U.S. President Barack Obama’s unannounced visit to Afghanistan yesterday on the anniversary of the death of Osama bin Laden, and his commitment to keep some U.S. troops stationed in the country until 2024, is fraught with significance for the subcontinent.
Such a presence might bolster the fortunes of the flagging Hamid Karzai regime, it may send a message to Islamabad that its machinations to emplace a neo-Taliban regime in Kabul may be difficult, and it may enable New Delhi to continue its reconstruction efforts. At a bare minimum it provides a modicum of reassurance that the United States won’t simply cut and run as it did in the wake of the Soviet withdrawal of Afghanistan.
But despite Obama’s commitment to station troops in the country, and thereby signal a longer term commitment to its stability, the administration will face political carping from both the left and the right. The right wing in this presidential election season will castigate him for making what they deem to be an anemic military commitment. The left will attack him for his unwillingness to pull out all American forces from Afghanistan come 2014.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
Such politically and ideologically charged criticisms aside, Obama’s decision is a sagacious choice. It avoids the legitimate criticism of a hasty and precipitate withdrawal that could have dire consequences for the region. Simultaneously, it also addresses the charge that a large U.S. military footprint has become a lightning rod for those who wish to characterize it as an army of occupation.
If politics is indeed the art of the possible, President Obama has, at least on this occasion, proven to be an able practitioner of that skill.