We will not try to make Afghanistan a perfect place. We will not police its streets or patrol its mountains indefinitely.It's about time that an American president said such a thing, but it holds true for many places other than Afghanistan. We have troops stationed all over the world and we're long overdue to ask why that is.
That is the responsibility of the Afghan government, which must step up its ability to protect its people; and move from an economy shaped by war to one that can sustain a lasting peace.
We have, for nearly 70 years now, been running an empire. It's been a mostly benevolent empire, but we've had an unmistakable presence in Europe and Asia ever since World War II ended. In many cases, the enemy we saw is no longer a factor -- there is no threat that the Red Army is going to crash through the Fulda Gap any time soon, to use just one example.
The conversation I'm contemplating probably should have happened 20 years ago, but we've always found a reason to maintain what we've been doing. The questions still merit discussion. Why does the military have troops all over the world? And what are those troops doing?
I'm not convinced that deploying the military to be armed social workers is necessarily a wise use of our time, treasure and talent, but that has been the mission, especially in Afghanistan. We can't draw back from the world, because the world will not draw back from us. But we can recalibrate how we respond.