The Administration revealed Sunday that the United States and Afghanistan had reached a preliminary agreement for the continued presence of US forces in Afghanistan for another 10 years after the supposed withdrawal of “combat forces” in 2014 .
The agreement was widely expected after the Administration and Karzai regime appeared to resolve earlier disagreements about who controls armed night-time raids — they do, unless we do — on Afghan homes and who controls the imprisonment of detainees (ditto).
Two things struck me about the New York Times coverage. The most obvious is why this is being announced now, even though the details are apparently not final.
The agreement, whose text was not released, represents an important moment when the United States begins the transition from being the predominant foreign force in Afghanistan to serving a more traditional role of supportive ally. . . .
The American and Afghan negotiators have been working hard in recent days to complete the draft so that it could be signed before a NATO conference in Chicago on May 20. There, decisions are to be made on how much money and support will be provided to the Afghan security forces after 2014 and by whom.
Telling the American people we’re going to continue occupying Afghanistan, though without “combat forces” after 2014 for another 2+10 = 12 years seems an odd thing for the Obama folks to be saying now for any reason that’s not strictly political.
According to The Guardian, Afghanistan’s President Karzai made sure the media knew what he expected:
Today Afghanistan and the US initialled and locked the text of the strategic partnership agreement,” said Karzai’s spokesman, Aimal Faizi. “This means the text is closed, and both sides will now review the document and do a final consultation. In the US it will go to the houses of Congress and the president; in Afghanistan the president will consult with national leaders plus both houses of parliament.”
But what about the Administration? After multiple polls have shown the American people of all political stripes are tired of the war and are ready to bring the troops home, even if that poses risks to the current Afghan regime, you’d think this is the kind of story that would be quietly dumped with the Friday evening trash. Yet the news came out Sunday night so that it would be one of the lead articles on front pages Monday morning and a lead story on the evening news.
Unless Karzai jumped the gun, my guess is that the Administration concluded that a story reminding Americans we’ll still planning to be in combat in 2014 and still occupying some magically pacified nation for another decade thereafter is better news to occupy voters’ attention than scandals involving the GSA and the Secret Service and the amnesia induced news that Americans think Mitt Romney has a better clue about fixing the economy.
But I’m more interested in the characterization the Times gave to the supposed agreement. Are we supposed to take this view seriously?
The agreement, whose text was not released, represents an important moment when the United States begins the transition from being the predominant foreign force in Afghanistan to serving a more traditional role of supportive ally.
Perhaps I don’t understand the diplomatic meaning of such polite language, but it seems to me that if you have spent a dozen years with tens of thousands of your troops barely preventing a determined indigenous uprising from retaking a country against a corrupt and unpopular regime you installed, and you think it’s going to take another year or two to get to the point where your installees are doing all the fighting instead of your soldiers, it’s rather optimistic — or maybe deluded — to think you’re going to turn this around in the next 18 months or so. It’s even more strange to think so if your chief weapon — unmanned drones raining indiscriminate death from above — is the very thing that is answering Donald Rumsfeld’s musings about creating more enemies than you’re killing.
When an “agreement” is negotiated between (a) an occupying army with 100,000 of your troops in country and (b) a regime whose survival depends heavily on your troops’ protection from being overrun, it doesn’t seem credible that you’re about to embark on some grand “transition” from being a “predominant force” to being just another “supportive ally.”
The United States is the occupying military power, and under this agreement, we’re still going to be the occupying military power in 2014. And given our and the Karzai regime’s dismal track record in standing up a sustainable, independent nation, the agreement says we may remain the occupying power for another decade. So what is the Times talking about?