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Why wait to exit Afghanistan?

President Barack Obamaddresses troops May 2 Bagram Air Field Afghanistan.  |  Charles Dharapak~AP

President Barack Obama addresses troops May 2 at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan. | Charles Dharapak~AP

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Updated: July 2, 2012 8:04AM

The good news out of Afghanistan is that disease has blighted the opium poppy fields, depriving the Taliban of a vital source of revenue. The bad news out of Afghanistan is that disease has blighted the poppy fields, so devastating to poor farmers that it may drive hordes of them into the insurgency.

That paradoxical development crystallizes the seemingly endless futility of the Afghan war.

The military reports that Taliban attacks are down this year — but there’s been an alarming increase in NATO casualties coming from “green on blue” attacks, coalition troops being killed by Afghan security forces, our allies.

President Barack Obama traveled to Afghanistan to declare that “we broke the Taliban’s momentum” and that the “tide had turned.” Days later the heads of Congress’ intelligence committees — Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) — returned from the war zone to report that “the Taliban is stronger.”

At the NATO Summit, Obama proclaimed to Afghan President Hamid Karzai that a “transformational decade” lies ahead for Afghanistan. Behind the scenes, according to the New York Times, the president has concluded that Karzai is corrupt and unreliable, and Obama has ordered that U.S. combat operations will end in the summer of 2013 whether the Afghan military can secure the country or not. Also, reports the Times, the administration has reduced its goals to the level of “good enough for Afghanistan.”

“Good enough for Afghanistan” — is that a cause worth another American life? Why wait until the summer of 2013 to end the U.S. combat mission? What’s wrong with this summer? Or tomorrow? I understand that would be seen as “rushing to the exits.” But what is telling the Taliban that we’re leaving next year anything other than a slow walk to the exits?

I understand that a quick pullout might jeopardize the gains made at great cost. But if Feinstein and Rogers are right, the Taliban are just waiting us out. That was always the flaw in Obama’s surge-with-a-withdrawal-timetable strategy. Now that flaw appears to be reality.

Presumptive Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney can complain about the strategy all he wants, but he hasn’t advanced a credible alternative. He would be better off planning for the reality he would face if he were elected in November.

Pakistan, increasingly radical Islamist and nuclear armed, is deemed by the White House a bigger threat in the region. Pakistan has proved to be an uncertain ally. But how will more Americans dying in remote areas of Afghanistan change that? Better to bolster our relationship with Pakistan’s rival, India, a natural U.S. ally as the world’s largest democracy.

Amnesty International called on Obama to stay the course to safeguard the gains made in women’s rights in Afghanistan. That’s a legitimate worry. But I don’t hear Amnesty banging the drums urging its members to flock to recruiting stations to volunteer for Afghanistan. Maybe this is a time for the United Nations to prove its worth by sending peace-keeper troops from all member nations to Afghanistan to secure the progress made for women and girls.

The bottom line is we shouldn’t ask brave U.S. troops to put their lives on the line when it appears the administration has already written off Afghanistan.

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