Carroll County Times

Tom Harbold: Time to end state of perpetual war

President Barack Obama has raised a firestorm of controversy with his recent announcement that he plans to "bring America's longest war to a responsible end" by bringing 22,000 combat troops home from Afghanistan, ending the U.S. combat mission there by December of 2014.

That will leave a modest 9,800 service members in the country for 2015, and he plans to draw them down by half by the end of the next year. By the end of 2016, according to the blog, "the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan will draw down to a normal embassy presence in Kabul, along with a security assistance component, as we've done in Iraq."

"I think Americans have learned," the president aptly commented, "that it's harder to end wars than it is to begin them. Yet this is how wars end in the 21st century — not through signing ceremonies, but through decisive blows against our adversaries, transitions to elected governments, security forces who take the lead and ultimately full responsibility ... We have to recognize that Afghanistan will not be a perfect place, and it is not America's responsibility to make it one. The future of Afghanistan must be decided by Afghans."

The danger in this, of course, is that the Taliban and its allies, including al-Qaida, will simply bide their time and wait until we are gone, then come surging back, overthrow the legitimate government in Kabul and return Afghanistan to the state it was before we began this whole thing in 2001, leaving it for us to do all over again.

But that may be a chance we have to take. Americans — many of us, anyway — are tired of being on a perpetual war footing, a situation which leads to a progressive erosion of our rights and freedoms as Americans without necessarily materially increasing our security.

A constant state of war is also a constant drain on the national treasury, as the president appeared to acknowledge when he commented, "this new chapter in American foreign policy will allow us to redirect some of the resources saved by ending these wars to respond more nimbly to the changing threat of terrorism, while addressing a broader set of priorities around the globe."

Furthermore, the concern that by withdrawing from Afghanistan we open the door for the Taliban may be overblown. National security expert Peter Bergen has pointed out that the massive turnout for primary elections there indicates that Afghanistan's young democracy is robust and resilient, and that while the Afghan police may be riddled with corruption and enemy agents, the Afghan Army has proven itself competent and effective in operations against insurgents. The idea that they would simply roll over and let the Taliban back in, once the U.S. pulls out, may not be giving them enough credit.

Bergen also points to the president's comments in his commencement address at West Point that, "Just because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail." In other words, the new Obama doctrine would limit the use of American power to defending the nation's core interests, defined as "when our people are threatened, when our livelihood is at stake or when the security of our allies is in danger."

I am no fan of Obama, but even a stopped clock is right twice a day. In this case, I think the president is square on. It's time to end our state of perpetual war and get back on track promoting American values by peaceful means, unless actually and actively threatened. An eagle doesn't need to fight other birds all the time to prove that it's the baddest raptor in the sky. We should follow its example.