Stephen M. Walt

When you’re in a hole, stop digging!

The headline on yesterday’s New York Times story on Afghanistan struck me as odd. It was "Setbacks Cloud U.S. Plans to Get Out of Afghanistan." The story itself is solid reporting but the headline has it exactly backwards: the setbacks we have experienced recently actually clarify the need to get out. The thrust of the ...

By , a columnist at Foreign Policy and the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University.
MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images
MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images

The headline on yesterday’s New York Times story on Afghanistan struck me as odd. It was "Setbacks Cloud U.S. Plans to Get Out of Afghanistan." The story itself is solid reporting but the headline has it exactly backwards: the setbacks we have experienced recently actually clarify the need to get out.

The thrust of the story was straightforward: the war is not going well, which means that Obama won’t be able to "declare victory" next spring and start withdrawing troops next summer. That’s what he said he’d do when he sent them in, but nobody should have believed that we could turn things around that fast. 

The harsh truth, as some of us tried to warn him last fall, is that the decision to escalate in Afghanistan was a mistake. Our involvement there is a fool’s errand that is rife with strategic contradictions, which is why we keep having "setbacks." The proper lesson to draw is not that it will be harder to get out; the proper message is that the sooner we do, the better.

The headline on yesterday’s New York Times story on Afghanistan struck me as odd. It was "Setbacks Cloud U.S. Plans to Get Out of Afghanistan." The story itself is solid reporting but the headline has it exactly backwards: the setbacks we have experienced recently actually clarify the need to get out.

The thrust of the story was straightforward: the war is not going well, which means that Obama won’t be able to "declare victory" next spring and start withdrawing troops next summer. That’s what he said he’d do when he sent them in, but nobody should have believed that we could turn things around that fast. 

The harsh truth, as some of us tried to warn him last fall, is that the decision to escalate in Afghanistan was a mistake. Our involvement there is a fool’s errand that is rife with strategic contradictions, which is why we keep having "setbacks." The proper lesson to draw is not that it will be harder to get out; the proper message is that the sooner we do, the better.

Stephen M. Walt is a columnist at Foreign Policy and the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University.

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