A group of moderate national security professionals is proposing a two-year phased withdrawal from Afghanistan. The phase-out would reduce US troops from 100,000 to 68,000 by October 2011, and by another 30,000 in July 2012.
The phase-out proposal, made by an expert panel of the New America Foundation, puts pressure on the Obama administration to keep its pledge to begin withdrawals in July of next year. The military, led by Gen. David Petraeus, is waging a public relations campaign to delay the pledged withdrawals.
Politically, the proposal offers the Obama a blueprint for the “graceful exit” opposed by Petraeus. It might defuse the Afghanistan issue during a presidential election year and win back numbers of disaffected peace voters. But if Obama follows his centrist instincts, the proposed 32,000 reduction could become the pole of an internal debate, with the compromise being a paltry 17,000. Only public opinion and Congressional action might keep the withdrawal rate meaningful.
The two-year timeline is also a call for Congress to become more specific in current anti-war proposals legislation. An exit strategy proposal by Rep. Jim McGovern and Sen. Russ Feingold calling for a “flexible timeline” for withdrawal received 18 Senate and 162 House votes this year, while Rep. Barbara Lee’s HR 6045, which limits funding to US withdrawal costs only, won 102 House votes. The Congress has yet to finalize war funding for this fiscal year.
The new proposal is consistent with recent Foreign Affairs articles in recommending decentralized power-sharing as a possible way to circumvent the Karzai administration. Its other emphases are on regional diplomacy to solidify Afghanistan’s neutrality, economic development, and a refocusing on security threats globally.
The key fault in the proposal is its failure to address The Long War doctrine and what a front-page article in the New York Times last week called “A Secret Assault on Terror Widening on Two Continents.”
For an analysis of the NAF panel report see Dan Froomkin's "A Plan B For Afghanistan."