I am sure that people will make more political hay than is warranted out of the administration’s decision to extend authorization for carrying out combat operations in Afghanistan. The new orders really do little more than clarify what requirements need to be met before U.S. forces engage in combat, and the rules are pretty much what you would expect. They can still go after terrorist organizations; they can protect themselves, and they can come to the assistance of Afghan forces in need. Only the last condition has the real potential to keep our troops bogged down indefinitely, and the troop levels are still coming down to a low level.

So, even though I have been calling on us to take our troops out of Afghanistan for years and years now, I am not particularly troubled by the new rules of engagement.

What continues to bother me is something else. I keep comparing the cavalier attitude we had about making the commitment to go into Afghanistan with the agonizingly hard time we are having extracting ourselves from that country. I know that 9/11 was a hell of a provocation and that it made us scared and crazy, but we did not rise to the occasion. We made a momentous decision without any thought and we just keep paying and paying and paying for it.

What I’d really like is for us to all to internalize this mismatch between the ease of the decision and the difficulty of the consequences. Then, the next time we’re similarly provoked, maybe we’ll have a tool to keep us from repeating the same mistake.

Yeah, I know. It will never happen.

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Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at ProgressPond.com