LITTLE ROCK -- The other day a scholarly panel at the University of Arkansas' branch here was discussing what everybody else in the country had been talking about, too: The causes and effects of the long-awaited demise of one Osama bin Laden at the hands of parties well known and much admired: SEAL Team 6.
One of the speakers, the university's director of international studies, said the SEALs' signal achievement vindicated this country's counter-terrorism strategy. No arguing with that. But then he had to add that the highly effective commando raid illustrated -- by contrast -- how costly and ineffective the whole war in Afghanistan had been. To which I would add only this scholarly comment:
Where does our foreign-policy expert think the choppers carrying these SEALs came from -- Mars?
Not likely. They were said to have trained repeatedly on a detailed mock-up of their objective till they got their trial run down to a brisk 30 minutes. (The actual raid took 38 -- from start to successful finish.) This all took place, according to news reports, at safe, secure Bagram Air Base -- in Afghanistan.
That huge complex, fortress and staging area is only a hop, skip and stop (at Jalalabad, also in Afghanistan) away from Abbottabad in Pakistan, the picturesque resort where Osama bin Laden was "hiding" in the midst of a sprawling military complex there.
It's hard to imagine such a raid or, for that matter, the whole war against al-Qaida and its Taliban hosts and various allies, without American forces having first freed Afghanistan from the enemy's grip.
But there are many who are now ready to proclaim Mission Accomplished in Afghanistan and pull out. Isn't that the same, almost fatal error the previous administration made in Iraq -- only to prolong that war and come entirely too close to losing it?
Not till the last president gave up on the Rumsfeldian fantasy of fighting a war on the cheap did the tide turn in Iraq under a new secretary of defense (Robert Gates) and a new commanding general (David Petraeus) with a new and successful strategy (the Surge).
To leave Afghanistan before it is secured would invite the same disaster there that we risked in Iraq not long ago. Costly and ineffective to win the war in Afghanistan? Not compared to losing it. And a premature departure might accomplish just that sad result.
Yet there are those who, now that Osama Bin Laden has been dispatched, would pull out of Afghanistan ahead of schedule, risking all that has been sacrificed there.