Max Boot: Victory in Afghanistan? Not Without U.S. Troops

Max Boot, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, is a contributing writer to Opinion and the author, most recently, of Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare From Ancient Times to the Present.

During the Vietnam War, Sen. George Aiken, a Vermont Republican, was famous for suggesting that we declare victory and go home. (What he actually said is a little more nuanced, but that was the popular perception.)

President Obama seems to be pursuing a version of this strategy in Afghanistan. At least that is the inference one can draw from his claims of success at a news conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Friday in which the two leaders unveiled an acceleration of the timetable for U.S. troops to step back from combat.

While Obama conceded that we had "probably not ... achieved everything that some might have imagined us achieving in the best of scenarios," he nevertheless tried to put a smiley face on the war effort. "Did we achieve our central goal? And have we been able, I think, to shape a strong relationship with a responsible Afghan government that is willing to cooperate with us to make sure that it is not a launching pad for future attacks against the United States? We have achieved that goal. We are in the process of achieving that goal."

There is actually an important difference between the last two sentences. Which is it: Have we achieved the goal or are we in the process? If the latter, then that would argue for a continued U.S. commitment to Afghanistan; if the former, then it suggests our mission is complete... 

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