Last night’s debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney didn’t say much about Afghanistan, and neither did the earlier one. As I blogged last week, the debate between Vice President Biden and Paul Ryan did touch on Afghanistan, and it was marked by Biden’s strong assertion that US forces are on the way out.
Perhaps the next presidential debate on Monday, slated to cover foreign policy, will address Afghanistan, but don’t expect any revelations—or even much disagreement.
But Americans are sick of the war, and that was the jumping-off point for a remarkable New York Times editorial last Sunday called “Time to Pack Up.” It was a reversal of sorts for the Times, which has opted for a stay-the-course approach mostly in line with the conventional wisdom that Afghanization of the war will somehow allow the center to hold. It won’t. Belatedly, the Times acknowledges that, suggesting that Afghanistan is a lost cause. And it says that getting out sooner, rather than later—even within a year—is a good idea.
It’s a lengthy piece, and it starts thus:
After more than a decade of having American blood spilled in Afghanistan, with nearly six years lost to President George W. Bush’s disastrous indifference, it is time for United States forces to leave Afghanistan on a schedule dictated only by the security of the troops. It should not take more than a year. The United States will not achieve even President Obama’s narrowing goals, and prolonging the war will only do more harm.
It should not take more than a year! So much for the end of 2014. As The Times notes, “This conclusion represents a change on our part. The war in Afghanistan had powerful support at the outset, including ours, after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.” It adds, remarkably:
More fighting will not consolidate the modest gains made by this war, and there seems little chance of guaranteeing that the Taliban do not “come back in,” at least in the provinces where they have never truly been dislodged. Last month, militants struck a heavily fortified NATO base.… Americans are desperate to see the war end and the 68,000 remaining troops come home.
Read the whole piece, and be amazed. But it’s also time to ask hard questions: Why did we fail in Afghanistan? Have we learned the lessons that counterinsurgency doesn’t work and the nation-building is a joke? Will we stop overreaching? Who will be held accountable for the 2,000-plus dead Americans and the tens of thousands of dead Afghans who perished in a lost cause? Do we just say “oops”?
For more key coverage of the war in Afghanistan, see Robert Dreyfuss on the toll of recent US airstrikes.