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Originally published Thursday, May 3, 2012 at 3:16 PM

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Exit from Afghanistan: Why wait two and a half years?

The United States should make a quick exit from Afghanistan.

Seattle Times Editorial

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NO argument is necessary about whether President Obama's six-hour visit to Afghanistan was political. Of course it was. Obama is running for re-election. The better question is whether a celebration is justified.

Regarding the mission to assassinate Osama bin Laden — and Wednesday was the anniversary of it — some crowing is fine. The Navy SEALs' mission was successful, and spectacularly so. Obama ordered it. He took the political risk and won a victory for America. Any president would remind people of that.

The overall mission in Afghanistan is something else again. U.S. troops have been there for 10 years. President Bush put them there and Obama increased their numbers. That Obama has now set a date for bringing them home — the end of 2014 — shows he is willing to settle for something short of victory.

He is right to settle for less. The political realities in Afghanistan and America strongly suggest exit is the best option. But given that, why wait two and a half years?

One reason is not to retreat during an election year. But that is a reason for Obama.

Another reason is that the government of Hamid Karzai is of value to the United States, and a delay would give it a better chance of survival.

We are not convinced the government in Kabul is of any huge value to America. Investing in it is a gamble, and of the sort we have seen before.

The South Vietnamese government was supposed to be of value to the United States. After President Nixon drew down U.S. troops, the Saigon government was to stand on its own, at least for "a decent interval" that would make any subsequent defeat its fault. Still, it fell.

When U.S. and NATO troops leave Afghanistan, the same thing may happen.

If exit is the best option, Obama should take it now, saving the Americans and Afghans who would otherwise be killed between now and Dec. 31, 2014.

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