O'Hanlon: Reasons for hope on Afghanistan
Obama salutes troops at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.
May 2nd, 2012
10:01 AM ET

O'Hanlon: Reasons for hope on Afghanistan

Editor's Note: Michael O’Hanlon is coauthor with Martin Indyk and Kenneth Lieberthal of the new book, Bending History: Barack Obama’s Foreign Policy. You can read more from him on the Global Public Square.

Michael E. O'Hanlon

By Michael O'Hanlon – Special to CNN

President Obama’s trip to Afghanistan this week is a very good thing for American national security in general and the Afghanistan mission in particular. Thankfully, it should probably arrest some of the unproductive dialogue on both sides about whether Governor Romney or President Carter or anyone else would have authorized the same raid that killed Osama bin Laden a year ago. (In fact, of course, Carter did authorize a similar raid, Operation Desert One in 1980 in Iran, but largely because the U.S. military was not nearly as proficient at such things at the time, it failed.) President Obama deserves credit for authorizing the bin Laden raid but it is time to move on to a broader debate.

On Afghanistan specifically, over the last three years the president’s policies have generally been resolute and forceful, and his internal deliberations over troop deployments have been careful and inclusive. But there have still been big problems with the overall effort.

Second guessing from within the administration continued, and found its way to the public domain, even after Mr. Obama repeatedly made decisions to authorize increased troop totals. This suggested that America’s commitment to the war was not quite what Mr. Obama said, and contributed to hedging behavior by Afghans and Pakistanis.

Relations between a number of members of the administration and Afghan President Hamid Karzai were poor in a way that was counterproductive to the mission, because the friction made Karzai resistant when we asked him to replace cronies and other associates to improve the integrity and competence of his government. Reinforcing that problem, the last time President Obama went to Afghanistan (in late 2010), he never even made it to Kabul and never saw President Karzai due to weather problems and the President Obama's packed schedule. American citizens also had good reason to doubt the mission was making headway when their commander in chief rarely spoke about it publicly.

This week’s developments are an important corrective to all these problems. They rekindle a personal relationship between the two presidents, suggest a clear spirit of teamwork and common purpose, and show that even in busy times back home and even after the death of bin Laden, Mr. Obama has not lost sight of his original assessment that the Afghanistan mission remains important.

The signing of the U.S.-Afghan Strategic Partnership Agreement should signal to many skeptics in the region, including among the Taliban and the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), that America’s commitment to Afghanistan is durable –and thus help these other actors accept the reality and likely longevity of the new Afghan state (even as presidential elections there approach in 2013 or 2014).

Not all is well with the mission, of course. But the improved security in the country’s south, north, and west, the impressive performance of Afghan security forces in repulsing the April 15 attacks in Kabul and elsewhere, the growth and improvement of the Afghan army and police (now more than 90 percent their intended size), the testimony of General Allen in March that no further U.S. troop drawdowns will be considered until the current round is completed in September and conditions are then assessed all  combine with Obama's visit to provide some real hope for a mission that remains important for future American security. It is good to see.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of Michael O'Hanlon.


soundoff (50 Responses)
  1. George Patton

    Here goes O'Hanlon again, bragging about "winning the war" in Afghanistan! We has these same "military successes" in Vietnam too, yet we lost that war!!! We never had any right to be in either country!

    May 2, 2012 at 10:59 am | Reply
    • rene of mandeville

      he continues to defend the indefensible. not worth the treasure. it just repeats the error of the British empire and the Russian empire with mistakes of the American empire. as Scarbourough said the Neo Cons won this round. but it will be the last time. unless of course Mittens gets in and here we go all over again.

      May 2, 2012 at 4:51 pm | Reply
    • Sgt.Pepper

      You got that right Patton, I can't agree more.

      May 2, 2012 at 5:18 pm | Reply
    • Marine5484

      Thank you, George. You said it all!

