President Obama has lost Afghanistan. The war is turning into a catastrophic defeat - one that will be worse than Vietnam. It is time to bring the troops home, and end this national nightmare.
Recently, the Taliban launched a major spring offensive. Insurgents targeted Kabul and three other cities. They were rebuffed by allied troops and the Afghan army. But the Taliban were able to infiltrate security zones that were supposed to be impenetrable. Their coordinated attacks were a military failure. Diplomatically and psychologically, however, they were devastating. For months, American commanders have claimed that the Taliban are in retreat, and that Afghans are successfully building up their police and security forces. Mr. Obama vowed "the tide of war is receding."
This is false. Afghanistan has become a protracted military quagmire. It is the longest war in U.S. history. America is being bled white. Nearly 2,000 U.S. soldiers have been killed with thousands more maimed and crippled. The war has cost close to $500 billion - and counting. We have come to be reviled in large parts of that country, seen as an invading army. Most Americans no longer support the war. Why should they? Al Qaeda has been smashed. Osama bin Laden is dead. The country is fracturing along tribal lines. The government in Kabul is weak, venal and corrupt. President Hamid Karzai is an ingrate, who routinely chastises U.S. forces and urges the quickest withdrawal possible.
Mr. Obama said that Afghanistan, unlike the Iraq campaign, was the "necessary war." It had to be won - at all costs. Hence, he implemented a massive troop surge. The administration believed that more soldiers and a better counter-insurgency strategy was the key to victory. Yet, the policy was doomed to fail for one reason: Nation-building cannot succeed there.
Afghanistan is one of the most primitive and impoverished countries on Earth. It is the graveyard of empires. Imperial Britain, Soviet Russia - they suffered major defeats due to fierce indigenous resistance. Afghanistan's history is plagued by ceaseless warfare and violent ethnic conflict. To think that this cursed land can be transformed into the Switzerland of South Asia - and to do it sacrificing precious American blood and treasure - is the height of imperial arrogance.
Moreover, Afghanistan has revealed another lesson: Liberalism has made America unable to win a challenging war. Policymakers are obsessed with international opinion and appeasing local sensitivities. The goal of victory has been trumped by multiculturalism. U.S. soldiers have been fighting under strict rules of engagement, enabling the Taliban to hide in civilian-populated areas with impunity. American military leaders regularly apologize - almost grovel - for behavior common in every major war. Four U.S. troops urinated on dead Taliban bodies. Copies of the Koran were inadvertently burned at a U.S. base. The latest scandal involves U.S. soldiers posing for pictures with the body parts of dead suicide bombers. Our leaders do all they can to immediately placate the enemy.
"This is not who we are, and it's certainly not who we represent when it comes to the great majority of men and women in uniform who are serving there," said Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta.
Really? Tell that to the "Greatest Generation," which crushed Nazi Germany and fascist Japan. American forces used flame throwers to smoke out Japanese kamikaze fighters hiding in caves. Many were burned alive; others were severely disfigured. As retired Lt. Col. Ralph Peters has pointed out, many GIs sent Japanese skulls as war gifts to their girlfriends or wives back home. Also, America carpet-bombed Dresden, killing thousands of German civilians. Had we applied today's rules of engagement to World War II, Hitler and Tojo would never have been defeated.
This begs the question: If Mr. Obama did not have a plan for victory, then why the troop surge? The answer is obvious - and damning: It was a cynical attempt to appear tough on national security. He wanted to protect his right flank from GOP charges that he is too soft in dealing with foreign affairs. In the face of growing anti-war opposition within his own party and the larger public, he cut the troops loose. He ordered the premature withdrawal of the 30,000 surge troops to be completed by this fall - conveniently, just before the election. The 90,000 military personnel still remaining do not have the resources or manpower to pacify the country. They cannot even properly defend themselves from the resurgent Taliban. Mr. Obama has deliberately squandered American lives in a futile effort with no possibility of success. He cannot even bring himself to defend a war - and a surge - that he now bears sole responsibility for. This is not statesmanship, but cowardice.
America's defeat is inevitable. Unlike Vietnam, the consequences will be more far-reaching and costly. Radical Islam will have triumphed over the "Great Satan," demonstrating to the Muslim world that America lacks the will and sense of purpose to win a prolonged land war. We will be exposed as a paper tiger. Afghanistan will again become a sanctuary for jihadists; Islamic militants will be even more emboldened across the Middle East and North Africa. It will mark the United States' long, humiliating retreat from the region - the end of the American superpower. The wars of the past decade have led to imperial overstretch, military exhaustion and national bankruptcy.
The tragic result is that Americans will continue to die for a cause their commander in chief does not believe in and which they cannot win. This is why all of them should be brought home immediately. Mr. Obama's re-election is not worth dying for.
Jeffrey T. Kuhner is a columnist at The Washington Times and president of the Edmund Burke Institute.
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