President Obama is accelerating the withdrawal of American troops from combat roles in Afghanistan, emphasizing during the presidential campaign that he will put an end to the quagmire. The decision was predicted in a PJRC analysis last month. See also, "Ending the Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan."
The announcement was made by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, four months before the Chicago NATO-G8 Summit where NATO is expected to follow. The decision will be implemented during the heat of the presidential election and the face of tumultous protests in Chicago.
Obama’s decision is likely to please most voters, including those in his Democratic base, as well as undercutting demands for immediate withdrawal as American casualties drop. But he will face fierce attack from Mitt Romney, the Republican Party, the neo-cons and some military commanders for pulling back before “victory.”
Obama faces more serious problems in Afghanistan itself, where the New York Times (February 1, 2012) describes “tremors” setting into client institutions already facing cuts in American funding and military backup. Afghanistan is not Iraq, where the US/NATO forces created, funded, armed and defended with American blood an authoritarian Shiite regime with huge sectarian armed forces. By any independent account, the Afghan armed forces are largely incompetent and inexperienced, and the regime itself deeply corrupt and unstable. Even the United Nations, which officially is responsible for the occupation, accuses the Afghan government of “systemic torture” with American foreknowledge in its prisons. (Washington Post, October 30, 2011) Ninety-seven percent of the Kabul government’s gross “domestic” product derives from international funding, according to the World Bank. (New York Times, February 1, 2012) The Karzai regime could implode either from within or on the battlefield, giving the opposition ammunition to blame Obama for “pandering” to the peace vote.
Obama will have to fudge the appearance of a peace process during the election year, one which inevitably tends toward a power-sharing arrangement with the Taliban in Afghanistan and containment of its so-called “safe havens” in Pakistan through drone attacks. Indirect peace talks with the Taliban, shrouded in secrecy, already are underway in Qatar, where the Taliban is opening a diplomatic office. On the table are Taliban demands that the US release several of its captured detainees in Guantanamo and devolve power to regional structures, an arrangement which would allow Taliban representation in its core areas of strength.
Republicans already show signs of meddling to derail the fledgling peace process, as they did in the 1968 campaign by Richard Nixon against Hubert Humphrey, and the 1982 campaign by Ronald Reagan against Jimmy Carter. Besides denouncing any talks with the Taliban, three Republicans plus Democratic hawk Loretta Sanchez recently met with Afghan opposition leaders in Germany to oppose the US diplomatic process. (McClatchy, January 27, 2012)
Orange County activists, led by Progressive Democrats of America, are likely to be angered by Sanchez’ attempt to scuttle the talks.
As expected in a diplomatic give-and-take, the US has pulled back from its previous preconditions for talks, which always were non-starters: that the Taliban and other insurgents surrender their arms, separate themselves from Al Qaeda, and accept the Afghanistan constitution, which includes provisions for human and women’s rights.
The Taliban currently demand a fixed timetable for the withdrawal of all US troops and bases and are denouncing the current Kabul regime as an illegitimate puppet. On several occasions, they have indicated a willingness to separate their fight for a sovereign Aghanistan from Al Qaeda’s larger war against the West and certain regimes in the Arab world.
The central key to peace will be a formula which allows Obama to claim that he has effectively “degraded”, if not fully “destroyed”, the Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan. Second, the West will need to cede power and a representative role to the Taliban in its current strongholds, in the framework of internationally-supported power sharing. Third, internationally-supervised elections will have to be organized, perhaps by 2014 when Karzai is forced to leave office. Fourth, peacekeeping arrangements from regional powers including China, Pakistan, Iran and Turkey will have to be arranged. Fifth, Hillary Clinton will attempt to assure protections for the status of women as part of the deal.
The process is unfolding much more rapidly than generally known or noticed. The reason is that the partial withdrawal of American troops, and the strong signal of more withdrawals and decline of funding, is placing huge pressure on the Afghan regime to accept a face-saving alternative to collapse.
Many Congressional Democrats, led by Rep. Barbara Lee, are supporting HR 780, which requires the end of funding for the war except for money needed for the rapid and orderly withdrawal of troops. Peace advocates among Democrats are considering amendments to demand an accelerated diplomatic process, the end of drone attacks in exchange for diplomatic talks, or both.