Last week I addressed the unfair charge made by Republicans that President Obama’s stance on the use of force, including his decision to abide by congressional unwillingness to bomb Syria, has somehow weakened America’s ability to bring order to the world.

It is true Obama has not succeeded in getting either North Korea or Iran to repudiate nuclear weapons, or to prevent Russian oppression against small nations that used to be part of the Soviet Union. Neither did George Bush in his eight years. With regard to Iran, Obama is making more progress than Bush, although it is not clear that we will ultimately succeed.

There is one area where it is entirely legitimate to criticize the Obama administration’s policy on the use of force – and it is also one of continuity with the Bush administration: his determination to spend more than $10 billion a year indefinitely on a military presence in Afghanistan.

Our invasion of Afghanistan – which I supported – was based on the need to put an end to the murderous regime of Osama bin Laden. For the first eight months of the Bush administration, America made no move to overthrow the Taliban, despite its pattern of brutality and disrespect for basic human rights. The president asked Congress to authorize an invasion only after the Afghan government refused to give us the chance to arrest bin Laden and break up his vicious gang.

The view that it should be our mission to ensure that the Taliban does not rule Afghanistan is one with which I have a great deal of sympathy, but that does not justify a military intervention now anymore that it did before Sept. 11, 2001. And it will inevitably continue to be one with a combat component. The American trainers will be armed personnel who will themselves will be drawn into combat. If there is a serious counterattack against them, we will escalate our forces. It is impossible to foresee us leaving a smaller number of military personnel in that country and then failing to reinforce them if they should be in peril as a result.

With bin Laden dead, there are three reasons why we are told we must continue to keep American military personnel in that country for an indefinite time:

First, we must stay to prevent it from being used as a base for terrorism. The problem with that is that even if we were successful in completely shutting down Afghanistan, which we haven’t yet done and are much less likely to do so with a greatly reduced force, there are many other places in the world from which terrorism can strike. We cannot plug every rat hole from which murderous fanatics can emerge. I support the use of drones, much better regulated than currently, where our intelligence reveals the presence of killers who are plotting against us.

But we cannot occupy every country in which terrorism may appear, and that if we are successful in blotting it out in one place, it will appear elsewhere.

The second argument is the view we must prevent the Taliban from ruling Afghanistan. As I noted, the Bush administration was perfectly prepared to live with that oppressive regime, for a very good reason. It is simply not remotely possible for us to use our military force against every oppressive government in the world. Moreover, as our experience in Iraq has shown, it is very unlikely to succeed even if we try. Our military can stop bad things from happening. No military in the world can force good things to happen in a society where a large number of people are unwilling to work constructively with each other. I am also baffled at the notion that absent a significant U.S. military presence, the Afghan anti-Taliban forces would be helpless. After years of reading about the Afghans’ fighting skill, I have yet to see an explanation of when the current Afghan army became an incompetent force, incapable of sustaining itself against the Taliban. If true, the argument that without an American military force the Taliban will defeat the Afghan government can only reflect a sad reality – namely that there is insufficient will among the non-Taliban elements of the Afghan people to resist them. As much as I deplore that, I do not think there is any way for the American military to sustain the weaker side here forever.

The third argument has emotional appeal but no logical force. It is that after all of the losses we have suffered in Afghanistan, it would be dishonorable to abandon the effort. I have never understood why it is argued that the best way we can show our remorse, regret and gratitude for those who have sacrificed when their country asked them to is by insisting that other people make similar sacrifices.

America has lost thousands of military personnel and spent hundreds of billions of dollars to give the Afghan people a chance to establish a civil society in their country. If they are still unable to do it because of internal opposition – the Taliban are not supported by any large external force – it is time for us to acknowledge that this is one more case where we have proven that our military, the best in the history of the world by far, cannot make a coherent society out of one where the internal elements of that do not exist.

Spending well over a $100 billion in Afghanistan for the next 10 years or more on military force will add to our deficit while accomplishing no significant good. President Obama ran for office on a platform of curtailing unwise American military interventions. I strongly believe that both the substance and the will of the American people argue that he should put that into effect and withdraw from Afghanistan at the end of this calendar year.

Barney Frank is a retired congressman and the author of landmark legislation. He divides his time between Maine and Massachusetts. Follow him on Twitter: @BarneyFrank

— Special to the Telegram