      May 2, 2012 at 5:36 pm | Reply
    • Steve

      I find it interesting that in Kabul today there was a bombing at 0600 local time and no report from CNN. Isnt it amazing how they control the news based on their political agenda. Not since 1938 Germany has this been so bad.

      May 2, 2012 at 7:59 pm | Reply
      • Polopoint

        they were too enamored of Obama's speech . . .

        May 3, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
    • ComSenseWiz

      The bottom line is that the cost to the country is way too high relative to whatever increased security may come from it. No way to get around that issue.

      May 3, 2012 at 8:43 am | Reply
  2. yuri pelham

    Only hope is to leave ASAP. The Taliban cannot be beaten.

    May 2, 2012 at 11:50 am | Reply
  3. Nelson

    His trip was political while informing the American electorate that more American money and American lives will be lost till at least 2024. Karzai will smile and take the money while degrading our occupation. Does that sound pragmatic? I think most Americans have this illusion of being the policeman for the worlds problem while garnering hatred from the same people we think we can dictate to. Change, what change? Just another politician with oratory skills.

    May 2, 2012 at 1:21 pm | Reply
    • mediagirl

      You've hit it right on the nose! Just sit back, wait and count all the U.S. taxpayers money that will be flowing into that country.

      May 3, 2012 at 1:48 pm | Reply
  4. comradbill

    In other news......The Taliban respond to president obama 2 hours after his speech. http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/05/02/2778989/taliban-bombers-attack-kabul-hours.html

    May 2, 2012 at 2:27 pm | Reply
  5. j. von hettlingen

    One could say that obama is trying to finish the Afghan endgame as a responsible player, This deal signed between him and Hamid Karzai will not itself provide a durable peace, as it will need many more steps, including a settlement with the insurgent groups and the co-operation of Afghanistan's neighbours. As Afghans throughout history have always loathed foreigners occupying their country,they are willing to take the security issues into their own hands

    May 2, 2012 at 4:26 pm | Reply
    • Marine5484

      We need to leave Afghanistan the same way we left Vietnam in 1975. It was only long after we left Vietnam could that country once again enjoy peace and prosperity! On the other hand, by staying in Afghanistan, we'll only contribute to the misery of it's people which will not be good!

      May 2, 2012 at 5:40 pm | Reply
  6. rene of mandeville

    yep Michael the hope is we leave this year but at most next year. last time I will vote for anyone who extends tours of duty of for the waste of time and treasure
    sad day

    May 2, 2012 at 4:48 pm | Reply
  7. Sgt.Pepper

    There' s no hope, all you will get is having more enemies worldwide. When you try to lead the world with arrogance that's what you get. I see no hopes there. History shows that every empire has an end sooner or later. You don't make friends with killing.

    May 2, 2012 at 5:22 pm | Reply
  8. Ben

    Preparing to bug out and have Afghanistan fall into civil war. Ultimately, this was going to happen. However, had the president's name been Bush, the photo and tenor of the article would have been completely different and completely negative...

    May 2, 2012 at 5:48 pm | Reply
  9. hindunegative

    Arriving in midnight like a hindu, thief, tells whole story of Obamas hinduism, lies, Westren hindu Judaism, criminal self center ism, secularism has no place in land of truthful, soon to be eradicated by truthful Taliban along with hindu gentiles, criminal gentiles, slaves of hindu criminal west, such as Karzai.

    May 2, 2012 at 7:47 pm | Reply
  10. medhat

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    May 2, 2012 at 10:06 pm | Reply
  11. Matt A.

    Do the reasons for hope include foreign aid up to 2024? Afghanistan is considered a " project" by many in the foreign service community.

    With a fighting force lacking sustained strength and courage, Afghanistan is a basket case in perpetuity.

    May 2, 2012 at 10:22 pm | Reply
  12. Rob

    If Afghanistan gets the same kind of "hope and change" from Obama that the American people have gotten over the last 3 1/2 years, they're screwed.

