Getting Out of Afghanistan

Today’s Washington Post features an op-ed by Reps. James McGovern (D-MA) and Walter Jones (R-NC) on the U.S. mission in Afghanistan. This particular bipartisan pairing isn’t particularly noteworthy; the two men have collaborated before. But the arguments presented in the piece — one set designed to appeal to conservatives, the other aimed at liberals — have the potential to join together a much broader left-right coalition in opposition to an open-ended mission that, according to McGovern and Jones, has already cost U.S. taxpayers $450 billion dollars, and whose costs are accumulating at a rate of nearly $10 billion every month.

My colleagues and I have argued on numerous occasions for why the Obama administration should refine our objectives in Afghanistan. The issue isn’t about getting out of the country, per se, but rather about what we are asking our brave troops to do there. We owe it to them to give them a mission that is achievable within a reasonable time frame. Policy makers in Washington must be reasonably certain that the mission advances U.S. security, and that alternative strategies that have a higher likelihood of success and/or less cost have been thoroughly considered.

I don’t believe that they have been. There is ample evidence to suggest that our attempt to build a functioning nation-state in the Hindu Kush is likely to fail. Most nation-building missions do fail, and the conditions for success — especially a functioning economy and a capable, representative government that enjoys broad-based support — simply do not exist in Afghanistan, and won’t for a very long time.

Above all else, the McGovern-Jones op-ed is an appeal to the American people and to their representatives in Congress to pay attention to what is happening in Afghanistan, and to think deeply about the mission. For a window into what that mission actually looks like, check out the HBO special “The Battle for Marjah.” The similarities between what the brave troops of Bravo company dealt with in the spring and summer of 2010, and what other units were doing in 2009, as documented in this Frontline program, are striking. I don’t know how anyone can watch either of these programs and be confident that we are making progress. And I especially don’t know how you can watch these and not share the frustrations of our troops.

And if those video snippets aren’t sufficient to convince you to rethink what we’re doing in Afghanistan, and to question whether we really are making progress, the numbers tracking the last two years there are only worse.