanistan and other operations in the Middle East and elsewhere that are making Americans less secure and recruiting new enemies daily. Then we can focus on fixing our broken economy at home.

Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

Region is far too important to our interests to just walk away

By James Jay Carafano

WASHINGTON — Wars can't be fought and won according to a timetable. If calendars could control, then all wars would be over by Christmas.

American soldiers should never be put in harm's way unless it's vital to our national interests. And if it's a vital interest, they should stay until the mission is accomplished.

To suggest that they can be withdrawn from a mission by an arbitrary date — regardless of progress made or lost — implies that the mission is not important, that they shouldn't have been sent in the first place.

Our armed forces don't fight for the sake of fighting. And they don't want to fight on a clock. They fight to serve our nation. And they would rather stay longer and do the job right than come home too soon.

The military ethos revolves around the commitment to serve, to sacrifice their own safety and the comfort of family, rather than leave an important job undone.

"But don't you want the troops home by Christmas?" By focusing on the date — rather than the consequences of the proposed action — the question evades the major point. It's like asking someone if they'd like to have a thousand bucks — without telling them you were going to get the cash by robbing their grandmother.

Consequences matter. Yes, the world is a big place. But that doesn't mean that, when faced with a thorny problem, you can just walk away and relocate to less stressful climes.

This is the 21st century. The world is a much small place than it was 50 years ago, and it's getting smaller by the day. The Vietnam War should be viewed as a cautionary tale about embracing a just-walk-away strategy.

In 1975, a Congress sick of conflict simply cut off aid to South Vietnam, and watched from the sidelines as the country collapsed under an armed invasion. But the U.S. suffered serious consequences price for turning its back on its interest in Southeast Asia.

Emboldened by what it saw as an America in retreat, Moscow ramped up both its nuclear arms program and its support for insurgencies worldwide. Within five years the planet was a much more dangerous place.

That slide stopped only when President Reagan reversed the course of American foreign policy. The more he exercised "peace through strength," the less the U.S. actually had to do prove its mettle on the field of battle.

The U.S. position today seems as precarious now as in that post-Vietnam era. Once again we have a White House conducting nation security operations according to a timeline rather than the reality of conditions on the ground.

In Iraq, the U.S. pulled back too quickly. As a result, the Associated Press is now reporting al-Qaida has twice as many operatives there now as it had just last year. In Afghanistan, the president gave commanders half the troops and time they requested to get the job done before he began his arbitrary drawdown.

Not surprisingly, the U.S. is in trouble in Afghanistan as well. Foreign fighters are flooding into the country to learn from the Taliban how to fight and kill Americans.

Pulling back as our interests becoming increasingly insecure is ill-advised. Yet the White House is compounding the problem by trying to cash a massive "peace dividend" even as its strategies are making the world less peaceful. That means that, as problems grow and fester in the coming months and years, the United States will have less capability to respond to them.

Rather than pick a date, the U.S. would do better to ensure that its interests are protected before it walks away. And it should commit, as well, to maintaining the forces and capabilities needed to secure its interests in the foreseeable future.

James Jay Carafano is vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at The Heritage Foundation.