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Laurence J. Kotlikoff Headshot

President Obama's 'Peace With Honor?'

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The president delivered a strong, patriotic speech in Kabul Tuesday. But the fact that he had to sneak into the country after our brave servicemen and women have been fighting there for over a decade and our troop strength, including those from member NATO states, is 130,000, speaks for itself.

We have not defeated the Taliban, and the prospect of the Afghan Army doing so without NATO's 130,000 troops plus air, artillery, communications, and operational support, is remote.

What started as an effort to kill or capture Osama bin Laden and his top lieutenants quickly morphed into a war with the Taliban and other Afghan parties who oppose a U.S. presence in their country. To his great credit, the president is trying to extract us from this mission impossible. But he's been taking his sweet time doing so at a terrible cost to the members of our military and their families as well as those of our allies, not to mention Afghan civilians.

According to the president's timetable for complete U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, this war without end or victory will include six year's under his direction. But that's the best case scenario according to the president's schedule.

How could we still be in Afghanistan after 2014? Easy. The president stated, in his speech, that "We must finish the job we started in Afghanistan, and end this war responsibly." If "the job we started" is construed as keeping the Taliban from regaining control of the country under their terms, we could be stuck in that country with large numbers of troops far beyond 2014.

The president's speech sounded all too similar to Richard Nixon's pledge to achieve "Peace with Honor," while withdrawing from Vietnam. That was his desire. The North Vietnamese and Vietcong sought victory with honor, which they defined to include our dishonor. So this unobtainable goal, which Nixon set to sustain his honor, not the country's, meant remaining in Vietnam for years beyond any reasonable departure date. Indeed, had Watergate not forced Nixon to resign, the Vietnam war might have dragged on years longer than it did -- with absolutely no difference to the final outcome.

The president chose his words carefully so that they are subject to multiple interpretations. He can interpret "finishing the job" as killing a few more members of al Queda or he can interpret it as transforming the Taliban into something they will likely never be -- trustworthy partners in a democracy that respects human rights, particularly those of women.

What the president didn't do is tell the truth, namely that we got involved in nation building that went far beyond our legitimate mission, that whether it succeeds or not is now up to the Afghans, and that any final victory must be their victory, not ours. He should also have ordered an immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan. Instead, he said "I will not keep Americans in harm's way a single day longer than is absolutely required for our national security."

Had he been honest he would have admitted that that day is long past. President Obama knows this, the military knows this, and the American people know this. But instead of admitting the truth, we have the president putting, it appears, politics and national pride first. This is a terrible disservice to our troops. We elected the president to get us out of two failed wars, not to do half the job and then morph into Richard Nixon.

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