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A Time for Peace and Withdrawal

Donna Brazile

Donna Brazile

I write this in anger and in frustration.

And I must begin with words better than my own:

"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies ... a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed." -- Dwight D. Eisenhower

When I think over what's happened in Afghanistan in the last two weeks, I am reminded of President Eisenhower's words -- and others I shall quote shortly.

The sequence is simple enough -- an escalating cycle of violence: First, Americans accidentally burned the Koran; in response, Afghanis rioted. (The rioting was not massive, and this time the world press covered the event well.) Next, an American soldier on his fourth tour snaps, goes on a shooting rampage and kills 16 innocent civilians. As a consequence, Afghan President Hamid Karzai ordered NATO troops to pull back from the countryside to their bases. The Taliban uses the shootings as an excuse to break off peace talks, while also threatening to behead American soldiers in retaliation; and al-Qaida kills an American teacher in Yemen who had nothing to do with any of the violence.

"To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven."

I admit, I'm angry about the Afghani reaction. And my anger is fueled by built-up frustration with a people that do not appreciate our presence, our protection, our building of schools and infrastructure.

"... a time to break down, and a time to build up ..."

Yet, the majority of Afghanis have been more supportive of NATO's presence than most Americans. A poll conducted by The Washington Post and ABC News found that, nine years later, 60 percent of Afghanis still supported the U.S. invasion. Today, the same survey team found that 54 percent of Americans feel we should get out of Afghanistan.

"... a time to keep and a time to cast away ..."

I have long felt our mission in Afghanistan should end; the cycle of violence, at least the part that involves Americans, will stop only when we bring our troops home. Yet I am a realist. I also recognize that we have goals in Afghanistan. On ABC's "This Week," Bill Burton, deputy White House press secretary, repeated the goals President Obama outlined in a nationwide address. Burton said, "We're going to degrade al-Qaida, stop the Taliban's momentum, and strengthen the government security forces in Afghanistan."

For the most part, we've done that.

It is estimated there are less than 100 al-Qaida operatives left in Afghanistan. We have killed 27 of the top 30 leaders.

We stopped the Taliban's momentum sufficiently enough that we got them to a peace table. Of course, these are not the good guys -- as evidenced by the YouTube video showing a 19-year-old woman, healed, after the Taliban cut off her nose and ears for the crime of "shaming" her in-laws. And the account of David Rohde, a New York Times correspondent captured by the Taliban, should be required reading, especially for presidential candidates.

No, these are not the good guys, but getting them to the table is a first step. The alternatives, let them run rampant or kill them all, are not feasible.

The third goal is strengthening Afghanistan's security forces. We have not achieved this yet, but Karzai said Afghan troops are "currently ready" to take over right now.

"... a time to keep silence and a time to speak ..."

But most of my anger is directed at the pandering politicians here who should know better. Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum shake an angry fist, faulting Obama for setting a goal for bringing our troops home. I do not hear them mention the sacrifices our soldiers make, or that 1 percent of our nation is defending the other 99 percent. I do not hear them talking of what war does to those who serve three, four or more tours of duty. Apparently, they do not hate war as Eisenhower did.

Ron Paul, to his credit, wants us out of Afghanistan. I don't know what Romney's position is because I find recent quotes from him both for and against our involvement.

President Obama was right about a withdrawal timeline in Iraq. (Yes, things are messy there, but, as the Iraqis insist, at some point they must fight their own battles.) He's right, though perhaps not quick enough, in this case as well.

Donna Brazile is a senior Democratic strategist, a political commentator and contributor to CNN and ABC News, and a contributing columnist to Ms. Magazine and O, the Oprah Magazine.