Unclear. As Ed noted yesterday, CBS as well as the New York Times have reported that the White House is considering a complete withdrawal from Afghanistan at the close of 2014, instead of the generally understood plan for a phased transition to an advisory presence. The White House refused to rule out the “zero option” back in January, and the implied suggestion was supposedly a method of throwing their weight around a little — but a continually deteriorating relationship between President Obama and Afghan president Hamid Karzai is reportedly driving the issue to the forefront again.
On Tuesday, the White House said semi-disputed the reports, with Jay Carney insisting that there is “no decision imminent,” that they’ll “continue to negotiate with the Afghan government” to achieve policy objectives, and that “the suggestion a video conference call” run afoul “was determinative of anything was incorrect,” but does that sound just a tad bit coy to qualify as a concrete answer? Whatever they might be hinting at, the House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon (R-CA) doesn’t think the zero option is one the administration is seriously considering, and said in a statement that they have assured him of as much:
Later in the day, though, a senior Republican stepped into the fray as a kind of unlikely (and far more forceful) spokesman for the administration. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon released a written statement that seemed to flatly contradict Carney’s suggestion that Obama might adopt the “zero option.”
“This evening, senior Administration officials assured me that there is no ‘zero option’ scenario under consideration. I was assured that the United States has committed to post-2014 support to include troops on the ground. I was further informed that a ‘zero option’ would violate American commitments to the Afghan people,” McKeon said.
“News of the ‘zero option’ damages our position in Afghanistan, erodes our standing with our allies, emboldens the Taliban, and demoralizes our troops. I call on the president to confirm the assurances of his senior officials and clarify his ‘zero option’ position,” the California lawmaker said.
And the leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee seem to be skeptical that withdrawing all of our troops from Afghanistan post-2014 is a realistic move the administration is honestly considering, either, via The Hill:
Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) told The Hill Tuesday that he thought the Obama administration was trying to make it clear to Karzai in their security negotiations that he isn’t the one giving up ground by allowing U.S. troops to stay beyond 2014.
“For him to suggest that somehow or another we’re imposing something and that he’s giving up something by having us stay — that suggestion I think is so-off base that we’ve got to find a way of disabusing him of thinking that he’s got leverage,” Levin said.
“I think it’s a signal that he thinks he has leverage that he doesn’t have,” Levin said.
Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the top Republican on the Armed Services panel, said he has serious problems with withdrawing all troops from Afghanistan — and he added that he had not heard the idea suggested by any administration officials.
“The zero option is one that would be very difficult to do,” Inhofe said. “The key is the number of people that we would leave there to make sure the numbers are great enough that they would not be in danger.”
Indeed; as Ed already pointed out, it’s in the United States’ interests more so than Karzai’s to maintain a presence in Afghanistan and keep up counter-terrorism operations. What’s the deal?