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Mr. President, Bring the Troops Home

Mr. President, Bring the Troops Home

By Ed Koch - November 18, 2009

If General Stanley McChrystal's request of President Obama for 40,000 additional troops for Afghanistan is to be met, the cost would be $40 billion to $54 billion a year, according to an internal government estimate published by The New York Times on November 15. The General originally requested 80,000 additional troops.

The Times reports, "The rough formula used by the White House, of about $1 million per soldier a year, appears almost constant." The same Times article quotes Congressman John Murtha (D-PA), chairman of a subcommittee on defense appropriations, as saying that "total spending on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars would surge past $1 trillion next year, which could hamper the economy for years to come."

It is almost a foregone conclusion that the president will not authorize the 40,000 soldiers requested, but in all probability, he will authorize a smaller number. Any increase, as opposed to embarking upon an immediate exit strategy, would be a grave error.

As of October 15, a plurality of Americans oppose the Afghanistan war, and for good reason. In Afghanistan, we are propping up a corrupt administration where everything is for sale, and the government is mired in the drug trade.

Furthermore, the Karzai government is incompetent. Despite years of training by U.S. forces, the Karzai regime's army has no control over the country. The Taliban currently controls much of Afghanistan, with President Karzai's authority existing primarily in the capital of Kabul. Apparently the Karzai government, with the support of the U.S., is seeking to negotiate with the so-called "moderate" Taliban supporters and possibly bring them into the government.

President Obama has rightly decided to take his time to explore all options. This is the moment he should take to examine the option of withdrawing from Afghanistan simultaneously with our scheduled withdrawal from Iraq. It was John McCain who during the presidential campaign suggested that we could be in Iraq for another 50 years or more, an unwise statement to which candidate Obama strongly objected. It was the Iraqi government which compelled the U.S. to agree to withdraw no later than December 31, 2011, and possibly before that date. It is the U.S. Army that is giving consideration to beginning the withdrawal from Iraq in January of next year. Why not apply that same schedule to Afghanistan?

Some would say that the Taliban will be back in Kabul were we to withdraw by the beginning of next year. They probably will even though the Karzai army is almost 200,000 strong, and the Taliban numbers are far fewer. The difference is that members of the Taliban are motivated by religion, and the soldiers of the Afghan government are not motivated to defend their civil central government. The Afghan army and Afghan police are universally perceived as grossly corrupt. Should our young men die or suffer serious injuries to protect a society unwilling and unable to defend itself?

If our army were comprised of draftees instead of volunteers, we would have already seen massive marches in the streets calling on the president to bring our soldiers home as was the case in the late 60s and 70s. I believe that while our country on the domestic front in the congressional election next year will concentrate on the need for jobs, the public will also be marching to end the war and bring our troops home.

Bringing the troops home does not mean the terrorists have won. The focus of our efforts should be the tribal areas of Pakistan where the Taliban and Al-Qaeda are entrenched and allegedly receive aid and comfort from parts of the Pakistan army and its intelligent services. The terrorists undoubtedly hope ultimately to cause the Pakistan government to fall. We now use drones and special forces to pursue the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Pakistan. We can continue to pursue those terrorists in both Pakistan and Afghanistan from offshore ships and missile launchers.

I believe that next year's election will be decided on what each party proposes to do in Afghanistan. If we Democrats expect to win, we will have to convince the public that we intend to bring our troops home. If President Obama wants to pursue his expensive and expansive domestic programs, he will need to enhance his majorities or at least minimize the normal biennial congressional losses. I urge him to signal his intention to bring our troops home soon. There isn't much time left to demonstrate leadership and not appear to be dragged along. The marches will soon begin.

Ed Koch is the former Mayor of New York City.

Copyright 2009, Washington Post Writers Group

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