Getting Out of Afghanistan Should Be a Priority Topic this Election
By Chelsea Michta '13
America is overextended. With a swelling budget deficit and high unemployment, it can no longer afford to continue pouring billions of dollars into foreign ventures, especially the war in Afghanistan, which is now into its 10th year. President Obama has set the July 2011 deadline to begin the pullout, but few in Washington believe he will be able to keep it beyond a token withdrawal of U.S. troops. In this election season, Afghanistan has become a political football, with Democrats and Republicans trading accusations with little regard to the situation on the ground.

The Democrats continue to cling on to the fiction called “President Hamid Karzai” — the belief that we will be able to partner with the current Afghan government and eventually hand over the responsibility for the security of Afghanistan to its military. This is a pipe dream, as the Karzai administration is so ridden with corruption and implicated in the drug trade that its ability to control the situation does not extend much beyond the capital city and a few areas cleared by U.S. and NATO ISAF troops. President Karzai should perhaps be more aptly called the Mayor of Kabul, and his army remains no match for the Taliban, despite the billions we have poured into its training. To believe that Karzai’s army can take on the Pashtun insurgency supported from across the border in Pakistan is akin to theories of the “Vietnamization strategy” from the early 1970s — an act of desperate hope masquerading as policy.

The Republicans, on the other hand, talk tough about the imperative of the “long war” against terrorism and “victory in Afghanistan,” but they give precious few specifics as to what such a victory would constitute, or why Afghanistan should be worth the price tag of trillions at a time when the U.S. is struggling with a $13 trillion debt and when 40 percent of the federal budget is borrowed. The proponents of continued engagement invoke al Qaeda and the threat of another terrorist attack against the United States — both valid arguments — but give no reason why the current counterinsurgency strategy is the right way to deal with the terrorism problem. In the end, the Republicans fall back on the visceral “support the troops” argument — implying that the calls to get out of Afghanistan are somewhat unpatriotic.

The reality is that neither the gradual disengagement strategy, touted by the Obama administration, nor the “stay the course” arguments of its Republican critics can stand the reality test. The United States needs to end the war in Afghanistan, period. Indeed, we need to ensure that Afghanistan does not become a haven for terrorists, but this should be done through a containment strategy. This means working with Pakistan, the key player in Afghan politics, to provide a minimum degree of stability there, and using our technology to monitor the situation from off-shore and, if necessary, to strike remotely at terrorist targets. But the United States simply cannot afford to remain engaged in a prohibitively costly ground war in Afghanistan if it hopes to get its economic house in order and bring about necessary reforms here at home. The estimates of the total price tag of the war vary, but if you factor in the long-term costs of carrying for the wounded U.S. soldiers, the cost of replenishing weapons stocks and supplies, training and deployment costs and the like, the price reaches well over a trillion dollars and counting. This is something America can no longer afford if it has any hope of rebuilding its economy and the country’s infrastructure.

This election is the time to talk honestly about Afghanistan, but Washington appears to be drowning in partisan politics when it comes to the war. Rather than pouring money into the war in Afghanistan, we need some “nation building” here in the United States. We need to get out of Afghanistan before it is too late.

Issue 07, Submitted 2010-10-27 04:19:13