Online Opinion Outpost: June 3

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The Online Opinion Outpost features opinions and commentary on the latest hot topics from national news sources. As much as you love hearing from The Universe, we thought you might like to hear from journalists around the nation.

Troops in Afghanistan

James F. Jeffrey and Ronald E. Neumann, Washington Post

With his decision Tuesday to keep almost 10,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014 but then to withdraw them all by the end of 2016, President Obama has made half of a good decision, only to seriously compromise it with the other half.

The president’s decision on keeping troop levels was welcome, if overdue. The decision affects not only the fate of Afghanistan but also the stability along the entire Afghanistan-Pakistan-India axis, as well as how NATO sees its future global role.

We believe strongly in the need to keep a residual U.S. and NATO force in Afghanistan, primarily to help train and assist the Afghan National Army conduct counterterrorism operations, to resolve the larger considerations about NATO’s future and to provide psychological certainty to Afghans. 

Then there is the other half of the decision: to cut the U.S. force in half in a year and withdraw it in two. This lacks logic. We are committing people to a mission that could require their lives and which is supposedly essential to us, all the while declaring that in less than three years none of this will be in effect.

Being able to say that the Obama White House “totally ended two wars by the end of 2016” — whatever has transpired during the interim — risks undermining more than a decade of effort and deepening international questions about the staying power of the Obama administration. The fix is easy: Change the 2016 deadline to “when the end of the mission that these troops have risked their lives for is accomplished.”

New York Times Editorial Board

For years, the American people have been asking when the war in Afghanistan will end. On Tuesday, President Obama said not for at least two and a half more years.

Mr. Obama reaffirmed that he would meet his commitment to remove the last 32,000 combat troops from Afghanistan at the end of the year, a pace that was too slow from the start. But don’t think this is the end of the American military involvement in the Afghan quagmire.

It is reasonable to ask how two more years of a sizable American troop presence — which one official said could cost $20 billion in 2015 — will advance a stable Afghanistan in a way that 13 years of war and the 100,000 troops deployed there at the peak were unable to guarantee. 

There also are doubts about how much Congress and the international community will be willing to invest in Afghanistan if American troops, along with a much smaller contingent of NATO forces, are not in the country.

The country’s gross domestic product has grown an average of 9.4 percent annually from 2003 to 2012, and life expectancy has increased by more than 20 years to 62 years. Yet the United States remains trapped there, putting its young men and women in harm’s way.

Mr. Obama has dragged out the biggest part of the withdrawal from Afghanistan for two years and now wants to leave more troops there until the end of 2016. His promise to end the war, made years ago, won’t be honored until he’s practically out of office.

Jobless millennials

Matthew Segal, CNN

Despite positive news about America’s reduced 6.3% unemployment rate in April, it turns out the jobless rate for 18- to 29-year-olds is 9.1%. If you include “discouraged workers,” or those who have given up looking for work, unemployment for 18- to 29-year-olds is 15.5%.

Those young people must either accumulate additional debt while working unpaid internships or look toward minimum wage positions, which are becoming more the norm and less the teenage avocation to score some extra cash.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, 88% of workers making the minimum wage are 20 years old or more, and about 4 in 10 are college graduates or have some level of college education.

Of all the economic trends holding back America’s young people, perhaps the most disturbing is the soaring cost of a post-high school diploma.

The cost of a college degree has risen by 1,120% since 1978 — far outpacing increases in food, health care and housing prices. As a result, we have more than $1.1 trillion in student loan debt.

Not surprisingly, faith in government is vanishing. According to a recent Harvard Institute of Politics survey, only 1 in 5 young people trust the federal government, and most pernicious of all, only 23% of young people are positive they will vote in November.

Because politicians assume that young people don’t vote, funding for job creation, national service and education is on the chopping block. The class of 2014 must confront this reality: discounting Washington as tone deaf and ineffective seems fair enough, but it will only get worse if we sit on the sidelines.

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