During the 2008 campaign, Barack Obama falsely accused John McCain of calling for a ‘100 year war’ in Iraq. With President Obama now on the verge of committing the U.S. to nearly a quarter century of military engagement of one form or another in Afghanistan, will we soon see the reemergence of throngs of protesters marching in the streets against ‘endless war’? Don’t bet on it. Via the Sydney Morning Herald:
The US and Afghanistan have reached a deal on a long-delayed strategic partnership agreement that assures the Afghan people their key American ally will not abandon the country militarily or financially for years after 2014, the deadline for most foreign forces to withdraw.
The agreement is key to the US exit strategy in Afghanistan because it provides guidelines for any American forces who remain after the withdrawal deadline and for financial help to the impoverished country and its security forces. For the Afghan government, it is a way to show its citizens that its key allies are not just walking away.
Neither Afghan nor US officials would comment on the details of the agreement, but it is believed to pledge a partnership for 10 years beyond the 2014 withdrawal deadline.
All sarcasm aside, this is at least tentatively good news. It remains to be seen what sort of financial commitment was promised (shouldn’t they be paying us?) to ensure that at least U.S. Special Forces continue to receive the access and local support necessary to continue the fight against Al Qaeda. Especially in the areas bordering Pakistan. But this will continue to be the central front in the war for the foreseeable future, and a complete pull-out would likely prove disastrous in the long run. (And the same may be true of Iraq.)
With the latest polls showing more and more Americans in favor of the withdrawal of all U.S. troops as soon as possible, it will be interesting to see how this issue factors into the election in November. I’d bet that most Americans are in favor of continuing Special Forces operations against Al Qaeda, and the Taliban leadership. But I am skeptical that those in favor of winding down the large-scale military presence are looking to wait until 2014 to do so, especially if the situation worsens in the coming months.
Romney is understandably taking some heat for not staking out a clear position on this, but really the smart thing for him to do is to wait and see how the situation evolves in the coming months. Ultimately there probably won’t end up being a lot of daylight between Romney and Obama on this issue. But for now President Obama is the Commander-in-Chief and the political consequences of these decisions are his to own.