The distance from Washington, D.C. to Afghanistan is 7,000 miles. For embattled President Barack Obama flying high on Air Force One, that's just a hop, skip and a jump.
Although White House officials emphasized that the main purpose of Obama's early December journey was to visit the troops around the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, that's only part of the story.
Since Obama badly wants to get away from the Capitol Hill heat generated by nasty in-party debates about extending the Bush tax cuts, no trip is too far. But Obama's choice of a spontaneous visit to Afghanistan only focuses the nation's attention on what is an endless and impossible war.
To win in Afghanistan, the commander-in-chief needs to have some objective other than to keep fighting and losing with the hope that one day the war will go away. We've been through that before in the Southeast Asian war.
More than 1,400 U.S. troops have died in Afghanistan since 2001; a third of them lost their lives this year alone.
The increased deaths are tragic but not surprising. In 2009, Obama ratcheted up force levels to expand the Afghan military campaign. Many of the extra troops have been thrown into the toughest battles, including a major offensive in Kandahar, the southern Taliban heartland.
Whatever Obama's exit strategy may be, it doesn't consider public opinion. A new New York Times/CBS poll showed that 54 percent of Americans believe that the U.S. "should not be involved in Afghanistan now," while only 38 percent believe "the U.S. is doing the right thing by fighting the war in Afghanistan now."
Over the past decade, $337.8 billion has been allocated to the Afghanistan war. According to the website www.costofwar.com, Lodians have paid nearly $200 million of that total. The price tag for maintaining the Afghanistan war will soon pass expenditures for the Iraq war.
As if the staggering sum spent to keep an unpopular war going isn't enough of an headache to Obama, he now has to cope with the confirmation, long suspected, that the Afghani government is corrupt and inept. Wikileaks exposed that in the opinion of the U.S. envoy to Kabul Karl Elkenberry, Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai is paranoid, unprincipled and clueless about how to lead his nation out of the mess it's in.
Next week, the White House will release its updated Pentagon strategy. Early assessments of conditions on the ground are various degrees of terrible.
A year ago at West Point, Obama promised that "after eighteen months, our troops will come home." Obama added that he hoped by 2014, the Afghans "... are in the lead ... and that we are not still engaged in the combat operations of the sort that we're involved with now."
That's wishful thinking. Although the analogy isn't exact, it's impossible to have lived through the Vietnam War, America's longest, and not see growing parallels to Afghanistan. Like Lyndon Johnson and then Richard Nixon, Obama is determined to show that he won't be pushed around and pledges to do whatever it takes to win.
But the nation we're rescuing (Afghanistan) is, like Vietnam, a divided state governed by incompetents. And it's accustomed to successfully resisting foreign invaders.
That was the exact case in Vietnam. The United States couldn't outlast the North Vietnamese.
In the end, presidential rhetoric aside, foreign armies cannot defeat insurgents on their home turf.
What it comes down to is that Obama is unwilling to withdraw troops and risk being remembered as the president who the jihadists could claim they drove from office.
Fear of being perceived as weak is exactly what motivated Johnson and Nixon to fight on. An important lesson can be learned from Johnson's private 1964 analysis of Vietnam. In a taped White House telephone conversation about Vietnam, Johnson said, "I don't think its worth fighting for and I don't think we can get out."
Johnson's insightful realization aside, the Vietnam War continued for another decade.
Joe Guzzardi retired from the Lodi Unified School District in 2008. He is currently a Senior Writing Fellow for Californians for Population Stabilization. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.