Monday, May 2, 2011

Declare Victory and Go Home

The United States is buzzing this morning with the news that her greatest enemy, Osama bin Laden, is dead. American commandos executed a daring helicopter raid in an urban area, killed bin Laden, three other militants, and a woman who was used as a human shield. They took bin Laden's body away, dumped it in the ocean, and radioed home: Mission Accomplished.

President Obama needs to give another speech within the month, in which he tells America and the world, "Mission Accomplished". Under President Bush, America invaded Afghanistan, and encroached upon Pakistan, in order to find Osama bin Laden and punish the Taliban for protecting him. Both of those goals have been met. The ancillary objectives - that the Afghan people would erect a functional, representative government, that Pakistan would root out Islamist militants - are nice hopes, but after nine and a half years, they are unlikely to be advanced any further by the presence of American soldiers and spooks.

Mr. Obama, bring the troops home. They did their jobs. They did not complain, and they served and fought in one of the world's least hospitable climates, or died trying.

The Arab world is at a historic turning point, and the presence of active American soldiers in their region is a stumbling block to the ascendance of pro-Western parties from the revolutions in Yemen, Libya, Syria, Egypt, Tunisia, Lebanon, and Palestine. America's presence in Iraq and Afghanistan is one of the motivations for those who would replace authoritarian thugs with totalitarian ones. Mute them by leaving the region, and allow the Arabs to focus on the true source of their malaise: corruption and unrepresentative government.

Pakistan also hangs in the balance, and has endured deep shame for allowing a power from the other side of the world to trample on her borders and control her skies. Thank Pakistan profusely, build them a world class library or park or something in Abbottabad, and get out. Get the CIA out, get the drones out, get the hell out. Give the Pakistanis closure, and let them mind their own house. Maybe they'll do a better job fighting militants when those militants are killing them instead of killing us.

This moment will not recur. There is no other clear objective remaining in the Pakistan/Afghanistan region. There is no sign, unlike in Iraq, that the potential for a stable, representative government exists. There is no Taliban force left that is worthy of being beaten on a battlefield. No other landmark moment will arise which can be plausibly - let alone correctly - called victory. If we do not leave now, we will not be able to leave with our heads high in the next twenty years. Delay is death; do it now.

What's more, Mr. Obama, victory and departure make great politics. Hawkish types are still grinning from the death of bin Laden. You can leave now without offending their sense of honor. Doves, who were so important to your election, are distraught that you doubled down on the Afghan War (so is the Norwegian Nobel Committee). Allow them to vote for you in 2012 with cleaner consciences. You can also unsubtly remind people that you did two things Mr. Bush couldn't: kill Osama and end the war. "I finished the job in Afghanistan"; the election talking point writes itself. "And I reduced the annual deficit by $117 billion." That's a nice touch as well.

Lastly, do you really expect to gain anything from remaining in Afghanistan? There is no imminent threat to the U.S. emanating from that region, and withdrawal makes it much less likely that America suffers a catastrophic loss or major terrorist attack.

You have achieved your victory, Mr. Obama. Now enjoy its fruits.

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