Haass: More questions than answers on Afghanistan
U.S. Marines look out over the Helmand River in October 2010 in Kajaki, Afghanistan.
May 2nd, 2012
10:03 AM ET

Haass: More questions than answers on Afghanistan

Editor's Note: Richard Haass is the president of the Council on Foreign Relations. This is his First Take.

By Richard HaassCFR.org

President Obama has been of two minds toward Afghanistan since the outset of his presidency. In December 2009, en route to tripling the U.S. military presence there, he declared that U.S. military forces would begin to withdraw from that country in eighteen months. Now, two-and-a-half years later, he stated that U.S. military forces would continue to leave Afghanistan but that American soldiers would remain in the country until at least 2024.

The announcement of the U.S.-Afghan "Strategic Partnership Agreement" raises at least as many questions as it answers. How many U.S. troops will remain in country after 2014 and what will be their precise role? What will be the ultimate scale of Afghan army and police forces? How much will all this cost, and what will be the U.S. share? And what is the extent of the U.S. commitment to Afghanistan if, as is all too possible, this mix of Afghan and U.S. effort is not enough in the face of Taliban ruthlessness, Pakistani provision of a sanctuary for the Taliban, and Afghan corruption and divisions?

The bigger question over the president's speech is not that some U.S. forces are to stay in Afghanistan–U.S. forces have remained in other hot spots for decades and played a useful role–but centers on the purpose and scale of the ongoing commitment. Mr. Obama put forward two rationales. The first is that absent this effort, "al-Qaeda could establish itself once more" inside the country. This is of course true. But it could regroup in Afghanistan even with this effort. More important, it is not clear how this possibility would distinguish Afghanistan from, say, Yemen or Somalia or Nigeria. The global effort against terror is just that—global–and there is no reason for the effort in Afghanistan to be large. It is not the central battleground in a struggle against an enemy with access to dozens of countries.

All of which takes us to the second rationale for the announced policy: to "finish the job we started in Afghanistan and end this war responsibly." But past sacrifice is a poor justification for continued sacrifice unless it is warranted. The truth is that while the United Sates still has interests in Afghanistan, none of them, other than opposing al-Qaeda, rises to the level of vital. And this vital interest can be addressed with a modest commitment of troops and dollars.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of Richard Haass.

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Topics: Afghanistan

soundoff (12 Responses)
  1. George Patton

    All this sickening bravado coming from Barack Obama about Afghanistan is quite corny indeed. Obama's running for reelection so what would one expect him to say?

    May 2, 2012 at 10:54 am |
    • 100% ETHIO STRONGER!

      The Afghanistan issue is going to be a severe headaches for future American Presidents as well.
      It will take longer cool the burden of feelings, until it dies slowly on time base.
      It is just similar to the Vietnam war. Look the new American generations, they don't give a dam about it. But, for those, who got injured and whose family members were killed, it is always a Nightmare.
      Ask Senator MaCain how it feels.

      As the saying goes, time lapse = Memory loss.

      May 2, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
  2. 100% ETHIO STRONGER!

    Why we didn't have discussions about the CIA employees who were being terminated from their job, because of their Misconducts in Colombia?
    Do they have the control of what would be selected for blogs?
    If they do, is it considered as THOUGHT CONTROL or TOTAL CONTROL?

    Back to the topic: on Afghanistan case, the issue is not simple to make a decision in the current time frame. It requires...a lot...
    Remember, how many American and NATO Soldiers killed and injured. As well as, the numbers of Civilians death. The Political-economy and recession has been also caused by it.

    Recently, I checked other Countries Blogs and they keep discussing about CIA's bad manners in Columbia as a top agenda.

    May 2, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
  3. j. von hettlingen

    The U.S. expects to share the budget with the ISAF countries for funding the Afghan forces. If Afghanistan becomes a stable country, it would have a positive impact on its neighbours, especially Pakistan and other Central Asian Republics. Indeed, Mr. Haass, ending the war is important, but leaving a mess behind isn't desirable neither.

    May 2, 2012 at 4:47 pm |
    • Marine5484

      The mess in Afghanistan will be clean up only and if the ISAF ever leaves that country which at this time unfortunately, it eveidently has no intention of doing. Remember Vietnam? It was only long after all the foreign troops left that country was the mess there cleaned up!

      May 2, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
      • George Patton

        Now yours is the most sensible post here yet. Thank you, Marine 5484.

        May 2, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
  4. medhat

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    http://www.elearning-directory.com/arabic-see2

    May 2, 2012 at 10:06 pm |
    • George Patton

      I only wish that one could learn Russian the same way, medhat. It is such a beautiful language and if you tried learning it, you'd agree!!!

      May 3, 2012 at 1:22 pm |
  5. John Phillips

    I have been saying for years that Afghanistan is a problem that has no soultion. Forget the Vietnam outcome for a moment and look at the history and culture of the country. The British tried to impose imperial rule and were unsuccessful. The former Soviet Union tried to create a "cordon sanitaire" in south central Asia and after ten years left Afghanistan as a defeated country. Afghanistan is a tribal, disjointed nation with no real tradition of democracy or economic development. Except for the urban areas, it lives in the 16th century.

    The rhetoric coming from Mr. Obama is face saving at best. We have not been successful at nation building in Afghanistan and all the new agreement does is give "legitamacy" to the corrupt Karzai regime and the bureaucracy that supports it. The Karzai government has no legitamacy among the population except for the political elites and the Afghan war profiteers.

    It is past time to cut our ties to Karzai and the current Afghan government. The United States would be wise to cultivate some sort of mutually beneficial relationship with those in Afghanistan who strive for real change in the country. This would include more moderate and pragmatic elements of the Taliban. If it is deemed necessary that a small military presence (perhaps Special Ops) is needed to counteract the more radical elements of the Taliban and to prevent the renewed presence of al-Qeada, so be it. Realism needs to return to our policy toward Afghanistan.

    May 3, 2012 at 3:19 pm |
    • Joseph McCarthy

      In short John, Afghanistan needs a return to Communist rule. Had it not been for foreign interference on the side of the Muhajeddin fighting the Communists, the Communists may have won and there would not have been a Russian intervention back in 1979. In that case, Afghanistan might today be a modern, progressive and prosperous country instead of the very poor one that it is!!!

      May 4, 2012 at 9:52 am |

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