It’s time to leave Afghanistan
When President Obama was agonizing over his decision over the future of our efforts in Afghanistan last December, I found myself speaking with a former Green Beret and Vietnam veteran. We agreed that Afghanistan was becoming eerily reminiscent of our painful experience in Southeast Asia.We are once again propping up a weak and thoroughly corrupt regime, with no definable mission or exit strategy, little in the way of clear and measurable progress, against an entrenched enemy who merely needs to wait us out to win. Our allies are slowly drifting away while our enemies are piling in. As in Vietnam, we tell ourselves we dare not leave even when it is clear we cannot win. But the time has now come for us to admit that the cost in terms of lives and treasure is no longer worth the effort. Over 1,000 American soldiers have now died in Afghanistan and an additional 6,000 have been wounded. We may never know the cost in Afghan lives. In fiscal year 2011, Afghanistan is projected to cost $117 billion, up from $105 billion in 2010. Between Afghanistan and Iraq, the United States has already spent over $1 trillion, at a time when our federal deficit has exceeded $14 trillion. The Afghan economy is now in ruins. It is hard to see what benefit we or the Afghan people have derived.Even if we are able to drive Al Qaeda and the Taliban out of Afghanistan, the next question is: Will we be willing to fully invade their sanctuaries in Pakistan? Even if we could drive them out of the Pashtun regions of Pakistan, would we then chase them to Yemen? And after that, to Sudan and to Somalia? How many more countries are we willing to invade and then rebuild?In the 2,300 years since Alexander the Great, empire after empire has come to grief in Afghanistan. Before us came the Greeks, the Persians, the Sassasian, the Central Asian empires, the Mongols, the Safavids, the British, and others, like the Russians, more than once. Afghanistan is one of the most war-torn and ravaged of countries on earth. In fact, for many Afghans, all that has changed in the last 1,000 years are the weapons that have been used against them. It takes a good deal of hubris to think we can prevail where so many others have failed.During my business career, I frequently traveled to Vietnam and to Hanoi, a place that looms large for someone of my generation. I was always struck with how vibrant and full of energy that country and its capital is. And I was always haunted by the question: What did 58,000 Americans and 2.5 million Vietnamese die for? Considering how little we accomplished there at a terrible price, let us not make the same mistake all over again in Afghanistan.Our security can be much better defended by securing our borders and investing our money in our intelligence capabilities.Bob Bestani, a candidate for the Republican nomination in the 1st Congressional District, is a businessman who helped start two businesses in Afghanistan.