As we know, in Vietnam, the U.S. Government never took the advice to declare victory and get out. Of course, I suppose that there were few people who ever really thought they would do that. Instead, the fear of losing face kept us there year after year until, when we finally did leave, there was no hiding the fact that we did so in defeat, even if that was never declared.
Today, this all reads like a matter of dates in a history book, but in real life it meant that a lot of Americans – and a lot more Vietnamese – didn’t have a real life any longer. So when we now see a face saving opportunity to get out of Afghanistan with a declaration of victory, which the death of Osama bin-Laden presents to President Obama, we should move heaven and earth to see that he takes it.
For some time now, it’s been obvious to anyone not caught up in the ten-year old War on Terror rhetoric that it no longer made sense to pursue the Afghanistan War – if it ever did. (I don’t think it did, but we can argue about that later.) Officially we invaded the country because the Taliban would not agree to turn bin-Laden over to the U.S. – if they ever got him in their custody – but only to the government of another Islamic country. That wasn’t good enough, so we set out to overthrow the Taliban and eliminate the al Qaeda forces in their country.
Nowadays, although the U.S. quickly drove the Taliban from power, no one any longer seriously talks about eliminating them from Afghanistan’s future. The only question is how large their role will be. And, with each day of war that passes, their credentials as liberators are burnished. Of course, negotiating with them in the future really shouldn’t prove very hard. After all, we once armed the proto-Taliban to fight the Soviet Union – we do speak their language. So why aren’t we doing that talking now? Same reason as in Vietnam: No president wants to admit that the mission was not accomplished. And when we set upon the course of occupying the country we sealed our fate on that score.
Mr. President, they say you’re a smart man. You know that Hamburg, Germany was probably as important a location as Afghanistan in the planning of 9/11, yet no one thinks you fight terrorism by invading Germany. You should know that this war makes no sense. And I’ve got to think that down deep you feel a little guilty about getting that Nobel Peace Prize. So earn it. The death of Osama bin-Laden has given you the opportunity of your political life. Take it. Get out of Afghanistan now, at last.