The stakes in the collapsing relationship between the Obama administration and the Karzai government in Afghanistan went up considerably today — as relations hit a new low. In a phone call between the two heads of state, Hamid Karzai told Barack Obama that he would not sign a new agreement to keep American forces in the country, leaving it to the next president instead. In response, Obama told Karzai that the US would entirely withdraw before the end of the year, and ordered the Pentagon to produce a full-retreat option:
President Barack Obama has told the Pentagon to prepare for the possibility that the United States will not leave behind any troops in Afghanistan after its troop drawdown at the end of this year, the White House said on Tuesday.
Obama conveyed the message in a phone call to Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, who has been balking at signing a bilateral security agreement that the United States insists it must have before agreeing to leave a contingent of troops behind for counter-terrorism operations and training.
This isn’t exactly a new position by the Obama White House. Two months ago, Obama sent Susan Rice to deliver that message to the National Security Adviser’s counterpart in the Karzai government. At that level, the diplomatic rupture still had the potential for containment, but today’s development makes the relationship look irretrievably broken.
Fox and the AP note that this isn’t entirely new, either:
The two leaders spoke amid an ongoing dispute over a vital security agreement. That agreement would allow the U.S. to keep troops in Afghanistan after 2014, but Karzai is refusing to sign it, saying he wants his successor to sign the pact after elections this spring.
Obama and Karzai have rarely spoken in recent months, a reflection of the White House’s frustration with the Afghan leader.
The full-withdrawal plan isn’t a new concept at all. We’ve been discussing it nearly as long as the surge from late 2009, when the strangely reluctant tone of Obama’s speech made it clear that he didn’t want to commit for the long term. It was clear that Obama was looking for “exit ramps” even then.