It’s not surprising that an isolated incident in Benghazi, Libya, took up a significant chunk of the 2nd Presidential debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, while the war in Afghanistan, now in its twelfth year, was ignored. It shouldn’t have been, but although the war is mostly lost, it is even more important to dissect the reasons for that failure, in detail, and it’s a tragedy that American voters aren’t demanding that the political class be held accountable for it.
Since 2009 polls show that Americans have turned sharply against the war, with two-thirds to three-fourths of respondents opining that war isn’t worth fighting. Although the war has long been considered unwinnable by many foreign policy experts, American voters now seem to have reached the same conclusion. President Obama’s decision to wind down the war by next year, and to withdraw all U.S. forces in 2014, isn’t controversial. But 2,000 Americans, and tens of thousands of Afghans, are dead – yet that war-battered country is arguably no closer to peace and stability than it was at the end of 2001, weeks after the U.S. invasion.
In the past, Romney has expressed some important differences with the president on Afghanistan. He’s said that he’d never talk to or negotiate with the Taliban, and he’s criticized Obama for drawing down too quickly the 30,000-plus troops that were deployed in the 2009 “surge” that Obama ordered. During the Republican primary season, Romney said repeatedly that he’d reconsider withdrawing U.S. forces depending on conditions on the ground, and on the advice of the generals.
But, lately, Romney has pretty much thrown in the towel, declaring his support for the president’s timetable. And when, in the vice presidential debate last week, Paul Ryan, Romney’s running mate, halfheartedly tried to revive the conditions-on-the-ground argument, Vice President Joe Biden slammed the door. “[W]e are leaving,” said Biden. “We are leaving in 2014. Period. And in the process, we’re going to be saving over the next 10 years another $800 billion. We’ve been in this war for over a decade. The primary objective is almost completed. Now, all we’re doing is putting the Kabul government in a position to be able to maintain their own security. It’s their responsibility, not America’s.”
In stunning, lengthy editorial entitled “Time to Pack Up” on October 13, the New York Times reversed its long-held, stay-the-course view on Afghanistan. “Americans are desperate to see the war end and the 68,000 remaining troops come home,” said the editors. The editorial began with a ringing declaration of failure: