In this context, pulling out a significant number of US forces starting in July could signal to the Taliban that the United States isn’t seeking to occupy Afghanistan, and it might even provide the Taliban with an incentive to enter talks. ‘When we start the drawdown, the Taliban can say, “We didn’t let the surge beat us! Now we can negotiate,”’ says Larry Korb, a fellow at the Center for American Progress in Washington who was part of the Century Foundation taskforce. At least some members of the Taliban, along with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, whose Hizb-i Islami is allied to the Taliban, have suggested since last year that Obama’s plan to drawdown forces in July could serve as the starting point for talks over the insurgency’s chief demand, namely, the withdrawal of foreign forces.
In Washington, on both the left and the right, there’s growing discontent about the war. Among Democrats, there’s overwhelming sentiment behind a withdrawal, and members of the president’s party have forced a series of votes in Congress aimed at drastically limiting or defunding the US military campaign. Increasingly, those efforts have attracted support from conservative members of Congress and from conservative activists outside Congress, who are concerned not only about the unending nature of the war, but about its cost at a time when budget cuts and deficit reduction are the order of the day. Indeed, even some of the potential candidates for president in the Republican party, such as Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, have questioned the war in Afghanistan. ‘You go to Afghanistan, you look around and you say, “My gosh, am I in a country or on the surface of the moon”?’ Huckabee said. ‘What does the end game look like here? I can’t see a conclusion.’
If Obama does intend to begin a significant and prolonged drawdown this July, he won’t be running against a political tide. Most Americans have lost faith in the war, nearly all Democrats are opposed, and a substantial number of Republicans are lukewarm. True, there are still hawks, and Obama would have to confront the still-powerful advocates of the military’s counterinsurgency doctrine, such as Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of US forces in Afghanistan.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
Still, according to one State Department official, while the world’s attention has been riveted on the earthquake and tsunami in Japan and the upheaval in the Arab world, Obama’s Afghanistan team has been doing some serious thinking.