U.S. Must Stay in Afghanistan as a Matter of Honor


I wanted to write a piece this week on British Prime Minister David Cameron’s pretty stellar trip to the United States. Sure, no major policy initiatives were announced and fiscal hawks on both sides of the Atlantic will find fault with that star-studded state dinner.

But as an American in London watching the events surrounding the visit unfold, I couldn’t help but feel a peculiar pride in the whole spectacle. The “special relationship” may not exist, but this visit made me wish it did. You can tell a nation’s character by the way we welcome our friends. And while the visit gave further evidence of how cool Obama (and surprisingly Cameron!) is, more importantly, the visit was an example of just how well America still does things.

Which brings me to the graver subject at hand: Afghanistan. Forgive the odd segue, but there is a correlation. There was much talk this week about speeding up the withdrawal of U.S. and coalition troops from Afghanistan following a series of disturbing events, culminating with a suspected U.S. sergeant’s murder of 16 Afghan civilians. One particularly thoughtful piece was by PolicyMic’s own Jake Horowitz.

I do not agree, though he raises a number of critically important points. Disengaging from Afghanistan ahead of the agreed upon 2014 timetable would irrevocably damage one key thing: American honor. The U.S. was able to leave Iraq responsibly, with a degree of dignity still intact. Afghanistan was the war we were supposed to fight, and it is vital we leave it with some honor. A far more able discussion of this issue appeared in a must-read New York Times op-ed by Anatol Lieven.

There is time yet to recover from the boorish events over the past few months if the Obama administration uses its time wisely. If we can get the Taliban back to the negotiating table, the U.S. might just hammer out a peace deal that spares Afghanistan from future civil war and preserves some American dignity, as Lieven, with cautious optimism, writes.

This has been a long, at times brutal, war and the wish to leave now is not unreasonable. But, I go back to the idea of what America does well, what we are respected for, and how we distinguish ourselves as a country. There ought to be a prevailing belief that the U.S. solidly finishes its wars, a sense that the U.S. finishes wars knowing that despite some of the harm we undoubtedly caused, we also did quite a bit of good.

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