On September 12, 2001, I wrote an opinion piece for the Times of London that concluded: "we will find Osama bin Laden, give him a fair trial as we did in the old West, and then we'll hang him." Since we haven't found him in almost a decade, we could hardly give him a fair trial and then hang him.
Virtually without exception, Americans supported the initial focused invasion of Afghanistan to crush al Qaeda and prevent its return to sanctuary in Afghanistan. We were a nation out for vengeance and right was on our side. In addition, the national economy was booming (that is, before the dot.com bubble burst).
In that almost-decade's time, things have changed. Mostly, around 2005, our mission changed. We decided to broaden the mission to include the creation of some kind of stable, self-sustaining democracy in that perpetually troubled land. History will show that was a big mistake. History will also show that the new President Obama would have been well-advised to adopt the original, not the replacement, mission.
Not only are we struggling to succeed in Afghanistan, our own economy is in deep trouble. Probably close to 15% of American workers are unemployed. Our friends and neighbors are in trouble and have been for months and sometimes years. Our war of necessity that became a war of choice is costing hundreds of billions of dollars needed to employ our workers and get our country back on its feet. We are funding our foreign wars with money borrowed from our children and the Chinese.
There is now a great cry for austerity, largely from people who will not put the Afghan war on the budget cut list and who themselves are not suffering and will not suffer from austerity. Sometimes even great countries cannot do everything. When those occasions arise, our own neighbors and fellow Americans must come first. History's road is littered with the wreckage of empires that tried to rule the world even as they were collapsing at home.
We are failing the fundamental duty to our nation created these 221 years ago.
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