Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Obama's secret plan to end the Afghanistan War?

Stephen Walt in Obama's Afghan drop-in Foreign Policy 03/29/10 found himself dismayed by Obama's description of US war aims in a speech he gave on his visit to Afghanistan. So Walt hopes what he's really doing is actually not what he indicated in that speech:

So I found myself hoping (perhaps naively) that this was all a bit of blue-smoke-and-mirrors, and that he's actually planning to follow the same script in Afghanistan that Bush followed in Iraq. It won't be identical in every detail, but the basic logic would be similar. Here's how it goes:

First, announce an escalation of the U.S. effort (aka a "surge"), but set a rough deadline for it and quietly put new emphasis on "political reconciliation." (Done). Next, bombard the media with lots of evidence of progress, such as Taliban "strongholds" seized, al Qaeda leaders killed or captured, Taliban leaders arrested in Pakistan, etc., so that people think the surge is working. (Now underway). Third, arrange a diplomatic settlement that requires the phased withdrawal of U.S./ISAF troops, even if their departure is on a rather lengthy timetable. The Iraqi equivalent was the Status of Forces agreement negotiated by the Bush administration in the fall of 2008; in Afghanistan, it would probably entail some sort of negotiation between the Karzai government, the Taliban, and various other warlords (whether by a loya jirga) or some other device (Maybe underway too?). Finally, start removing the "surged" forces more-or-less on schedule-and ahead of the 2012 election cycle-so that you can claim to have avoided the quagmire that critics warned about back in 2009 (Remains to be seen).
It's not the ideal thing that critics of the Afghanistan War have to hope that the President is not really telling the truth about what his war goals are. But as a rule, a devious plan to end a war is far superior than a devious plan to start one. Walt's comment is also a valuable reminder that The Surge in Iraq in the end became an excuse to just declare victory and at least start taking the US forces out. Whether a McCain Administration with a vision of 100 Years War in Iraq would have continued to draw down the force levels in Iraq as Obama has is another question.

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