- The Washington Times - Monday, October 10, 2011

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

When the United States sent forces to Afghanistan a decade ago, few would have thought boots would still be on the ground by now. Early fears of a protracted ground war were swept away by a stunning, unconventional campaign that drove the Taliban from power in a few months. By the summer of 2002, an interim government had been set up; in 2003, a new constitution was written; and in 2004, the first election was held. In 2005, an ABC News poll showed that the Afghan approval rating for Americans was around 70 percent, and 80 percent of Afghans thought their country was moving in the right direction. In June 2005, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, San Francisco Democrat, declared, “The war in Afghanistan is over.”

Of course, Mrs. Pelosi was wrong. The United States had achieved most of what it set out to do in helping Afghans build a new government and begin to repair the damage caused by decades of war. But the strategic realities of Afghanistan, bordered by chaotic Pakistan and meddling Iran, guaranteed that conflict would continue. The outstanding issue is when the government in Kabul would be able to take over full responsibility for securing the country. So far, this hasn’t happened. When it does, the coalition will leave.

This extended war has proven that a country with a short attention span can fight a long war, but Americans are becoming impatient. Public approval of the war effort, variously measured, has not been strong for several years. Lately, it has sagged dramatically. Some attribute this to increasing U.S. casualties, which this year are on track to triple the level of 2008. Deaths in Afghanistan are nine times the number in 2004. The Obama administration’s Afghan surge didn’t work out as well as President George W. Bush’s effort. In Iraq, U.S. deaths peaked in 2007, the year the surge was implemented, and fell 95 percent by 2010.

These factors may play a role in public perceptions, but Americans are barely aware of the war in general, let alone how many troops are being killed. Others blame the war for contributing to America’s economic troubles, but this is an argument based on ignorance. According to the Center for Defense Information, the estimated cost of 10 years of war in Afghanistan is $455.4 billion. At an average of less than $50 billion a year, the war can hardly have played a greater role in the current hard times than, for example, the Obama administration’s almost trillion dollars of failed “stimulus” spending.

Policymakers have been reluctant to discuss what victory would look like in Afghanistan. This may be because if they don’t define what constitutes a “win,” they won’t be held responsible for a loss. The Obama administration originally said large-scale troop withdrawals would begin in 2011, but the drawdown deadline has been pushed back to 2014. “How long will this war go?” Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai asked. “Afghanistan can’t continue to suffer a war without end.” He said that three years ago.

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