Declaring victory and leaving

After nearly 10 years at war in Afghanistan, most of them tragically wasted while the Bush administration focused attention and resources in Iraq, President Obama tonight declared victory and announced an expedited timeline to get American troops out.

The death of Osama bin Laden was a clear marker of victory, Obama suggested:

And thanks to our intelligence professionals and Special Forces, we killed Osama bin Laden, the only leader that al-Qaida had ever known. This was a victory for all who have served since 9/11. One soldier summed it up well. “The message,” he said, “is we don’t forget. You will be held accountable, no matter how long it takes.”

The war is not over. The drawdown will take a considerable amount of time. As the president said, “This is the beginning — but not the end — of our effort to wind down this war. We will have to do the hard work of keeping the gains that we have made, while we drawdown our forces and transition responsibility for security to the Afghan government.”

It is not a satisfying end to a war. When America does leave Afghanistan, it is unlikely that a free and stable government will be firmly in place. The United States will need to keep a close eye on the nation to ensure that it does not again become a haven for terrorists. Beyond that, if we truly believe in self-determination for others, well, we may not like what the direction the Afghan people determine to take.

Even if President Bush hadn’t diverted resources prematurely from Afghanistan to the costly and unnecessary war in Iraq, the going in Afghanistan would have been difficult. But that decision doomed the undertaking almost from the outset – and ensured that justice would be a long time coming to Osama bin Laden.

But that justice has, finally, been rendered. The mission in Afghanistan was to mostly to route al-Qaida, and bin Laden’s death is the surest sign that mission has been accomplished.

Afghanistan remains unstable and on the edge of anarchy. The Taliban remains stronger than anyone would like. But in order to truly defeat the Taliban, Afghan culture would have to be entirely transformed, and that doesn’t appear to be happening – and it will certainly not happen in a time period that would allow us to maintain a significant troop presence.

America is on its way out of Afghanistan, at long last. This war has lasted longer than World War II and nearly as long as Vietnam. There are no clear, achievable goals left. It’s time to declare victory and bring the troops home.

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