From an editorial published in Thursdays Washington Post:
President Obama returned in his State of the Union address to a familiar slogan: The war in Afghanistan is finally coming to an end. That, of course, is not true: As 29 million Afghans could testify, there is no end to the conflict in sight. Mr. Obama equates the end of the war with the end of U.S. combat operations. Together with our allies, he told Congress on Tuesday, we will complete our mission there by the end of this year.
Even that is not true at least, not according to the presidents announced plan. Mr. Obama reiterated his commitment to leave behind U.S. trainers and logistical support to assist the Afghan army, as well as a counterterrorism force to pursue any remnants of al-Qaida which presumably would involve military action.
Not surprisingly, polls show that Afghans broadly support a continuing U.S. mission, as do most members of President Hamid Karzais cabinet, most of the U.S. national security establishment and almost all NATO governments. But the project is in serious danger because two crucial actors are falling short: Mr. Karzai and Mr. Obama.
Mr. Karzais counterproductive behavior has been getting the brunt of attention in Washington. His wild allegations about U.S. military misconduct are deeply offensive, but worse is his refusal to sign the bilateral security agreement he negotiated with the Obama administration and presented to a national assembly of notables for endorsement. Without the agreement, which sets the legal basis for a continued U.S. presence, the United States would be forced into a full withdrawal.
The administration has the option of sidestepping Mr. Karzai, who is due to be replaced in a presidential election scheduled for April. It could plan for a continued presence and even announce its dimensions with the expectation that the new president would sign on; virtually all of the candidates have expressed support. It could buy time with a brief extension of the existing military agreement.
Instead, Mr. Obama has played into Mr. Karzais hands by setting deadlines for his signature and hinting that he will embrace a zero option if the matter is not soon settled.
The president is also communicating the wrong message to Americans with speeches proclaiming the end of Americas longest war.
If a continued U.S. mission is to be supported by the public and funded by Congress which just slashed this years Afghanistan funding Mr. Obama must make the case why it is in the national interest for troops to remain. That he does virtually the opposite makes him complicit with Mr. Karzai in undermining a major national security interest.
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