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Hoist By Their Own Words

Author: Leslie H. Gelb, President Emeritus and Board Senior Fellow
February 26, 2011
The Daily Beast


After last Friday, it's fair to conclude that further major U.S. combat in Afghanistan makes no sense. Case in point: The U.S. military announcement carried in Friday's New York Times and Washington Post that American troops were withdrawing from an obscure valley it once termed "central" to the war effort. Vital yesterday, not today. Is it possible for anyone to figure out how to fight this war? Second case in point: Remarks on Friday to West Point cadets by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, including this bon mot: "In my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined,' as General MacArthur so delicately put it." Folks, he was referring to Libya, Iraq, and Afghanistan. So, if it doesn't make sense to fight in Afghanistan tomorrow, why do it now? Though Gates said little more about Afghanistan, this quote alone about future military sanity should occasion serious debate about this long war.

The news stories contain virtually equal dynamite, but have been obscured by the scary Middle East upheavals—and they have to be read as carefully as they were written. The Times story opened deadpan, pointing out that U.S. commanders in Afghanistan are taking troops out of the Pech valley in eastern Afghanistan not far from the border with Pakistan—a location they once termed "central" to the war effort. Now, apparently, it was no longer "central" or "vital." Now, despite the many lives and limbs lost in years of fierce battle there, it was no longer strategically worth continued American losses. It once was; it isn't now. May those who fell there rest in peace.

Now, the commanders determined, U.S. troops in that desolate place would better serve the overall campaign elsewhere—protecting population areas instead of defending against remote Taliban operations.

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