Sunday, November 15, 2009

Afghanistan Assessment

I think that Steve Hynde of The NewsHoggers has a very good assessment of the administration's thinking on Afghanistan, so I'm passing it on:

There's been a substantial change in Obama administration rhetoric in the last week or two, which has only accelerated after Gen. Eikenberry put his spanner in the escalationists' works. Hillary Clinton, talking to ABC News this Sunday, gives the clearest indication yet that the administration is looking for an exit.

"We're not interested in staying in Afghanistan. We have no long-term stake there. We want that to be made very clear," she told ABC news.

"We agree that our goal here is to defeat Al-Qaeda. That has been a clear goal and a mission from the president ever since he made his commitment of additional troops back in the spring."

"And we understand that the Afghans themselves need help in order to defend themselves against the Taliban. Those are mutually reinforcing missions but our highest obligation is to the American people," she said.

Gone is any talk of being there for as long as it takes to defeat the Taliban, or of success being something that "we'll know it when we see it". Instead, the Taliban are clearly Afghanistan's problem and Al Qaeda is America's - and a "mission accomplished" banner can be hung around the latter, at least as far as Afghanistan goes.

Here's what I now expect when Obama finally announces his decision: Afghanistan will get "help in order to defend themselves against the Taliban", more troops but the bulk with a clear training mission, and at the same time Karzai will be handed a three to five year set of benchmarks and a timetable for U.S. withdrawal.

Obama has no intention of heading into the 2012 election with no end in sight on Afghanistan. Thankfully, political necessity in this case matches with the smart thing to do strategically.

By stressing the need for an exit strategy rather than endless escalation, Obama is clearly trying to stay (somewhat) true to his campaign positions. And trying to get re-elected in 2012.

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