Today marks one year since the death of Osama bin Laden. The CIA estimates there are fewer than 100 al Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan. Since ‘getting Bin Laden’ and defeating al Qaeda were the stated reasons the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2001, President Barack Obama should use the anniversary to announce the end of the U.S. war in Afghanistan.
Instead, his administration has negotiated an agreement with President Hamid Karzai’s government for a U.S. presence in that country until at least 2024, ten years past the supposed date for withdrawal of U.S. combat troops. The U.S. and its NATO allies are supposed to commit to ongoing training of the Afghan military, as well as development aid. Obama swept into Afghanistan in the middle of the night to sign the agreement, but full details of the agreement remain secret.
U.S. troops would also still have a limited combat role, namely Special Forces counter-insurgency operations, according to a draft proposal described by Admiral Bill McRaven, the head of U.S. special operations. A more detailed security plan will surely be discussed at the upcoming NATO Summit in Chicago.
If the agreement covers a ten year period, commits U.S. military forces for training and counter-insurgency (which means inevitable combat), obligates the U.S. to continue providing billions of taxpayer dollars annually in aid (essentially bankrolling the entire Afghan government and military), and posits support for any number of "nation-building" measures, isn't this in fact a treaty, subject to U.S. Senate ratification, rather than an intergovernmental memorandum of agreement?
Karzai apparently feels obligated to take the agreement to his parliament for approval. Doesn’t Obama have a similar obligation - one imposed by the U.S. Constitution?It’s not clear what the year since the killing of Bin Laden has done to improve U.S. or Afghan security. It’s even less clear what staying for another dozen years will do for either country.
Quite apart from these legal, “process” questions, does anyone think our staying until 2024 is going to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan? We’ve already been there for eleven years – the longest war in our country’s history. What do we really have to show for it? We’ve spent almost $523 billion. Almost 2000 Americans have been killed and another 15,300 wounded. 1000 NATO troops have lost their lives.
Staying through 2024 will be a hard sell to the majority of Americans. According to last week’s Pew Research public opinion poll, only about a third of those polled think U.S. troops should stay in Afghanistan “until the situation there is stabilized” (whatever that means). About two-thirds of Obama supporters, and almost as many swing voters (who make up nearly a quarter of the electorate), want a swift withdrawal of U.S. troops, while Mitt Romney supporters are split just about evenly.
It’s hard to imagine public support increasing for this mission, especially considering the ongoing cost. Cities and states around the country face budget crises and are severely cutting all manner of public services. In 2012 alone, states had a combined shortfall of $169.3 billion, which resulted in spending cuts of $135.8 billion and tax increases of $21.4 billion. That has translated into deep cuts in public services at the very time when tens of millions need them most. How many more lives and how much more treasure will another 12 years in Afghanistan cost us?
Congressional support for ending the war rapidly is growing, and will be manifest by upcoming votes in the House of Representatives on the Defense Authorization Bill, as well as in other forms of Congressional communication to the president. Congress is unlikely to cut off funding for the war, but the administration would do well to heed the rising bipartisan tide for ending it sooner rather than later.
The May 20-22 NATO Summit in Chicago provides a great opportunity to devise plans to withdraw all foreign troops while fulfilling non-military humanitarian assistance and support for human and minority rights, especially for women’s rights in Afghanistan.
As the 15,000 delegates from alliance countries gather for the official confab at McCormick Place, tens of thousands of peace advocates will descend on Chicago to give voice to the demands of the pro-peace majority in the U.S. While there have been, and will continue to be, debates about security, First Amendment rights, and inconvenience to Chicagoans, such atmospherics should not obscure the real issues of U.S./NATO military policy, especially as it relates to the present and future military occupation of Afghanistan.
It’s not clear what the year since the killing of Bin Laden has done to improve U.S. or Afghan security. It’s even less clear what staying for another dozen years will do for either country. The time to bring U.S. forces home is now, not 2014, and certainly not 2024.