While we are focused on the budget imbroglio in Washington, and the prospect of massive spending cuts that will reverberate throughout the economy, we face yet another critical mass across the seas in the mountains of Afghanistan where our troops are beginning a phased pullout. Meanwhile the emboldened enemy - the Taliban - is poised to move back in to replace us, and once again impose its draconian rule on the population.
The Taliban is orchestrating 110 attacks a day, the most since the war began. That the Taliban is an evil force at war with modern civilization is a given, but despite our awesome military power, and the selfless commitment of our servicemen and women, we lack the resources and will to outlast them. Thus far, we have suffered 20,000 killed and wounded and spent more than $640 billion, but have no reasonable prospect of victory.
We are trying to build up a domestic army and police force in Afghanistan to take over when we leave, and presumably stand up to the Taliban, but I am not optimistic this will survive our departure by very long. As many as one in five of our causalities are inflicted by Afghans in uniform who are supposedly our allies.
This situation is comparable in many ways to our experience in Vietnam 40 years ago. Then as now, we were fighting a noble fight for a worthy cause, but were up against a nativist movement in a backward country contemptuous of our values. Afghanistan is one of the world's most impoverished and corrupt nations. It is the center of world drug traffic producing 90 percent of the global opium supply, not to mention countless tons of cannabis and hashish. The land is mountainous and rugged, natural habitat for guerilla fighters. The Afghan government has been described by people who know it well as a cartel comprised of criminal gangs. The deep seated corruption of the government in Kabul does not foster credibility. You cannot even get a driver's license in Afghanistan without paying a series of bribes.
I do not blame our political leaders who sent our military into Afghanistan. The architects of 9/11 were operating from there under the auspices of the Taliban. We had little choice but to go after them.
But at the end of the day, we are stuck between a rock and a hard place. In war, people who do not value human life have a built-in advantage over those who do. This war has gone on far too long. Polls suggest that two-thirds of the American people do not support it. We are sacrificing too many of our finest young people, and too much of our national treasury, in a cause with little prospect of success. I have said it many times before and say it again - we cannot be the 911 for the whole world. There's a world of serious threats out there to our national security. We must pick and choose our fights carefully.
Lt. Gen. Clarence E. "Mac" McKnight, Jr., (USA-Ret) is the author of "From Pigeons to Tweets: A General Who Led Dramatic Change in Military Communications," published by The History Publishing Company.