Leon Panetta Right to Call For 2013 Withdraw of U.S. Troops From Afghanistan

The United States will end its combat role in Afghanistan as early as the middle part of 2013, as announced by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta Wednesday, a significant milestone in the decade-long war.

Panetta was immediately criticized by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who called the Obama administration’s plans “misguided” and “naïve.” Romney said that the mission of U.S. soldiers building freedom in the country would become tarnished, especially as the Taliban would capitalize on the vacuum left by exiting American forces.

Romney, though, is himself misguided. The Operation Enduring Freedom mission that has slugged into the Afghanistan War is an unwinnable conflict for the U.S., and one in which no more strategic or political gains can be had. There is no reason we should maintain a significant force in the country (as we do in other countries like Germany or Japan). If anything, we are only meddling and hindering Afghan domestic politics. The U.S. should rightly get out of Afghanistan as soon as possible to allow the country to bud politically and economically. As soon as the U.S. leaves, the Taliban will be brought into the democratic fold, and Afghanistan will continue to build out its economy.

Osama Bin Laden, the primary objective for our entrance into Afghanistan, is dead. Realistically, any “state building” ambitions the U.S. had in the country are only secondary. That mission in itself has been an unwinnable process, as military leaders have constantly complained about the security and political challenges to achieving a unified democratic state in decentralized and tribal Afghanistan. The country is plagued by corruption at the highest levels of leadership. Any American form of liberal democracy seems incompatible with the tribal alliance form of democracy the country seems to be creating. The Taliban is running a religious guerrilla war solely against the American occupation, and would agree to work with the Afghan government as soon as foreign forces pulled out. Any democrat would rightly be optimistic to hope that, once the Taliban begins to work with the Afghan government, their religious zeal and violent opinions would be tempered by the democratic process.

A growing number of U.S. soldiers themselves are also regarding their mission to be aimless. In 2011, one-third of all 9/11 veterans said the war in Afghanistan was not worth fighting for. The police presence of the U.S. military is unrealistic. Violence in Afghanistan jumped 40% in 2011, perpetuated mainly by the Taliban.

In a strategic capacity, an extended stay or a building-out of U.S. bases provides no real advantage for America. There is a clear correlation between the continued presence of American troops and increases in violence in the country. These bases would in no way be secure. With Iran to the west, Pakistan to the South, and Russia to the north, American forces would be surrounded by potential enemies. In a previous PolicyMic article, I argued that long-term U.S. bases in Iraq would add stability to the region and provide the military with a longer strategic arm. The Afghan scenario is completely different, as long-term U.S. involvement would not stabilize, but rather de-stabilize the region. An occupation would do nothing for the U.S. military that our carrier groups and other regional bases don’t already achieve.

Economically, the price of America’s involvement in Afghanistan has recently sky-rocketed. In the first nine years of the Afghan War, America spent $4 trillion, a number that could potentially reach $6 trillion by 2013. Because of political tensions between the U.S. and Pakistan, supply lanes into the U.S. are choked and America now pays six times as much to supply troops in Afghanistan via alternate routes after Pakistan closed the border crossings to NATO convoys.

Afghanistan can make it on its own. If capitalism is the surest way to stable democracy, than the country has nothing to worry about. Afghanistan has between $1 and $4 billion worth of untapped mineral potential, which it is already capitalizing on.  

It’s useless to stay in Afghanistan. Any talk about a 2013 withdrawal being “misguided” and “naïve” is itself, well, misguided and naïve.  

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons