Post: Why should troops die in Afghanistan this year if we’re leaving next year?

The Washington Post had a thought-provoking editorial this morning. Excerpts:

On Wednesday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta floated an entirely different plan: an end to most U.S. and NATO combat operations in Afghanistan by the second half of 2013, a year earlier than expected, and a substantial cut in the previously planned size of the Afghan armed forces. So much for “fight.” Though Mr. Panetta didn’t say so, this strategy implies another big U.S. troop reduction in 2013, beyond the pullout of about one-third of troops already planned for this year. U.S. commanders have lobbied to keep the troop strength steady from this coming autumn until the end of 2014 — the current endpoint for the NATO military commitment.

The new timetable may sound good to voters when Mr. Obama touts it on the presidential campaign trail. But how will the Taliban, and its backers in Pakistan, interpret it? Before negotiations even begin, the administration has unilaterally and radically reduced the opposing force the Taliban can expect to face 18 months from now. Will Taliban leader Mohammad Omar have reason to make significant concessions between now and then? More likely, the extremist Islamic movement and an increasingly hostile Pakistani military establishment will conclude that the United States is desperate to get its troops out of Afghanistan, as quickly as possible — whether or not the Afghan government and constitution survive….

But if President Obama has decided to pursue that course, there’s an inevitable next question. If the goal of a stable and democratic Afghanistan is to be subordinated — if timetables are to be accelerated, regardless of conditions — why should U.S. ground troops fight and die this year?

That’s always the question, when timetables are given for withdrawal: If we’re going to withdraw at a certain time regardless of conditions, what’s the point of fighting now?

It’s a brutally tough question whether you come at it from the direction of a hawk or a dove.

17 thoughts on “Post: Why should troops die in Afghanistan this year if we’re leaving next year?

  1. Juan Caruso

    It is an excellent question with a fitting answer. As the son of a naval officer, Brad, you must know how your father would have answered.

    If not, G-Man (haven’t seen him comment here lately, as he has elsewhere) certainly can.

  2. Phillip

    It’s a very sloppy editorial, even by the rapidly degenerating standards of the Washington Post (Jennifer Rubin’s paper, lest we forget). If one reads the actual article, there are all kinds of qualifiers, words like “hopefully,” etc. The “unilateralism” referred to the editorial is nowhere to be found in Panetta’s actual language.

    Whenever the withdrawal happens, whether it’s according to Panetta’s more optimistic timetable, or closer to the original NATO framework, or something else entirely, there WILL be a withdrawal eventually. And thus it will ALWAYS be a question: why should troops die in any mission the day before we leave? That question is true whether or not the withdrawal was predicted or announced in advance.

  3. Doug Ross

    There’s a political component to this (as always). Imagine if Romney wins in November. Do you think he will keep the same schedule? Doubtful.

    Then there’s all the politically connected defense contractors who need time to make the case for the war in Iran so they can move all the assets over there.

    Gotta keep exporting death. It’s one of America’s key products.

  4. martin

    With the help of Wikipedia, I refreshed my memory on “vietnamization” and the fact that the US drew down from Viet Nam for years prior to the end of the war. As I recall, the troops coming home was not a secret.

    The difference from Afghanistan: we had Republican presidents Nixon and Ford doing that drawing down. Now we have Republicans in the Congress and running for president who believe that generals should be in charge of policy when we are at war. Gee, some of us thought the Constitution pretty clearly delegates that to the Commander in Chief aka The President. Not generals like Douglas McArthur, Stanley McCrystal or Davis Petraeus. At least two of those generals didn’t get that either.

  5. Mark Stewart

    While there are only three options available here as with everything in life – arriving, present, departing – the geopolitical calculus has grown infinitely more complicated since the arrival of the Arab Spring and the departure of Osama Bin Ladin. We most importantly need to decide who is the enemy and who is just an irritant with different goals.

  6. bud

    Doug and Martin pretty much say all that needs to be said. Can’t stress enough how dangerous the military/industrial complex is becoming.

