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Debate about the level of U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan had been simmering for months, and then intensified yesterday after a memo from the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan leaked to the Washington Post. Some observers want the U.S. to stay put and boost troop levels; others want to withdraw outright. Some just want the administration to make a decision. The Atlantic Wire scanned the web to compile the top five cases for leaving Afghanistan:

  • There's No Public Support  The New York Times' Bob Herbert cited a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll that "51 percent of respondents believed the war has not been worth its costs, and only 26 percent favored sending more troops." He quoted John McCain on Vietnam: "No other national endeavor requires as much unshakable resolve as war. If the nation and the government lack that resolve, it is criminal to expect men in the field to carry it alone."
  • Our Presence Only Makes Things Worse  "A large presence of foreign troops," observed the Washington Post's Eugene Robinson, "is the one thing that reliably unites Afghans--if only long enough to drive the foreigners out." So, "what Obama needs to do is downsize the mission," preventing the country from becoming a terrorist haven through a combination of force and diplomacy, and also by, "yes, talking to the Taliban."
  • Define 'Success'  "It's not clear" David Harsanyi observed several weeks ago at Real Clear Politics, "how the victory narrative is supposed to play out."
Does this triumphant day arrive when every Islamic radical in the region has met his virgins? If so, after eight years of American lives lost, the goal seems farther away than ever.

Or is victory achieved when we finally usher this primitive tribal culture, with its violent warlords and religious extremism, from the eighth century all the way to modernity? If so, we're on course for a centuries-long enterprise of nation building and baby-sitting, not a war.

If the goal is to establish a stable government to fill the vacuum created by our ousting of the Taliban and al-Qaida, we've done quite a job. Most Americans can accept a Marine's risking life and limb to safeguard our freedoms. But when that Marine is protector of a corrupt and depraved foreign parliament -- one that recently legalized marital rape ... it is not a victory worth celebrating.
  • We Need to Know When to Stop  George Will's debate-changing September 1 column in the Washington Post focused on the strategic big picture. "Counterinsurgency theory," he wrote, "indicates that, nationwide, Afghanistan would need hundreds of thousands of coalition troops, perhaps for a decade or more. That is inconceivable." He turned to history: "Genius, said de Gaulle, recalling Bismarck's decision to halt German forces short of Paris in 1870, sometimes consists of knowing when to stop."
  • We Don't Need to Occupy to Win  A Cato Institute white paper by Malou Innocent and Ted Carpenter argued that there is a reason Afghanistan is called the "graveyard of empires," and urged the U.S. to get out:
Denying a sanctuary to terrorists who seek to attack the United States does not require Washington to pacify the entire country, eradicate its opium fields, or sustain a long-term military presence in Central Asia ... U.S. unmanned aerial vehicles can monitor villages, training camps, and insurgent compounds. On the ground, the United States can retain a small number of covert operatives for intelligence gathering and discrete operations against specific targets, as well as an additional small group of advisers to train Afghan police and military forces.

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