Time to withdraw our troops from Afghanistan already

President Bush's recent comments that the U.S. should maintain its presence in Afghanistan are both expected and tiresome.

The U.S. has now had troops halfway around the world in a distant land for nearly twenty years.  This has become our nation's Forever War, reminiscent of the sci-fi novel of the same name.  Written in 1974, the book chronicles a meaningless and futile war that has negative, generational impacts.  Reality has begun to mimic fiction as several generations of military service members have been impacted by the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan.  Just think: there are some military members who will complete an entire twenty-year career, eligible for retirement, having focused their entire career (training and deployments) on a single conflict.  There are now service members who weren't even born when the 9-11 attacks occurred, yet now they're old enough to serve in harm's way and fight a conflict initiated by a president they never voted for.  Simply astounding.  And in that time, what measurable and long-lasting goals have we achieved?

We must ask ourselves collectively, what is our ongoing purpose in Afghanistan if we are to remain, as President Bush suggests?  Is it to maintain security, quality of life, or women's rights?  Yes, these are important concerns, and we shouldn't turn a blind eye to the suffering of any people.  But is it the business of the U.S. military to do this on behalf of Afghans?  Arguably, no.  This line of work is more in line with the diplomatic aims of the Department of State, the charitable efforts of international NGOs, and the Afghans themselves.

We must also remind ourselves that our military is meant to protect our nation, our people, our borders, not to police the world as we've done for decades.

Despite this, by President Bush's own admission, he wants the U.S. military to secure women's rights as a primary military objective.  Bush essentially concedes that the troops aren't protecting the U.S. from an imminent threat; rather, they are fighting a social and cultural war.  This strategy seems ill-advised.

The U.S. could spend money, rather than blood, supporting Department of State efforts and international NGOs that address basic life necessities, rather than trying to fundamentally alter the Afghan culture.  Culture is buried deep, difficult to change, let alone from an outside entity, and especially one that's thought of as a military invader.  The Soviets tried this in the '80s, and look where it got them.

Although I never served in Afghanistan, as a veteran who has served and talked with people who did deploy to Afghanistan, I was always surprised by the reoccurring theme of their comments.  Without prompting or cajoling, the conversation always seemed to come back to the idea (or at least the feeling they had) that Afghans didn't seem to care much about their life circumstances or value life in the same way we do.  They especially didn't desire significant change to their society or way of life, or at least not from military troops with whom they had little in common culturally.  Perhaps we should consider that what the Afghans want isn't necessarily what we are offering.

The U.S. military can be a force for good without applying its might — i.e., peace through strength.  I'm a firm believer in this tenet.  By preserving our military force for the most drastic of circumstances, where combat and use of force lead to the death and destruction of enemies who mean to hurt our own citizens, we can deter major aggression worldwide.  Think of Teddy Roosevelt's use of the adage "speak softly and carry a big stick."

It's time to redirect the military's efforts away from social and cultural battles and refocus on effective training and preparation to address rising threats such as China and recapitalize technology that will allow for the flexibility to attack terrorists wherever they may emerge.  It's also time for the U.S. to further utilize diplomatic and charitable channels to address social concerns around the world — ultimately, allowing sovereign nations to partner with non-military entities to help them make choices and apply support that best fits their culture, society, and overall needs.

Sorry, President Bush, but it's time to bring our troops home.  Our country is both battle-fatigued and increasingly ambivalent to a people halfway around the world who seem to care little for their own future.  Let's let the Afghans make their own choices — we should no longer be their military overseers.

Image via Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain.

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