President Obama recognizes that the failed policies of the previous administration — particularly the war in Iraq — hurt our national security. Though the president has rightly focused on the threat posed by al-Qaeda, sending more troops to Afghanistan is not the solution. We have already doubled our military presence in Afghanistan over the past year. A larger presence there will not help eliminate al-Qaeda’s haven in Pakistan, and it could actually hurt our efforts to go after al-Qaeda globally.
The decision to go to war in Afghanistan after 9/11 was the right one. But after eight years of war, it is time to consider bringing our massive, open-ended military presence there to an end. Our focus in the region must be on Pakistan, where al-Qaeda’s leadership remains, along with the leadership of the Taliban. Pakistan presents a dangerous mix of militancy, radicalism, poor government and nuclear weapons. Escalating our presence in Afghanistan could push militants across the border, further undermining stability and emboldening our enemies in Pakistan.
We need a global strategy that denies al-Qaeda safe haven everywhere, not just in Afghanistan but also in Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere. It doesn’t make sense to devote billions more dollars and tens of thousands more troops to a strategy that is so heavily concentrated on Afghanistan when the terrorist threat we face is global.
Moreover, sending more troops to Afghanistan won’t solve the problems in that country — particularly an ineffective, corrupt government — that have allowed the Taliban to flourish. By the end of this year, we will have spent more than $50 billion in Afghanistan and have lost more brave American service members there than in any previous year. That is too heavy a price, for too uncertain a return. We need to set realistic goals, providing civilian assistance to legitimate actors within the Afghan and Pakistani governments while maintaining a capability to disrupt any al-Qaeda footholds.
Rather than doubling down on a strategy with objectives that could be unachievable, we should announce a flexible timetable to draw down our forces from Afghanistan. A timetable would defuse the perception that we are occupying that country, and help ensure that our presence does not fuel militancy and instability in the region.
Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Intelligence Committees.