Editor's note: The following editorial appeared Monday in the Philadelphia Inquirer.
What do Americans want stamped on our Afghanistan policy?
It's time to go now.
A Gallup poll shows only 36 percent of Americans support President Obama's handling of the war, down dramatically from 48 percent in February. A Harris poll shows only 10 percent think the situation in Afghanistan is getting better. But a Bloomberg poll shows 60 percent blame former President George W. Bush for that sorry predicament.
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So what should President Obama do? Stay the course. That is, stick with plans to re-evaluate the Afghanistan war in December, and then decide whether to change his timetable to begin bringing home some soldiers from that front in 2011.
That will be 10 years since the war began as an effort to capture Osama bin Laden, leader of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Today, the war isn't as much about apprehending any single person as it is about destroying bin Laden's al-Qaida and its Taliban allies. And every day, that chore is proving to be near impossible.
The terrorists are holed up in remote areas of Pakistan, which has joined U.S.-led efforts to uproot the terrorists but is clearly more concerned about its historic adversary, India. In fact, as the WikiLeaks papers confirmed, U.S. intelligence officials believe high-level Pakistanis are in cahoots with the Taliban.
Obama says the war must continue to keep Afghanistan from becoming "engulfed by an even wider insurgency" in which "al-Qaeda and its terrorist affiliates would have even more space to plan their next attack." He should find solace, then, in a Quinnipiac poll that shows 59 percent of Americans also believe that is still a worthwhile goal.
The reality, of course, is that al-Qaida doesn't need to be based in Afghanistan to make its next move against the U.S. Its tentacles already stretch across oceans and continents, with the Horn of Africa extending a welcoming hand from basket-case nations such as Somalia and Eritrea. Not to mention the homegrown terrorist threats from exotic places like New Jersey.
While Obama doesn't talk about it as much, the most convincing reason to press on in Afghanistan is Pakistan, the neighbor with nuclear weapons and influential Taliban sympathizers. That toxic combination does not bode well for this country. Visions of nukes in terrorist hands aren't far-fetched. But how can we fight for Pakistan if it doesn't believe in the fight?
More and more Americans are becoming frustrated with the situation. Record numbers of U.S. soldiers were killed in Afghanistan in June and July, 60 and 66 respectively. Those numbers may grow as a major offensive to secure Kandahar proceeds. Meanwhile, the Karzai government appears to be as inept as it is corrupt.
Public sentiment says if it isn't time to go, it's close. Premature withdrawal would leave Afghan allies in jeopardy of Taliban retaliation. But there is little will in this country for a long-term presence to ensure their safety.
The Iraq troop reduction is proceeding, even as violence continues and Iraq is unable to form a government. Leaving Afghanistan won't be under ideal circumstances either.