Steve Chapman

In hindsight, that would have been a good time to begin our departure. But we stayed on, hoping to create conditions favorable to stability, human rights and the rule of law. Twelve years later, we're still bogged down fighting jihadists.

President Hamid Karzai, whom we helped bring to power, has staged a carnival of corruption, including massive vote fraud in his 2009 re-election. On human rights, the watchdog group Freedom House gives Afghanistan a rating of 6 -- with 7 being the worst possible score. Karzai recently charged that the U.S.-led coalition effort has produced "a lot of suffering" but "no gains because the country is not secure."

Things are bound to get worse once the American military withdraws the last of its combat units. Though they managed to hold the Taliban to a stalemate during this year's fighting season, reported The New York Times, "the Afghans were unable to make significant gains and, worse, suffered such heavy casualties that some officials called the rate unsustainable."

Libya? The security environment there is usually characterized as total anarchy, which is unfair to anarchists. Last month, the prime minister was kidnapped by one of the many militias that operate with impunity. In the end, he was rescued -- not by government forces but by another militia.

Our military help in the removal of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi turned a country that posed no threat to us into a lawless haven for terrorists, including al-Qaida. Instead of making the U.S. more secure, we have done the opposite.

Using military force, we should have learned, is like taking a Jeep off-road in the Utah desert. It's important to know what it can do -- and even more important to know what it can't.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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