USA 13 December 2013. With 196 nations in the world and U.S. troops already in at least 177 of them, there aren't all that many available to make war against. Yet it looks like both Syria and Iran will be spared any major Western assault for the moment. Could this become a trend? Is peace on the horizon? Are celebrations of Nelson Mandela's nonviolence sincere?
The glitch in this optimistic little photo-shopped storyline starts with an A and rhymes with Shmafghanistan.
The U.S. public has been telling pollsters we want all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan "as soon as possible" for years now. We're spending $10 million per hour, and $81 billion in the new annual budget, on an operation that many top officials and experts have said generates hostility toward our country. The chief cause of death for U.S. troops in this operation is suicide.
And now, at long last, we have an important (and usually quite corrupt) politician on our side, responding to public pressure and ready -- after 12 years -- to shut down Operation Enduring ... and Enduring and Enduring.
Oddly, this politician's name is not President Barack Obama. When Obama became president, there were 32,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. He escalated to over 100,000 troops, plus contractors. Now there are 47,000 troops these five years later. Measured in financial cost, or death and destruction, Afghanistan is more President Obama's war than President Bush's. Now the White House is trying to keep troops in Afghanistan until "2024 and beyond."
Sadly, the politician who has taken our side is not in Washington at all. There are a few Congress Members asking for a vote, but most of their colleagues are silent. When Congress faced the question of missiles into Syria, and the question was front-and-center on our televisions, the public spoke clearly. Members of both parties, in both houses of Congress, said they heard from more people, more passionately, and more one-sidedly than ever before.
But on the question of another decade "and beyond" in Afghanistan, the question has not been presented to Congress or the public, and we haven't yet found the strength to raise it ourselves. Yet someone has managed to place himself on our side, namely Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Like the Iraqi government before him, Karzai is refusing to agree to an ongoing occupation with U.S. forces immune from prosecution under Afghan laws. Before signing off on an ongoing military presence, Karzai says he would like the U.S. to stop killing civilians and stop kicking in people's doors at night. He'd like the U.S. to engage in peace negotiations. He'd like Afghan prisoners freed from Guantanamo. (Of the 17 still there, 4 have long since been cleared for release but not released; none has been convicted of any crime.) And he'd like the U.S. not to sabotage the April 2014 Afghan elections.
Whatever we think of Karzai's legacy -- my own appraisal is unprintable -- these are remarkably reasonable demands. And at least as far as U.S. public opinion goes, here at long last is a post-invasion ruler actually engaged in spreading democracy.
What about the Afghans? Should we "abandon" them? We told pollsters we wanted to send aid to Syria, not missiles. Humanitarian aid to Afghanistan -- or to the entire world, for that matter, including our own country -- would cost a fraction of what we spend on wars and war preparations (51.4% of the new federal budget), and could quite easily make us the most beloved nation on earth. I bet we'd favor that course of action if we were asked -- or if we manage to both raise the question and answer it.