In a televised speech to the nation, President Barack Obama announced last week that he will slowly begin to remove American troops from Afghanistan. Ten thousand troops will come home by the end of the year, and 33,000 will be home by summer 2012.
“By 2014, this process of transition will be complete,” Obama said in regard to handing responsibility for security to the Afghan government.
As is typical with Obama, this nice gesture fails to enact the change needed immediately. The decade-long war in Afghanistan needs to come to a complete close not years from now, but immediately.
When the United States first went to war in Afghanistan in 2001, the stated goal of the mission was to dismantle Al Qaeda. We have thoroughly weakened Al Qaeda with the deaths of more than half of the group’s identified leadership; with the death of Osama Bin Laden, Al Qaeda lost the only true leader it has ever known. Even before the death of Bin Laden, CIA Director Leon Panetta stated there were likely less than 50 members of Al Qaeda still in the country. Meanwhile, we had nearly 100,000 troops there.
We were brought into Afghanistan under the pretense that it was a war of self-defense. But that excuse for war has long since ceased to be valid. For the last few years, our military has been engaging in nation building, not fighting terrorism. We have invested billions of dollars in civil infrastructure into another country at a time when our own country desperately needs money for schools, roads, and infrastructure.
Since the beginning of 2001, we have spent more than $400 billion in Afghanistan. At a time when Republicans are proposing cutting home-heating oil for the poor and gutting Medicare to trim the deficit, it is ludicrous to be spending billions of dollars a month on a war that is not absolutely necessary.
And we must make no mistake: The war in Afghanistan is not absolutely necessary. We have long since defeated our enemies there, and it is time to focus on rebuilding our own country instead of countries overseas. The Taliban we are still fighting in Afghanistan are ruthless. If the United States leaves, the results might be disastrous for the people of Afghanistan. Yet America simply cannot afford to police the entire world, at least not right now. There are many organizations such as the United Nations or the Arab League that are more adequately equipped to rebuild Afghanistan than the United States military.
Democracy in the Middle East is a nice objective, but it has never been the stated goal of the United States military. As we have seen in the recent “Arab Spring,” Arabic countries are fully capable of initiating political change without our help.
The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have practically bankrupted our country and contributed to the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. Remaining in Afghanistan any longer would be the biggest gift to those who wish to do America harm. As long as we maintain a significant presence in the Middle East, we are defeating ourselves.
Not to be ignored is the human cost of the war. Over 1,500 young Americans have lost their lives in Afghanistan. We owe it to our military to never put our soldiers’ lives in danger unless we absolutely must. And once again, the war in Afghanistan is not a war of necessity at this point. Almost 30 percent of those who have lost their lives in Afghanistan were between 18 to 21 years old. In different circumstances, they might have been in college living a carefree existence like most of us reading this. Too many young men and women have lost their lives to, in good conscience, continue this war.
While it is refreshing to know the war in Afghanistan at least has an end in sight, the end will not come soon enough for American troops fighting overseas and for American taxpayers footing the bill for the war.
Jordan Klein is a sophomore majoring in political science.