The Cato Institute’s Doug Bandow explains how Obama has gotten it wrong on all counts.
Then-President George W. Bush was right to oust the Taliban in 2001. Washington had to teach the unmistakable lesson that no government would remain in power if it hosted terrorists who attacked America. But then the Bush administration lost interest, preferring to use terrorism as an excuse to oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein rather than use it as a reason to rebuild Afghanistan.
Thirteen years later the U.S. and its allies have built a large government bureaucracy and security force, but on foundations of sand. The Afghan government is noted for venality, incompetence and corruption; the military’s performance is uneven at best. Indeed, despite high international expectations and intense outside pressure, Afghanistan could not even hold a fair and free election. The power-sharing agreement between President Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai and “Chief Executive” Abdullah Abdullah will require extraordinary statesmanship to succeed — a virtue never in high supply in Kabul.
Yet the administration wants to retain 9,800 Americans and roughly 2,000 to 3,000 Europeans in the middle of this mess. President Barack Obama proclaimed a “historic day” with the signing of the bilateral security agreement, reflective of “an enduring partnership that strengthens Afghan sovereignty, stability, unity and prosperity and that contributes to our shared goal of defeating al-Qaida and its extremist affiliates.”
He’s wrong on all counts. The influx of Western cash has created wealth for the elite but not genuine prosperity. Afghanistan’s sovereignty will suffer as long as the government is dependent on foreign forces. Domestic unity has been a mirage for a long time.
Al-Qaida has been ejected from Afghanistan, which is why Osama bin Laden was located in Pakistan. With al-Qaida affiliates active in Pakistan, Syria and Yemen, Afghanistan no longer even counts as a minor front in the war on terrorism.
Finally, the continuing U.S. presence seems unlikely to lead to anything approaching stability. Even these diminished troop levels are to be cut in half by 2016 and reduced to a normal embassy contingent by the end of 2017. The Afghan tragedy goes back decades. Washington has devoted tens of thousands of troops, thousands of lives, tens of billions of dollars and scores of high-level diplomatic missions to fixing the country. Retaining a handful of troops — not enough to defend the government from the Taliban but too many to remain uninvolved — won’t remedy the system’s deep deficiencies.