| ||Messy Afghanistan War heads for uncertain ending|
USA Today, Editorial
[Printer Friendly Version]
It's official. The United States and its war weary NATO allies are pulling out of Afghanistan — win, lose or draw. A year from now, primary combat responsibilities will belong to the Afghan army, and by the end of 2014 America's longest war will end, 13 years after it began, save perhaps for a small residual force.
This will happen even if the Taliban is recovering from its losses of the last year. And it will happen whether or not Afghanistan's rapidly expanding but still undertrained military is ready. The timetable is "irreversible," NATO proclaimed Monday.
President Obama and other leaders tried, not very successfully, to paint a pretty face on their plan. But the hard fact is that the Afghanistan conflict will go into the history books in much the same way that every major war since World War II has: an unsatisfying, incomplete mess.
There's no mystery about the reasons, and no shortage of blame to spread around.
Most editorials are accompanied by an opposing view — a unique USA TODAY feature that allows readers to reach conclusions based on both sides of an argument rather than just the Editorial Board's point of view.
By the time Obama came to office — proclaiming Afghanistan to be a "war of necessity" — it was already beginning to look like a quagmire. A year later, Obama concluded as much. According to an extraordinarily detailed account in The New York Times, he cut the military out of the decision-making, narrowed the war's objectives and committed to a rapid pullout on a fixed timetable, even as he announced a surge of U.S. forces.
Timetables and plans without generals are no way to win a war. But 13 years also is too long to fight one. With Americans and Afghans both turning against the war, a clear-cut victory is no more attainable than it was in Vietnam, Korea or Iraq.
In that light, Obama's decision is encouraging. It is the latest signal of his conclusion that the nation is ill-served by massive, optional ground wars. That's why there were no troops on the ground in Libya and why there are unlikely to be any in Syria.
There will instead be financial support for Afghanistan, without which the government would collapse, and a sharp focus on al-Qaeda, which continues to pose a threat to the United States.
That's hardly a happy ending, but given the poor options, it might turn out to be a smart one — particularly if the United States finally learns to fight wars only as a last resort and then only with precise objectives and overwhelming force.