  7. Silence

    @Doug – As a politically connected defense contractor I am shocked, SHOCKED that you would suggest that my ilk would drive the US into a war for our personal gain.

  8. Steve Gordy

    I’d be very hesitant to jump into any new commitments anywhere in the Middle East until we see how the uprising in Syria plays out. Let’s not forget that Bashir Assad is buddy-buddy with the Iranian leadership.

  9. Mark Stewart

    Syria is going to become a proxy war. The real issue is will Russia align itself with Iran, or are they just interested in weapons sales and port access on the Med?

    I think the most interesting development is the continued protest within Russia ahead of their own elections – if that concept is still even applicable in the country now.

    Kind of makes our own “Occupy” movements look both silly and counter-productive. We are the world’s beacon; why sully the concept of freedom with nit-witty displays of “we protest because we can”? These other people protest because they must. That’s a distinction we should all keep in mind.

  10. Libb

    “How do you say..Halliburton?”

    These days you also say…Pepsi, Fedex, Dell, Kraft and the list goes on. Since 9/11 the military/industrial complex has become the military/corporate complex.

  11. `Kathryn Fenner

    What would you suggest the Occupiers do instead of protest as they are, to narrow their concerns and get them addressed? Few know how to get the right kind of audience with the powers that be. I, a former securities lawyer, don’t know how to reverse the shareholder disenfranchisements I helped to draft in the 80s.

  12. Bart


    Once again, using an old saying, “once the bell has been rung, it cannot be unrung.” With that in mind, what you can do is find a way to muffle the sound or repair the damages created by the loud ringing of a bell.

    If one was and still is intelligent enough to craft the securities market that allowed disenfranchisement of shareholders, as with any rules, laws, or regulations, the same intelligence can be turned around and find ways to repair some, if not all of the damage.

    I don’t know your personal situation or anything about you other than what I have read on this blog. What I have been able to determine is that you are someone who is willing to roll up your sleeves and get into the fray. Instead of thinking you don’t know how to reverse what you did, consider how you can repair what you did.

    When I had my first auto accident, my fault, the one thing I learned is that I could not reverse the accident but I could work to repair the damages. If we are not willing to tilt at the windmills the way Don Quixote did and fight the good fight and take a chance on not winning every time, we never grow and never move forward. Sometimes, the windmill loses.

  13. `Kathryn Fenner

    @Bart– I vass only following orders!

    I never had the driver’s seat. I just did the paperwork. I’m not even on the bus any more. Shareholder initiatives are virtually impossible now. I was a management tool. (ha ha)

    It’s like they say about free elections in countries prone to totalitarianism–they have one once. Once the shareholders (negligently) vote in supermajorities and staggered boards and poison pills, they have made it almost impossible to vote da bums out. The best hope is for strong SEC regulations, but that’s not on any radar outside of the Occupiers!

  14. Phillip

    Whoa, whoa, Mark!!! I think you might want to back up there a second, my friend.

    “Sully” means to “damage the purity or integrity of, to defile.” The ability of citizens to gather and to express political opinions does not “sully” freedom. It EQUALS freedom. Even though I think that the sense of “the system is rigged” outrage that the Occupy movements have expressed is worth expressing, that’s not even the point here. Political expression is not required to rise to any particular mythical level of “legitimacy” or “importance” in a free society before it can be expressed.

    The very fact that protests and political dissent have been a steady and constant part of our society for 240 years (yes, even including the frivolous and “silly”) is the VERY REASON WHY we do not find ourselves (at least for the moment) in the position that Syrians, or perhaps some of the others in Arab Spring protests, etc., find themselves in, as they protest because “they must,” as you say.

    THAT is what made us the world’s beacon, after all, to whatever extent we still are. Of course we must acknowledge the tremendous courage it takes to protest in societies where there truly can be a direct and sometimes fatal cost for doing so; but just because that’s rarely been the case here doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t bother protesting when enough citizens feel compelled to gather in opposition to certain policies or other. I personally would not want Americans to wait to protest until such point as they reach that state where “they must.” That’s a little too late for my taste.


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