In 2001, shortly after 9/11, the invasion of Afghanistan was beyond debate. It was home to Al-Qaida, the international terrorist organization that conducted the 9/11 attacks, and the Taliban, the extreme muslim regime that ruled the country, was an al-Qaida ally and host.
After essentially destroying al-Qaida, we stayed in Afghanistan primarily to help establish a less extreme central government.
Today, that mission seems not only impossible but unwelcome. This is a nation that has always been dominated by tribal governments. No central authority has ever prevailed, and it seems more and more unlikely the United States and NATO will be the first to succeed.
Events of the past few weeks have further undermined that possibility. The burning last month of some copies of the Koran by U.S. troops and subsequent attacks by Muslim zealots that took a half dozen American lives was followed by a rampage by a U.S. Army staff sergeant that left 16 Afghanis dead, including nine children. Reprisals are a certainty.
While no nation can base its foreign policy on just a couple incidents, the Koran burning and the late-night assault on local villagers has exposed the crumbling and outdated basis on which our continued presence in Afghanistan rests.
Our role is, ostensibly, to give the Afghan government time and the Afghan army the training it will take for it to stand on its own.
But it has become clear that the goal of creating a capable armed force loyal to the central government is a pipe dream.
Right now, the United States has just under 90,000 troops in Afghanistan; 22,000 are due home by September. President Obama has the draw down would continue "at a steady pace" until the U.S. hands over security to Afghan forces in 2014.
But there is talk of speeding the process. One option calls for bringing 10,000 more troops home by the end of December, and then 10,000 to 20,000 more by June 2013; another is to withdraw the bulk of our troops when the mission shifts to a support role; a third — favored by military leaders — is to make cuts — if any — at the end of 2013.
Those options, however, don't seem any more likely to create a strong central government than the past 10 years of effort.
It is time to re-evaluate what we're doing there and why, and be ready to admit that it's time to go home.
Further incidents like the Koran burning, the reprisals and the 16 civilian dead just serve as Taliban recruitment tools.