The war in Afghanistan is now 104 months old, passing Vietnam, to make it the longest war in U.S. history. And as it reaches this dubious milestone, it’s hard to imagine things going much worse. The much-hyped military campaign in Kandahar is now way behind schedule, with the secretary of Defense saying it’s more important to get it done right than to get it done quickly.
[IMGCAP(1)]That kind of plea might have worked 80 months ago, but do they not see the irony or the disconnect in preaching patience about a war that is now the longest the nation has ever fought? Do they not see that the American people, who have given a thousand or more of their best young people and a quarter of a trillion dollars to this war, are long past the point where they are willing to cut some slack and take a wait-and-see approach?
And if that’s not bad enough, it turns out the campaign we thought we had just finished in Marjah never really took in the first place. What seemed to be a quick and decisive military triumph turned out to be an illusion. The Taliban hadn’t been crushed; they had gone into hiding, taking part in the opium harvest, and regaining their bearings, so to speak. Now the Taliban are back, with a campaign of violence and intimidation, planting bombs, attacking Marines and terrorizing the population. As one report in the Washington Post put it, “They still own the night.”
Gen. Stanley McChrystal promised to have a ready-made “government in a box” prepared to take over in Marjah, but inside that box was a district governor who has been outfitted by the Marines with a fancily furnished tent and seems more fond of afternoon naps than in doing the hard work of governing. And the national government that is supposed to be our partner, the repository of our hopes and confidence, the leader of the regime that is supposed to pick up where U.S. troops leave off in providing stability and security, well, his heart doesn’t seem to be in the mission. Just a few weeks after his state visit to the U.S., President Hamid Karzai is wondering aloud whether the U.S. and NATO can get the job done.
My concern is that with each setback and delay pressure will build to extend the timetable for troop deployment, preventing our troops from getting out of Afghanistan. This would be the wrong lesson to learn. What’s needed is not more time, but a different policy. Every day that we continue this military campaign will contribute to the chaos. More time and more troops can only exacerbate the problem.
I don’t think I can describe the war any better than did New York Times columnist Bob Herbert. He said: “It’s just a mind-numbing, soul-chilling, body-destroying slog, month after month, year after pointless year.”
It’s time to end the slog. It’s time to end the longest war in American history. It’s past time to bring our troops home.
Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) is co-chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and president of Americans for Democratic Action.