So I was thinking today about the end of war in Iraq, late last year. It's been a couple of months since the last American troops (more or less) came home. The Republicans running for president couldn't imagine a world without American boots in the sand of this oil-rich nation. (Mitt Romney, for one, called it "an astounding failure.")
And as you'd expect in that unstable corner of the world, the transition has been a bumpy one. There have been some car bombings and other acts of violence -- just as there were at times when U.S. troops were stationed there. But so far the results have not been terrible. No longer are our soldiers in a foreign land, doing good deeds much of their time but stirring up anti-American sentiment on bad days. And the idea of democracy in Iraq is out of the nest, where it can learn to fly on its own. These are good things.
I had Iraq on the brain because of this unspeakable act that took place in Afghanistan:
PANJWAI, Afghanistan — Stalking from home to home, a United States Army sergeant methodically killed at least 16 civilians, 9 of them children, in a rural stretch of southern Afghanistan early Sunday, igniting fears of a new wave of anti-American hostility, Afghan and American officials said.
Residents of three villages in the Panjwai district of Kandahar Province described a terrifying string of attacks in which the soldier, who had walked more than a mile from his base, tried door after door, eventually breaking in to kill within three separate houses. At the first, the man gathered 11 bodies, including those of four girls younger than 6, and set fire to them, villagers said.
Coming after a period of deepening public outrage, spurred by the Koran burning by American personnel last month and an earlier video showing American Marines urinating on dead militants, the apparently unprovoked killings added to a feeling of siege here among Western personnel. And officials described a growing sense of concern over a cascading series of missteps and offenses that has cast doubt on the ability of NATO personnel to carry out their mission and has left troops and trainers increasingly vulnerable to violence by Afghans seeking revenge.
There is a lot with which I strongly disagree with GOP candidate Ron Paul -- his racist past and his often whacked-out present. But Paul is exactly right about one thing: It's time to end the war in Afghanistan, with as much deliberate speed as possible. These senseless killings are the punctuation mark on what's become increasingly clear in recent months -- the long-term presence of U.S. and other Western troops in Afghanistan is creating a new generation of America-hating enemies, which in turn is a danger not just to America's interests abroad but to you and me, thanks to the increased risk of terrorism.
Remember, most Americans -- including most liberals, including me -- supported U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan because 1) Afghanistan trained and harbored terrorists who attacked America on 9/11 2) it was the only way to bring the mastermind of those attacks, Osama bin Laden, to justice -- and since we were there for 1) and 2) we could 3) help them rebuild their nation as a democracy. Mission 1) was accomplished in a short period of time and Mission 2) probably could have happened sooner had we not diverted our attention, unnecessarily, to Iraq. As for Mission 3) the results have been disappointing on several fronts -- corruption and women's rights, to name two -- but a somewhat democratic regime has stayed in place for nearly a decade. It's the perfect time to try to see if that democracy will sink or swim. Just as we were -- eventually -- bold enough to try in Iraq.
All things end. It was 2001 when we entered Afghanistan. T.O. was a 49er and Jim Thome was a Cleveland Indian, Barack Obama was an obscure state legislator and Lana Del Rey was a kid named Lizzy Grant. If this is the wrong time to leave Afghanistan, when is the right time? 2022? Never?
I haven't blogged much over the last seven years about allegations of American war crimes in Iraq or Afghanistan. That's because although I think the alleged perpetrators should face the consequences of their actions, those actions are ultimately symptoms of a broader disease -- a disease called war, And the ultimate blame lies with the leaders who've kept them there for far too long. The best way to stop these kind of incidents, and the anti-American hatred they engender, is for those leaders to stop the war.
And the right time is right now.