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Transition 2012

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Afghanistan Update: Obama’s Strategy Under Fire

by Newsteam Staff
May 2, 2012

U.S. soldiers on patrol with Afghan national army soldiers Kandahar province, southern Afghanistan April 22, 2012 (Baz Ratner/Courtesy Reuters) U.S. soldiers on patrol with Afghan national army soldiers Kandahar province, southern Afghanistan April 22, 2012 (Baz Ratner/Courtesy Reuters)


With a new U.S. cooperative agreement with the Afghan government in place, analysts are weighing President Obama’s long-term strategy even as they ponder how this is playing out in the 2012 election cycle.

In his visit to Afghanistan yesterday, President Barack Obama signed the Strategic Partnership Agreement, which outlines a ten-year U.S. commitment to supporting security and development after the planned major troop withdrawal in 2014. “As I’ve said before, the United States has not come here to claim resources or to claim territory,” Obama said at the signing. “We came with a very clear mission: We came to destroy al-Qaeda.” Later, in a speech broadcast in the United States, Obama said he would “not keep Americans in harm’s way a single day longer than is absolutely required for our national security.”

The trip provided two messages for two different audiences, say Anne Gearan and Robert Burns of the Associated Press, a “we’re leaving” message for war-weary voters at home and a “we’re here for you” message for a vulnerable Afghanistan.

President Obama has not justified a major U.S. commitment in Afghanistan beyond 2014, says CFR President Richard N. Haass. “The truth is that while the United States still has interests in Afghanistan, none of them, other than opposing al-Qaeda, rises to the level of vital. And this vital interest can be addressed with a modest commitment of troops and dollars,” he writes.

Howard Fineman writes in the Huffington Post that Obama is a tough re-election contender based on foreign policy and his performance as commander-in-chief, but the deeper question of what has been accomplished in Afghanistan and what to expect from the next ten years of U.S. presence there will apparently have to wait until the celebrating is over.

The New York Times’ Michael Shear writes GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney came face-to-face with the power of the presidency on the campaign trail after Tuesday’s events. “The weaving of campaign and official business is the hallmark of presidential reelection campaigns, perfected by previous administrations of both parties,” Shear says. Howard Kurtz in the Daily Beast notes there was “no compelling diplomatic reason” to make the trip but it “was perfectly timed for a president trying to hang onto his job.”

Romney has not yet commented on the new plan, but did issue a statement commending Obama for going to Afghanistan.

For more on the candidates’ stances, check out CFR’s Issue Tracker on The Candidates and Afghanistan.

Suggested Other Reading:

CSIS’s Anthony H. Cordesman says the reality behind the strategy declaration is grim. “Every day seems to widen the gap between the goals the United States is seeking to achieve in Afghanistan and its ability to achieve them,” Cordesman says. Even if the United States, allies, and Afghan government do face up to the realities that the insurgency shows no sign of abating, that the Afghani central government is weak, and Pakistan is not a true ally, “success will be uncertain and limited.”

The latest quarterly report from the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction says reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan are hampered by corruption and a lack of security.

Al-Qaeda, while crippled, is working hard at nation-building outside of Afghanistan, says Will McCants at Foreign Policy, something the next president will have to face.

— Gayle S. Putrich, Contributing Editor

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