We must accept the lessons we should have learned in Vietnam and Iraq; i.e. there are limits to power, see Andrew Bacevich, "The Limits of Power."
Our ill-conceived invasion of Iraq is a case in point. We have destroyed the electric grid, the water supply, their schools, their medical facilities but, worst of all, their neighborhoods. We have destroyed the communal fabric of Iraq.
We will be leaving it in total disarray. Like Humpty Dumpty, we cannot put it together again. It will take years, decades or more, and they will have to do it.
Our goal in Afghanistan is to disable al-Qaida, which currently is using Afghanistan — and Pakistan — as a headquarters and training area. A military pursuit of al-Qaida is like hunting a gnat with a sledgehammer. Every bomb we drop, every civilian we kill, however accidental, creates new enemies who become new al-Qaida recruits. The very presence of our troops is a recruiting tool. And our troops are easy targets. We must not lose sight of this goal and stray into nation building. Nation building is militarily unfeasible and, when attempted, has proven a very expensive failure.
Afghanistan is a large country with a weak central government. The questionable legitimacy of the recent election highlights the huge problems that lie ahead for the people of Afghanistan if they want strong central government. This is a question the Afghans must decide for themselves. Their decisions and the price of those decisions must be theirs. Tribal loyalties are still very much a factor. A stable government will take many years into the future and foreign interventions are not helpful.
We need to begin an orderly withdrawal of our troops. Any aid we offer must be civilian with no military strings of any sort. Our main thrust against al-Qaida should continue to be the cooperative worldwide search through the banking systems identifying banks, individuals and countries who are giving financial support to this radical group. Our diplomatic attention and cooperation should focus on Pakistan.
According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies’ 2008 analysis, the U.S. defense budget accounts for nearly half of what the whole world spends on defense. We need to change our priorities. Let’s bring our troops home and invest in our country’s welfare. Universal health care with a public option will give us a good return on our investment — a healthier and more secure populace and a more peaceful foreign policy. Peace is not a static state but a way of living.