Afghanistan: Let's Go Home

10/21/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

We should get the hell out of Afghanistan as soon as possible. The expense of continuing this foreign adventure and the danger to US citizens of staying has simply become unacceptably high. The concept of victory is no longer meaningful or practical. The sooner we face this, the better off we will be. I don't feel good about this, but sentimentality won't change the facts on the ground.

Let me be clear, I supported the American led effort to topple the Taliban after 9/11. Unlike the totally misguided invasion of Iraq, we were displacing a government that gave aid, comfort and shelter to our enemies. And while we arguably did nothing to damage Al-Qaeda, we did remind the world that we're awfully good at regime change. From time to time that's an unfortunate necessity.

Unfortunately, the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld combo forgot something that most parents endeavor to teach their children: you break it; you own it. In other words, when we invaded, we assumed responsibility for a snake pit that had already humbled the Soviets and the British in the past 150 years. Knowing that, we should have been ready not only to topple the government but also to have a plan for what to do with the place after.

Our 'plan,' as you may recall, consisted of dropping Hamid Karzai into power, invading another country and hoping that the neo-con fantasy of a liberated people immediately adopting a democratic government and a free-market economy would magically happen. Sure, we kept some troops there to hunt - usually ineffectively - Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, but really we threw everything into Iraq.

Jumping forward to 2009, it's clear that we made a mistake. While we were occupied in the Middle East, the Taliban was reorganizing. Even if we had wanted to engage in real nation building, we simply did not have enough troops on the ground to protect the population. Meanwhile, our political client was sliding down the path of clinging to power at any cost. Most recently, this consisted of building coalitions with bad people (warlords, drug cartels and tribal leaders) in order to remain the titular head of the country. And when that didn't work, he resorted to out-and-out fraud to win the election.

So here we are, supporting an illegitimate regime in a country in which we have proven unable to deliver basic security. Not surprisingly, we're not winning many hearts and minds in the process. Beyond that, we are fighting an enemy that still moves largely at will across the Pakistani border, a place where our ground troops cannot go. True, the Pakistani government has been more cooperative of recent, but it seems unlikely that will continue once the 'existential threat' to that nation has been removed.

Now, we're trying to make up for lost time by moving into a counter-insurgency mode that requires ever more troops, while reducing their capacity to use lethal force. Such strategies can work but they can take a decade to yield results. We simply don't have that kind of sticking power and everyone -- including the Taliban -- knows it.

Add it all up, and it seems clear that we are spending a fortune in treasure and American lives to prop up a bad regime without gaining anything in the bargain. Maybe this could have been avoided, but it's time to own up to the fact that our presence in Afghanistan is not making America safer. Knowing that, we should leave, the sooner the better.