Sadly, that’s because the president’s decisions are primarily based on domestic political calculations. The sweeping defeat suffered by Obama’s Democratic party at the polls in November greatly increased the power and influence of hawks in the Republican party in Congress, especially in the House of Representatives, where ultra-conservatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida and Buck McKeon of California will take over the foreign affairs committee and the armed services committee, respectively. Both are bitterly opposed to the July 2011 drawdown, and they’ve signalled their intention to form a political alliance with the uniformed military, including Petraeus, to quash it.
In addition, a spate of low-level terrorist attempts by radicalized American Muslims with ties to Pakistan-based militant groups over the past year has caused the White House to be fearful of a domestic political backlash should a terrorist attack succeed after Obama begins to withdraw forces from Afghanistan. With his re-election in 2012 now in grave jeopardy, Obama won’t likely give his right-wing opponents any pretext to accuse him of being overly doveish.
The tragedy is that only a political agreement, involving negotiations between the United States, the Afghan government, the Taliban, and the Pakistani Army can bring the war to an end. The fitful round of talks with the Taliban during the spring and summer – including the excruciatingly embarrassing revelation that one Taliban interlocutor was an impostor – did not achieve any result, it now appears. That’s partly because Karzai and the United States tried to short-circuit Pakistan, keeping the ISI and its allies out of the loop, virtually guaranteeing that Pakistan would prevent the talks from going anywhere. Another reason they failed is that the senior Taliban leadership and the ISI don’t see Karzai as a credible partner for talks, viewing him instead as weak, isolated, and ineffective.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
To succeed, the United States must talk directly with Pakistan and its clients, including the Quetta Shura. Both Pakistan and the Taliban would like to see a timetable for the departure of foreign forces in Afghanistan. Obama’s July 2011 timetable could serve as a starting point for an agreement on a withdrawal, if tied to a plan to reorganize the Afghan government by bringing the insurgents into a rebalanced political compact. To get the ball rolling, however, a unilateral American ceasefire as a sign of good will would go a long way toward convincing Afghans of all persuasions – including Karzai, who’s demanded an end to drone attacks and Special Forces death squad activities – that the United States is serious about wanting an end to the war.
But there’s no appetite for that, at least not yet.