Too Late for the Cut-and-Run Slur

After all the sacrifice, America’s next move is in Afghan hands.

In handout image released by the Afghan Presidents Office, US President Barack Obama (L) exchanges documents with Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai (R), during their meeting on May 2, 2012 in Kabul, Afghanistan.
National Journal
Ron Fournier
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Ron Fournier
Feb. 26, 2014, 3:34 a.m.

Pres­id­ent Ham­id Kar­zai’s cor­rupt and ir­re­spons­ible lead­er­ship has cre­ated a de­bate between U.S. hawks who don’t want to “cut and run” and war-weary Amer­ic­ans who want out. Pres­id­ent Obama can do both.

Pull out. Don’t cut and run.

The case for with­draw­al was made by Obama in his two pres­id­en­tial cam­paigns and sup­por­ted by most voters. Nearly 13 years after Afgh­anistan nes­ted the 9/11 at­tack­ers, it’s time to stop the loss of Amer­ic­an life and treas­ure while at­tempt­ing to stay rel­ev­ant enough in the re­gion to pro­tect dir­ect na­tion­al se­cur­ity in­terests.

Obama wants to con­struct a lim­ited mis­sion fo­cused on train­ing, ad­vising, and as­sist­ing Afghan forces — and at­tack­ing rem­nants of al-Qaida. The United States had reached an agree­ment with the Afghan gov­ern­ment on such a mis­sion, but Kar­zai reneged on the pact and re­fuses to sign it.

Obama re­spon­ded as he should, telling Kar­zai in a phone call Tues­day that he had ordered the U.S. mil­it­ary to be­gin plan­ning for a com­plete with­draw­al of U.S. troops. The only way to pre­vent full re­treat, Obama sug­ges­ted, was for Kar­zai or his re­place­ment to ap­prove the lim­ited-mis­sion ac­cord.

New York Times re­port­ers Mark Land­ler and Helene Cooper, cit­ing a seni­or ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial, re­por­ted that Obama “was send­ing a mes­sage to Mr. Kar­zai that there would be a cost to fur­ther delays, both in the rising chance that the United States might go down to zero troops and in the more lim­ited size and scope of a re­sid­ual force.”

At the same time, Obama re­treated from its earli­er in­sist­ence that the Afghan gov­ern­ment sign the ac­cord be­fore the na­tion’s April elec­tions. The pres­id­ent hopes his man­euv­er­ing might have nudged Kar­zai’s suc­cessor to em­brace the agree­ment. The chances of that hap­pen­ing are in­cal­cul­able giv­en Afghan’s un­pre­dict­able polit­ic­al sys­tem.

The choice now lies with Afgh­anistan: Co­oper­ate on a lim­ited mis­sion or kiss U.S. forces good­bye. Time to take your coun­try back. We need to fo­cus on ours.

Olivi­er Knox of Ya­hoo News re­minded me today of a Decem­ber 2008 press con­fer­ence in which Kar­zai, stand­ing with Bush, de­scribed the re­la­tion­ship between Wash­ing­ton and Ka­bul in the most cyn­ic­al of terms:

“Afgh­anistan will not al­low the in­ter­na­tion­al com­munity [to] leave it be­fore we are fully on our feet,” Kar­zai said, “be­fore we are strong enough to de­fend our coun­try, be­fore we are power­ful enough to have a good eco­nomy, and be­fore we have taken from Pres­id­ent Bush and the next ad­min­is­tra­tion bil­lions and bil­lions of more dol­lars — no way that they can let you go.”

Yes we can, sir. Yes we can.

Why not “cut and run”? Be­cause, no mat­ter what Obama does, it’s too late to use that slur against the United States, a coun­try that has already sac­ri­ficed the lives of more than 2,000 mil­it­ary per­son­nel, with an­oth­er 17,000-plus wounded in ac­tion, dur­ing more than a dozen years of fight­ing in Afgh­anistan. The war will ul­ti­mately cost between $4 tril­lion and $6 tril­lion, a huge bur­den on a U.S. treas­ury swamped in red ink. Some con­text: Years ago, Lawrence Lind­sey was kicked out of Pres­id­ent George W. Bush’s Cab­in­et for es­tim­at­ing that the Ir­aq war would cost between $100 bil­lion and $200 bil­lion. That fig­ure, called wildly in­flated at the time, now looks like chump change.

If this is “cut­ting and run­ning,” our biggest mis­take may be in not re­treat­ing soon­er.

COR­REC­TION: Ini­tial ver­sion of this story did not make clear that Lind­sey was re­fer­ring to Ir­aq.

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