As expected, the Obama administration released the delicately spun results of yet another review of the Afghanistan war, with no strategy changes announced. It’s unclear to me what the purpose of the review is, at least as it applies to the question of when and how fast American troops will start to leave. It’s a Catch-22: if, as the US military argues, the war is going swimmingly well, then it’s easy for Obama to speed the withdrawal in July, telling Americans that victory-is-ours, or something like that. If, on the other hand, the war is going badly next spring, when the Taliban comes out of its winter hibernation, Obama can tell Americans that he gave it the old college try but that’s hopeless, and we’re getting out.
You ought to read the complete White House report of its assessment. Oddly enough, the report talks about Al Qaeda first, Pakistan second, and Afghanistan third. Rather than talk about victory, thank goodness, the White House says that its goal is “degrading the Taliban” and “achieving a durable and favorable political resolution of the conflict.” The only way that can happen, of course, is through direct negotiations among the United States, the Taliban, the government of Afghanistan, and the Pakistani military, the chief sponsors and protectors of the Taliban. In its assessment, the White House says nothing about that.
Writing in the Washington Post, George Will, a conservative skeptic on the war, raises the specter of a Tet Offensive-style attack by the Taliban, adding: “Might the Taliban’s tactics, techniques and procedures (in military argot, TTP) make possible a spike in violence in some way comparable to Tet in its impact on American opinion? No one knows this, or how another attack on America, perhaps launched from Yemen, might affect public support for what are explained as prophylactic operations in Afghanistan.” A good point, but perhaps Will hasn’t noticed that American public opinion has already turned sharply against the war. During Vietnam, public opinion was bitterly divided but early on, until Tet and My Lai, mostly backed the war. Now, on Afghanistan, Americans are overwhelmingly opposed. According to the Post, a new poll shows that 60 percent of all Americans, including 72 percent of Democrats and 63 percent of independents say that the war is no longer “worth fighting.”
So why isn’t Obama using that surge of political opposition to the war to rally concrete political support for ending it, rolling over right-wing warmongers in the process?