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Quittin' time

Recent events show its time to bring troops home



President Barack Obama made an unannounced trip last week to Afghanistan to rally the troops, as well as meet with embattled Afghan President Hamid Karzai to chide him about stepping up his efforts and reducing rampant corruption. This week, Karzai threatened to "join the Taliban."

In the meantime, Baghdad, the supposedly secure capital of Iraq, is drenched in blood as explosions and executions have killed more than a hundred citizens in the last week in a return to sectarian violence in the wake of seriously flawed elections. Given the rather obvious disintegration of conditions on the ground in these two Bush-started wars—and the nation's financial crisis—isn't it time for the president and Congress to end the slaughter?

For those who voted for Obama, as I did, the sight of him doing a version of the George Bush strut in a leather bomber jacket was downright chilling. That he was doing it in the middle of the night in a hangar at the infamous Bagram Air Base, once the home of the hated Soviet invaders and now occupied by Americans, is, once again, eerily reminiscent of the Bush war propaganda events. Worse, however, was what the president had to say in front of 2,000 troops: "The United States of America does not quit once it starts something."

Perhaps the president has forgotten our recent history, or perhaps he is now fully engaged in becoming the next War President.

While it's true that Obama would have barely entered his teens when Saigon fell in 1975, few can forget the gripping footage of American helicopters lifting off the roof of the American Embassy with desperate South Vietnamese clinging to their struts as North Vietnamese soldiers raised their flags over the city.

In fact, the United States of America did quit something it started—another foolish, un-winnable, insanely bloody and incredibly costly war. Even more recently, the withdrawal from Iraq by the first President Bush could easily be seen as quitting something we started. And to give him his due, it was with far greater logic than his mentally challenged but vengeful son could muster in his feeble reasoning for launching the second Iraq War. Daddy Bush knew America could never successfully occupy Iraq over the long term and didn't waste time, energy or blood trying to do so. Although he started that war, he had the wisdom to know when it was time to quit.

Events in Iraq now suggest that Obama should follow that example. Almost seven years to the day from the American invasion of Iraq, having built the biggest and most expensive embassy in the world and spent untold billions of dollars and countless lives to create the faux security of the Green Zone, the United States has accomplished very little. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whom some have called a puppet of the United States, just lost the recent election—although he refuses to acknowledge it and, wouldn't you know it, is blaming "foreign elements" for interfering in and corrupting the outcome. In the meantime, his opponent, former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, struggles to secure the leadership position his Iraqiya Party earned by racking up a majority of seats in the Iraq Parliament.

While the power struggle goes on at the highest levels, the world watches in shocked horror at the video release of a 2007 U.S. helicopter attack on unarmed civilians resulting in the death of a Reuters photographer, his driver and others. Anyone who watches the cold-blooded slaughter, dubbed "Collateral Murder" by Wikileaks, which released the footage online at, cannot remain unmoved. Nor can one believe that we will win the hearts and minds of people by ruthlessly killing them.

In the meantime, the situation in Afghanistan, far from being improved by Obama's so-called "surge" of 50,000 additional U.S. troops, continues to disintegrate. While the Pentagon wants another $33 billion in additional funds, the reality of the political situation on the ground virtually assures the money will be wasted on a failed effort.

It is no great secret that Afghanistan's current president, Karzai, has serious problems with rampant corruption. But his actions in the last week should, if nothing else, be a wake-up call to Obama that maybe, just maybe, America should quit what it started in Afghanistan.

Last weekend, Karzai made two virulently anti-Western speeches to parliament, saying that "foreign interference" in his government could legitimize the Taliban as a resistance movement against foreign occupation. In a move that left U.S. leaders in shock, he told Afghan lawmakers, "I'll join the Taliban" if foreign powers continue to demand obeisance.

Remember, removing the Taliban from power was the reason Bush gave for launching the Afghanistan War. According to him—and congressional Democrats and Republicans—the Taliban provided a safe haven for terrorists like Osama bin Laden and thus, had to be overthrown by the United States. Many others have suggested the real reason is because it's on the pipeline route for massive oil and gas deposits in Central Asia and hence, of great value to American corporate interests.

But now, thanks to the on-going slaughter of civilians by American armed forces and ham-fisted attempts at manipulating their government officials, the sitting president of Afghanistan threatens to join the Taliban to throw the foreigners (aka "Americans") from the country.

As the United States prepares a massive assault on Kandahar, the home of the Taliban and birthplace of Karzai, the president addressed 1,200 tribal leaders there and pledged that no attack would take place unless the people were "happy and satisfied."

After the remarks, the White House threatened to cancel Karzai's planned visit to the United States. But here's a better idea, Mr. President. How about letting Karzai and al-Maliki run their own countries? Faced with fiscal disaster at home, for which the hundreds of billions in military spending could provide significant relief, perhaps you should quit what we started and bring our troops home now.

Helena's George Ochenski rattles the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Independent. Contact Ochenski at

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