President Barack Obama said it succinctly today: It is harder to end a war than to start one.
With that, the nation’s longest war now appears to be drawing to a close.
I’m glad about that.
The president’s critics were quick — as they have been all along — to blast him for setting a well-chronicled timetable for withdrawal. The United States, Obama said, will leave 9,800 troops in Afghanistan in an “advisory” capacity by the end of this year; we’ll draw down to that level from the current level of 30,000-plus.
Our combat role will end. Afghans will be responsible for their own country’s security. Our war effort will be over.
The critics say the timetable gives the Taliban time to plan, strategize and hit back hard at the Afghan government that seeks to cement its control.
That’s an interesting view, to which I have a single-word response: Vietnam.
President Nixon did not set a timetable for the “Vietnamization” effort he began shortly after taking office in 1969. But by the time he left office in August 1974, our combat role had diminished to near zero. Fewer than nine months later, in April 1975, the North Vietnamese communists had mustered enough firepower to overrun South Vietnam.
My point is this: With our without a timetable, the other side is going to keep fighting. The task, then, is to prepare our allies in power to defend themselves adequately against an enemy that’s been degraded significantly over the course of the past dozen years.
As the president noted, al-Qaida isn’t extinct. Its leadership has been decimated, Osama bin Laden has been eliminated, its organization has been scattered. Is it still operational? To a large degree, yes. Our forces, though, continue to hunt down and kill bad guys when and where we find them. That effort will — and should — continue.
It’s time to end this war.