America’s Involvement In Afghanistan’s Future

December 2, 2009

Last evening, President Obama announced his plan for the United States’ ongoing war effort in Afghanistan. His strategy includes 30,000 additional American troops, and a withdrawal date of mid-2011.

The exit strategy put forth by Mr. Obama can be understood as an ultimatum to Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Essentially, Mr. Obama is telling Mr. Karzai that the government reforms called for must be put in place quickly. Mr. Obama is trying to instill a sense of urgency. It is a calculated risk.

The success of the American military’s effort to create manageable conditions for an eventual transition of power is dependent on whether the Afghans will be able to assume a greater role in their own defense. The capability of the Afghans is a variable that the U.S. cannot predict. The Afghan government has had great difficulty in guiding it’s population through civil and military modernization and change. Michele A. Flournoy (American under secretary of defense) stated today in the New York Times that the pace, the duration, and the condition at the beginning of troop withdrawals from Afghanistan will dictate how quickly the drawdown happens.

Mr. Obama stated in his speech last night that success in Afghanistan is inextricably linked to success in Pakistan. This is because the al Qaeda network and the various Taliban factions operating in the region travel back and forth between the two countries. Mr. Obama compared al Qaeda to a spreading cancer. However, there is some doubt as to al Qaeda’s ability to reestablish itself in Afghanistan in any formidable way.

Mr. Obama spoke of Pakistan so substantially last evening because Pakistan is immeasurably more important to American interests than Afghanistan. Pakistan has around 100 nuclear weapons and it is also the haven for the top leadership of al Qaeda. Pakistan’s involvement is complicated by its current state of governance. The Pakistani government only controls about 30% of its population; moreover, the Pakistani military is the primary, and possibly only, institution holding the country together. Furthermore, the growing profile of U.S. forces in the region is increasing anti-Americanism among the Pakistani populace.

Pakistan’s importance to American interests will not ebb when the United States leaves Afghanistan. Realistically, it will only continue to grow. However, the question remains whether Afghanistan is really all that central to America’s future global effort against terrorism. Currently, the answer isn’t clear.

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