Morale within the all‐volunteer military will decline if public support at home continues to wane. Unlike some analysts in Washington, D.C., I vehemently disagreed with those who called Afghanistan “Obama’s War.” But today I can no longer defend that position. If Obama’s second surge into Afghanistan is similar to the one made in Iraq — that is, a rapid infusion of U.S. troops followed by a painfully slow withdrawal — then, as the young John Kerry alluded to more than thirty years ago, our president is asking thousands of young men and women in uniform to sacrifice their lives for an occupation that not even he fully accepts and has already labeled a mistake.
Our security is not at stake in Afghanistan. As the president’s national security adviser, General James Jones, noted in October, “the al Qaeda presence [in Afghanistan] is very diminished. The maximum estimate is less than 100 operating in the country, no bases, no ability to launch attacks on either us or our allies.” We don’t need 130,000 soldiers to chase down 100 al Qaeda fighters. And as Paul Pillar, the National Intelligence Office for the Middle East between 2000 and 2005 notes, the preparations most important to the September 11, 2001 attacks “took place not in training camps in Afghanistan but, rather, in apartments in Germany, hotel rooms in Spain and flight schools in the United States.”
Not only is remaining in Afghanistan not a precondition for keeping America safe, but prolonging our occupation is likely to tarnish America’s reputation, undermine its security, and erode its economic well‐being more than would a cost‐effective policy limited to targeting al Qaeda. We must ask ourselves: How many more U.S. and NATO soldiers will lose their lives for Afghanistan’s unpopular and ineffectual central government? How many hundreds of billions of dollars of borrowed treasure will American taxpayers be asked to spend? What is the real strategic goal of remaining in Afghanistan? And are policymakers being honest when they say that this is for the people of Afghanistan or the need to defeat al Qaeda? Given the ever diminishing justifications for continuing the war, it really makes you wonder.