By Arianna Huffington

President Obama's announcement that he'll be ordering only a limited drawdown of the more than 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan by the end of the year is yet another reminder that it's much easier to start a war than to finish one. Indeed, Afghanistan offers a case study in the axiom -- despite the fact that there's a clear, widespread, and growing consensus on the value of us getting out.

In truth, the political environment could scarcely be more welcoming for the president to fulfill the pledge he made in December 2009 to "begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011."

For starters, the American public has clearly turned against the war.

According to a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll taken this month, 62 percent of Americans now oppose the war in Afghanistan, while only 36 percent favor it. Seventy-four percent favor withdrawing all or some troops, with only 24 percent saying we should keep the same number or send more troops.

This overwhelming consensus is finally beginning to be reflected in Washington. Earlier this month, 27 senators signed a letter to the president asking him to order a "sizable and sustained reduction" of troops this month. The effort was spearheaded by a bipartisan trio: Utah Republican Mike Lee, and Democrats Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Tom Udall of New Mexico. "The costs of prolonging the war far outweigh the benefits," the letter states. "It is time for the United States to shift course in Afghanistan."

And there is growing skepticism among the GOP presidential hopefuls.

After announcing his candidacy earlier this week, Jon Huntsman, the former governor of Utah, spoke of the need to "get American troops out faster." And at the recent Republican debate in New Hampshire, Mitt Romney declared: "It's time for us to bring our troops home as soon as we possibly can, consistent with the word that comes from our generals."

Then there was the resolution, passed Monday at the U.S. Conference of Mayors, calling for the money currently spent on Iraq and Afghanistan to be redirected to the cities here at home that are being devastated by massive budget cuts. "It is about our economy and it is about getting people back to work," said the president of the conference, Burnsville, Minn., Mayor Elizabeth Kautz. "It is about reinvesting in those efforts that will help us retain jobs and create jobs in our country."

The redirected money would help make up for what Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter calls the "Great Retreat" from local governments by the federal government. For years, those whose deceptions led to the war in Iraq and whose mismanagement left the mission in Afghanistan to stagnate used the phrase "cut and run" to scare off anybody who dared question their policies. But, in truth, the mind-boggling sums of taxpayer money -- past, present and future -- used to finance these wars has caused the federal government to "cut and run" from the economic crisis local governments and communities are facing here at home.

For an idea of what kind of impact the money spent in Iraq and Afghanistan could have here at home, check out the interactive tool put together by the National Priorities Project that lets you see what the opportunity cost of these two wars is for your community (go to

On a national level, more than $169 billion in taxpayer money will be spent on Iraq and Afghanistan this year. With that amount, one of the following could be provided: 86.8 million low-income children receiving health care for one year; 21.7 million military veterans receiving VA medical care for one year; 2.6 million police or sheriff's patrol officers for one year; 2.6 million elementary school teachers for one year; 22.3 million Head Start slots for children for one year.

So when you hear about how all the cuts to social services -- and all the "shared sacrifice" (that somehow seems to be shared mostly by the poor and middle class) -- are necessary because "we're broke," remember these numbers.

Against this backdrop, the pushback parade has grown louder. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates made the Sunday talk show rounds, and told CNN that "we can do anything the president tells us to do, the question is whether it is wise."

I'm clearly all for wisdom, and I'm glad Gates is spotlighting it as a key component of good decision making, but I have to wonder about his embrace of this long-forgotten quality almost 10 years down the Afghanistan road. Where was the call for wisdom when Gates' former boss decided to focus on Iraq and let the Afghanistan mission creep? If more people in Washington had called for "wise" decisions then, there would have been no need for the decision Obama announced Wednesday night.


Available at

Aftermath: Following the Bloodshed of America's Wars in the Muslim World

Displacement and Dispossession in the Modern Middle East (The Contemporary Middle East)

Enemies of Intelligence

The End of History and the Last Man


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World - Afghanistan: How Much Easier It Is to Start a War Than to Finish One | Global Viewpoint