    May 3, 2012 at 1:26 am | Reply
  13. Sgt.Pepper

    Ha ha ha Rob

    May 3, 2012 at 4:55 am | Reply
  14. mmi16

    If Afghanistan were controlled by the posters in this thread – the Taliban would be launching an invasion of the US.

    Afghanistan's security will be Afghanistan's responsibility; maybe some of them have learned how to deal with a 21st Century world.

    May 3, 2012 at 5:16 am | Reply
  15. SGT.Pepper

    mmi16 that's simply paranoia, sorry to have to tell you this.

    May 3, 2012 at 6:37 am | Reply
  16. Whispering Wind

    I admire the pioneer spirit we always have. But it is now the 21th century; and we shall not think those people around the world such as Afghans, Chinese, Iranian, Palestinian, are the 15th century American Indians whom we can kill, suppress, brain wash, and override their culture and belief. The world has become closer and the people become smarter. Instead we should respect each others culture, belief and system of government. The law of nature has its miracle to self-adjust the problem. That's why you see the ancient empire crumple one after another by its own wrong doing.

    May 3, 2012 at 9:18 am | Reply
  17. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    Government Insider Says George W. Bush Authorized the 9/11 Attacks...

    Stanley Hilton was a senior adviser to Sen Bob Dole and he has represented hundreds of families of the victims of 9/11!

    go to http://www.rense.com/general57/aale.htm

    Please carefully vet and know the character and personality of your republican candidates running for office before you cast a vote for them! Just remember its your future and your children's future that's at stake!

    May 3, 2012 at 10:20 am | Reply
  18. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    Scott McCullen was George W. Bush's Press Secretary and he wrote the New York Time's Best Seller "What Happened" explaining how GWB lied about WMD's in Iraq and used propaganda to sell the Iraq war!

    Please properly vet and know the character and personality of your republican candidates before you cast your vote! Just remember its your future and your children's future at stake!

    May 3, 2012 at 10:53 am | Reply
  19. Neut

    Reason 1:

    May 3, 2012 at 12:02 pm | Reply
  20. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    Government Insider Says George W. Bush Planned and Authorized the 9/11 attacks...

    Stanley Hilton was a senior adviser to Sen Bob Dole and he has represented hundreds of families of 9/11 victims in a law suit against GWB for treason and mass murder!

    go to http:/www.rense.com/general57/aale.htm

    Please carefully vet and know the character and personality of your republican candidates before you cast your vote! Just remember its your future and your children's future at stake!

    May 3, 2012 at 12:14 pm | Reply
    • George Patton

      Well said, Balh blah..... What is well known however, is that 9/11 proved to be a big boon to the Bush Adminisration as it faciliated the passage of the Patriot Act and provided the perfect pretext for the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan!!!

      May 3, 2012 at 1:29 pm | Reply
      • Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

        Agree! And unfortunately, with implementation of the Patriot Act, we the people have less freedoms as our privacy is being invaded and violated!

        May 3, 2012 at 2:07 pm |
  21. marineace

    We should not be there one more day or give them one more penny of aid. This is another mistake – both by Bush and Obama. Staying involved in Afghanistan is insanity.

    May 3, 2012 at 5:13 pm | Reply
  22. Sgt.Pepper

    Getting our freedoms back will be a high price to pay from now on. Instead of soldiers dying and giving their life away in another country not to defend their own country but to die in vain for a war that is based on lies should instead clean their own country of the corruptions to gain our freedoms back.

    May 4, 2012 at 10:52 am | Reply
  23. Roberto Murray

    The so-called insider who said it was an inside job is full of crap..Bin Ladin even admitted doing it..don't beleive any of the lies coming from the facist far left..Bush invented WMDs? What a load of crap...Israeli intelligence said they had them, French and Russian and English and German and Irainian intelligence said they had them..fact of the matter is before Desert Storm the WMDs were all shipped out to Syria and Iran..they have it all on satellite...it never ceases to amaze me the way you left wing facist liberals crank out the propaganda..

    May 7, 2012 at 11:02 pm | Reply

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