Point of View Columns

Time to Give Peace a Chance

This week President Obama is scheduled to present his timetable for the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan. He is being consistent with statements made when he committed additional troops to that quagmire last year at which time a withdrawal schedule was promised.

As is the case when the military becomes involved with policy instead of being confined to strategic plans to achieve policy, there are voices within the Pentagon that are counseling against any significant reduction of troops in a country that has been called, for good reason, the Graveyard of Empires. Minimal troop withdrawal has been urged by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, among others, the argument being that a rapid withdrawal of troops would result in the evaporation of military “gains” that have been made during the past year.

Presumably these “gains” don’t include the continued pillaging of the Afghan treasury by the notoriously corrupt Karzai regime. These “gains” can’t possibly refer to the spectacular ineptitude of the Afghan military and security forces after almost a decade of American training and billions of dollars of aid. And these “gains” cannot refer to the continued reluctance of the Afghan government to bring its people into the 19th century, let alone the 21st century.

Of course I am referring to the thankless and endless task of nation building in a nation that clearly is resistant to the concept. The military reasons for invading Afghanistan are long gone. The Taliban, which was never a threat to American security, remains in Afghanistan and will continue to be a force in that country no matter how long American troops remain. Al Qaeda, to the extent it exists at all in Afghanistan is crippled, eviscerated and with the death of Osama bin Laden, decapitated.

If the reason for continuing to keep American troops in Afghanistan relates to nation building and the instilling of democratic values, American troops will remain for decades. If the reason to keep American troops in Afghanistan relates to American national security, then that mission is already accomplished and it is past time to withdraw from the bloody quicksand that has an endless appetite for American blood and treasure.

Of course the political ramifications of President Obama’s Afghanistan policy are never too far from center stage. The G.O.Tea Party clamors for smaller government and less involvement in foreign affairs, yet they also clamor for the continuation of the dance of death in Iraq and Afghanistan which has already gone on for a decade.

Meanwhile, the original supporters of the Obama candidacy were drawn to the incandescent flame of his quest for the presidency by his opposition to the war in Iraq and have been disheartened by his “doubling down” in Afghanistan. If there was ever a time for President Obama to demonstrate his continued kinship with Candidate Obama, it is now.

Billions of dollars are being spent in Afghanistan and Iraq every week. Every month American troops are killed, maimed and crippled by combat fatigue. While the advocates of war sit comfortably in their homes and Feng Shui designed offices, too many American troops as well as Afghan and Iraqi citizens are dying.

We watch the vitriol-laced charade of budget debates that are meant to disguise a drive to dismantle the entire federal apparatus that created modern society and all the while millions of dollars are lost daily like water poured onto the desert sand. And we have to wonder when common sense and logic will catch up to the madness and insanity that values war over peace and destruction over development.

When President Obama stands before the country this week he will have a unique opportunity to validate the change that his candidacy promised three impossibly long years ago. I am speaking not only about a change in the current American military policy in Afghanistan, and by extension Iraq. I believe that he has the opportunity to fundamentally change the nature of American policy when it comes to resolving international issues and concerns.

With the death of Osama bin Laden and the generally acknowledged demolition of the Al Qaeda apparatus in Afghanistan, there are no more military reasons for the United States to be there. There were never any military reasons for American troops to be in Iraq. And now would be the time to acknowledge the limits of military answers to international challenges by announcing the accelerated withdrawal of troops from these two theaters of death.

In the process of bringing peace and relief to hundreds of thousands of American families President Obama could establish the framework for introducing the war “savings” into the budget debate. This would, of course, require the G.O.Tea Party budget hawks to explain that the debate is not simply about dollars and cents but about fundamentally withdrawing the American government from protecting and developing the environment, educational resources, health care and the financial services industry.

There is a lot that President Obama can accomplish with this one speech. It is clearly time for him to seize the opportunity.

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