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.
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.