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Peter Lems

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Finding an End to a Costly War

Posted: 11/20/09 11:49 AM ET

President Obama says his decision on a new strategy for Afghanistan will "give clarity to the American people about what we're doing, how we're going to succeed, what's the end game... (and) how much this thing is going to cost."

The cost of war in dollars alone requires a choice not only to stop sending troops but also to withdraw all U.S. military forces and invest in civilian-led development of Afghanistan's devastated communities and for jobs and real security here at home

Consider: It costs $1 billion to send 1,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan.

That's $1 million per solder for one year, according to the Pentagon. In total, it is millions more than the entire revenue collected last year by the Afghanistan government -- $890 million.

That $890 million is also the cost of providing health care to 550,000 U.S. children or to the cost to keep 16,000 teachers educating the next generation of Americans.

And that $890 million is dwarfed by the more than $44 billion spent yearly on U.S. war funding.

Given that staggering cost, it's clearly time to reconsider "what we're doing." Investing in support for strong civilian institutions and in humanitarian aid led by civilian aid workers is more likely to create a stable Afghanistan than continued warfare. Spent here at home, it could help lead us out of our jobless economic recovery.

To "succeed" in Afghanistan should be defined as helping Afghans build better lives and peaceful futures for their children and their nation. That's why we support a strategy of diplomacy, the rule of law, accountability and development that meets the U.S.'s moral obligations both to American soldiers and to Afghan citizens.

Specifically, we call for: No more troops to be sent. A timeline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops and for diplomacy and dialogue with all parties to the conflict - without preconditions. Providing development aid by civilian-led organizations, not the military. And redirecting the more than $44 billion spent on war to human needs in Afghanistan and at home.

Only a comprehensive diplomatic process with all parties involved in the conflict can begin building a peaceful future in Afghanistan. Only a commitment to end the war and for the withdrawal of U.S. troops can jumpstart the process of bringing all parties to the table to talk - and thus signal the administration is serious about "success."

While much is unclear about "the end game" in Afghanistan, the path we walk now has led only to escalating violence, destruction and death. This path will not lead to a good "end game" for Afghanistan, for the region, or for the United States.

We have seen that end game before. President Obama will do well to avoid recreating Lyndon Johnson's tragedy, sacrificing reform and development on the altar of war. Only by choosing a path away from military involvement and towards civilian-led redevelopment and inclusive diplomacy will the U.S. be able to help lead Afghanistan out of three decades of war and into a more peaceful and secure era.

We urge the President to remember that the path to peace is the one most likely to succeed.