We Will Abandon Afghanistan
I don’t think that Michael O’Hanlon has gotten the memo:
U.S. officials may perceive the zero option as a smart negotiating tactic, but it actually reinforces the hedging behavior, especially in Pakistan, that allows the Taliban to maintain sanctuaries there. Pakistan’s intelligence services and military see the Taliban as their backup plan, should Afghanistan revert to civil war, or chaos, after a premature NATO pullout. Some in Pakistan challenge this approach, but most Pakistanis will see little reason to question their long-standing strategy as long as we keep talking about a zero option.
The United States would be much better served by declaring its desire to help Afghanistan, provided that Afghans do their part and have a serious election next year and that Karzai then step down as required by his country’s constitution (and as he has pledged to do). We need to help the Afghans with that process and avoid being bogged down in public squabbles that serve no constructive purpose.
It has been a foregone conclusion that we would “abandon” Afghanistan for years, possibly since we invaded. The alternative would have been a permanent military presence there, which would have been viewed widely as colonization both here and in Afghanistan, and that’s never been on the table.
At one point there was a very minor possibility that a small, compact force, focused on counter-terrorism and otherwise maintaining a low profile, as suggested by Rory Stewart among others might have happened.
As things are, particularly with the higher U. S. casualty count that followed the heightened operational tempo of the “Afghan Surge”, the American people are just tired of Afghanistan. Ongoing funding of the increasingly obviously corrupt and incompetent Afghan government will be an increasingly hard sell.