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Opening Arguments

Vietnam redux

I generally agree with the critics of President Obama's "egg-timer strategy" in drawing down troops in Afghanistan:

The only thing that should inform the decision are conditions on the ground: The capacity of the Taliban to wage war and the capabilities of the Afghan national security forces to wage war right back at them.

The arbitrary timetable gives away that fact that Mr Obama's only concern is for his domestic audience. With a presidential election in 2016, the only way he can make good on his promise to bring back American troops is to fly them home without regard for Afghanistan's needs, hopes and fears.

The only way to end a war is to achieve the nation's objectives and meet the goals set out. The fact that an arbitrary timetable is being set is, in fact, an admission that there really are no goals or objectives. That being the case, the best thing to do would be just to pull out everybody right now.

To be fair to the president, he is commander in chief in a war the mission of which has changed and the support for which has eroded. It's hard not to draw a parallel with Vietnam. Both wars started out with huge popular support (people tend to forget that about both wars but especiallly about Vietnam), and support faded for each as the struggle wore on. And both spilled over into a new administration that at first escalated the wars and then tried to find a way to end them. Obama's "responsible end" to the war is awfully similar to Richard Nixon's "peace with honor."

The original point of Afghanistan was to send the message that we take terrorism seriously and terrorists have no place to hide -- anybody who helps them is also our enemy. But there is always mission creep, and in this case we got into the nation-building business, which is a dicey proposition. The "needs, hops and fears" of Afghanistan are really Afghanistan's business. If we worried about the needs, hopes and fears of the whole world -- well, you know that drill.

Once again we're sending the message to friend and foe alike that we're capable of starting something we can't or won't finish. War should never be entered lightly, and "Oops, sorry, didn't really mean it" is a really, really bad habit to be in.