The United States now enters its 10th year of war in Afghanistan, longer than U.S. involvement in World War I and World War II combined. The cost to U.S. taxpayers is $120 billion a year, at a time when the country has deep needs at home.
The U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan has gone from 5,000 in the year after the October 2001 ouster of the Taliban to 37,000 when President Barack Obama came into office in January 2009. He has steadily increased the U.S. presence and today roughly 100,000 U.S. troops are in Afghanistan.
Now, as we come to the latest strategic review, it is abundantly clear that the president and his team have done little to rethink the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan. He plans to start withdrawing troops in July, with pullout by December 2014.
More of the same.
His review did say that in 2011 "we will intensify our regional diplomacy to enable a political process to promote peace and stability in Afghanistan." That's the right approach, but it is vague and comes almost as an afterthought.
And the death Monday of Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan who was the strongest and most skilled advocate of that approach, makes that essential task all the more daunting.
Holbrooke, who brokered the Dayton accords that ended the Bosnia conflict, understood the vital importance of diplomacy in ending conflicts. Specifically, as Joel Klein of Time magazine writes, Holbrooke understood that "equilibrium could only be reached in Afghanistan if the Pakistanis and Indians established better relations, and stopped seeing Afghanistan as a strategic prize."
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