The U.S. Army's Afghan Koran burning, and the violent Islamic reaction that followed, has finally given media prominence to one simple question: why are we still there?
The U.S. government has given all kinds of reasons we can't leave now, and to be honest, they sound remarkably similar to all the reasons the U.S. said it couldn't leave Vietnam for years. Just exchange the word "Islamic" and "Communist" in the U.S. official announcements from both wars and you'll see what I mean.
Any of these standard reasons for soldiering on pale against the reasons for leaving now:
We killed Bin Laden. It's the number one reason we went to that part of the world and now it's done. For good measure, we've eliminated most of his high-level sidekicks as well.
The large U.S. army presence is no longer needed in Afghanistan. After killing Bin Laden, whatever else we need to do militarily can be done with drones and special forces.
Afghanistan has been a historical quagmire for foreign armies. From the time of Alexander the Great to the present, any outsiders attempting to bring the Afghans to heel have all failed. Read about the British invasion in the 19th century and the Russian invasion in the 20th century -- you'll see what I mean.
Al-Qaeda is no longer centered in Afganistan. The horse has gotten out of the barn -- the U.S. blew its opportunity to nail Bin Laden & Company after 9/11, and Al-Qaeda is now a worldwide franchise. Why are we trying to lock the barn now?
The U.S. Army has worn out its welcome. The goodwill we got from kicking out the Taliban in 2002 is now gone. The Army's Koran burning is just the latest example of years of cultural insensitivity toward the Afghans we are supposed to be protecting. The U.S. soldiers who accidentally burned the Korans would never have accidentally burned a bible. With friends like us, who needs enemies?
Trying to nation-build in Afghanistan will never work. This country has always been a loose collection of ethnic tribes who mostly distrust each other. It's been this way for thousands of years and won't change now.
We are backing the most hated man in Afghanistan. To almost every Afghan citizen, Karzai represents corruption, cronyism and ineptitude. No wonder the Afghan Army is so demoralized -- who wants to die for this guy? No one except the American government would miss him if he were toppled tomorrow.
Our Afghan allies are literally killing us. It's not just the Taliban in stolen Army uniforms. U.S. soldiers' clumsiness with regard to Islamic law have incited observant Afghans to avenge the insults, even if it means murdering the Americans with whom they are supposedly allies. Dozens of U.S. troops have died this way, and the problem is only getting worse.
The money spent on the Afghan war is needed at home. We're in a deep recession and we have a monster deficit. Those billions of dollars we're continuing to spend on this military quagmire would really, really come in handy right about now.
And what happens to our international reputation if we leave right away? A loss of respect? It will be nothing compared to the loss of respect if we continue to stay. The downward slide has already begun.
It's time to cut our losses. It's time to leave.