The U.S. has two vital interests in Afghanistan: Preventing its use as a base for terrorist attacks and forestalling the destabilization of Pakistan, a nuclear power that could could provoke a catastrophic war with India. No one should think that there are easy answers for the Obama administration. These monthly PR disasters, culminating in this weekend's despicable, inexplicable attack, suggest that our forces are increasingly wearied by Afghanistan's historic implacable resistance to change and control imposed from without. The incidents have further strengthened and emboldened the Taliban and other regressive forces eager to get back into power and reassert their spirit-killing, women-hating medievalist policies.
Even before the shootings, anti-Americanism was already boiling in Afghanistan over U.S. troops burning Muslim holy books, including Qurans, last month on an American base. The burnings came to light soon after a video purporting to show four Marines urinating on Taliban corpses was posted on the Internet in January.
Now, another wave of anti-foreigner hatred could threaten the entire future of the U.S.-led coalition's mission in Afghanistan. The recent events have not only infuriated Afghanistan's people and leaders, but have also raised doubts among U.S. political figures that the long and costly war is worth the sacrifice in lives and money.
If we can't do any more good, then it's time to bring most of our brave volunteers home. But it's vital to remember that Afghanistan isn't the same as Iraq, the war Barack Obama opposed. It began in near-unanimous national consensus. Afghanistan's leaders harbored and encouraged the Sept. 11 murderers. Even Bruce Springsteen supported President Bush's decision to depose them. To paraphrase Richard Nixon, Afghanistan is neither Bush nor Obama's war; it's America's war. Obama is ultimately responsible for the actions of the troops under his command, a burden he no doubt felt acutely when he got the news from Kandahar on Sunday. But as he well knows, he'll also be held responsible for what may happen after we leave, because whenever and however our exit occurs, those two vital U.S. interests will remain.