Obama’s Opportunity

The War in Afghanistan, our longest military engagement, is set to end after this year. The Pentagon is proposing the U.S. leave 10,000 troops in Afghanistan out of the almost 40,000 there right now. It’s tempting for hawkish think tanks and mainstream dialogue to shrug this off as appropriate. And for all that has been lost, why not? Well over a trillion dollars has been poured into military functions and reconstruction in Afghanistan. Several thousand Americans and NATO soldiers have died. It seems only rational to do everything in our power to prevent a decay rendering it all in vain. President Obama should take the opportunity to redefine American foreign policy for the coming century in a way that prevents the waste we’ve been content with viewing in our periphery. He can reject the Pentagon proposal for any long term military presence.

Iraq is less safe right now than it was under Saddam Hussein’s leadership since we pulled out. There’s nothing we could have done to change that. Different groups are fighting for control the only way their country has known how; with violence. Despite our efforts, Democracy is not an institution that can be established instantly in countries plagued by radically dynamic demographics and  no roots to western democratic ideals.

Afghanistan is like Iraq, but with a more troubled past, more cultural diversity, more precious resources to be fought over, and a much more harsh geographic territory. 97 Percent of Afghanistan’s GDP is currently from the world community through military spending and aid throughout the war. Whether we leave 10,000 or 10 soldiers there, the vacuum in the economy from our inevitable pullout will be destructive. The highly valued opium trade we’ve worked hard to kill will revive slowly as necessity in rural populations desperate for income.

The point  is that the nation building strategy continued under Obama is doomed for failure as it exists in the long run. We can’t have our forces perpetually strained babysitting the fragile development in multiple volatile nations at a time, as noble as that would be. It burns a hole through our pockets which we need to be using to doing our own reconstruction throughout American cities and suburbs with social programs and investment that have been deprived since the recession.

I’m not saying we should abandon a country we just occupied for a decade. Give limited military training and support with targeted international financial resources so that the Karzai government doesn’t collapse, creating another pre-2001 failed state. And nothing stops us from going in to wipe out Taliban forces should things get desperate. But Afghanistan needs to be able to field a local army which has a stake in fighting for its community.

It’s being speculated that Obama is going to make income inequality a pinnacle of his State of the Union speech. He can shift the conversation and focus of  the U.S. government from abroad to such important matters at home seamlessly in the same sentence. He can redefine the role of Commander-in-Chief for generations to come, away from an indiscriminate trigger finger eager to leave an American flag everywhere, to the temporary last resort mentality that he has envisioned since taking office. Restraint abroad will make our future security goals more concise and justifiable. Obama needs to finish off what remains of Bush era policy. Take a cue from every nation that has tried to conquer the labyrinth that is Afghanistan, Mr. President. No half measures. Get the hell out.

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