President Obama made a tough call to order the hit on Osama bin Laden. Had the operation failed, pundits and press would have fallen over themselves to liken him to Jimmy Carter and the ham-handed hostage rescue operation in Iran. And, contrary to Mitt Romney’s suggestion that anyone would have made the same call, even Carter, that’s clearly not true: When the U.S. intelligence community and military had bin Laden in its sights, Bill Clinton did not have the political courage to make the call.
Celebrating the much-ballyhooed strategic partnership deal finalized last month between the United States and Afghanistan is premature, however. With the smoke clears, details of the agreement are short, and Obama’s timeline continues to erode confidence in the wisdom of the alliance where it matters, among Afghans.
At present, the Afghans get perhaps $15 billion per year in foreign aid. The Afghan government estimates it needs $10 billion per year from donors after 2014. It will take $6 billion per year to finance a 352,000-man Afghan army and police force; extracting savings by shrinking the force is self-defeating. The World Bank has predicted an unmanageable fiscal crisis if Afghanistan has to finance its own security forces.
Beyond the lack of certainty regarding Afghanistan’s finances and American willingness to support Afghanistan and its mercurial president, the Obama team’s outreach to the Taliban promises to accelerate defeat. Hasht-e Sobh (8 a.m.), Afghanistan’s newspaper of record, has published an article suggesting the following, according to an Open Source Center translation:
Reports said a few days ago that the United States will release former Taliban Interior Minister Mullah Khairkhwah and another key Taliban prisoner from Guantanamo prison. According to reports, these prisoners will be released as a confidence-building measure so that talks between the United States and Taliban can resume. Mullah Khairkhwah will be transferred to Qatar, the reports said. A number of MPs, who wished to remain anonymous, had even said that he might be sent to Kabul.
Colin Powell once famously proposed reaching out to “moderate Taliban.” Khairkhwah is no moderate. As a key Taliban security official prior to 9/11, he protected bin Laden and has the blood of thousands of Americans on his hands.
Hasht-e Sobh continues:
A number of Pakistani media have also reported that the United States has asked the Taliban to issue a statement and declare their separation from Al-Qa’ida. The Taliban, however, have rejected to do so.
Celebrating the new U.S.-Afghan Agreement is premature; it is written in smoke rather than ink. Punting discussion of details and funding to the future will be no more successful than past administrations which celebrated Arab-Israeli breakthroughs while final status issues remained untouched and unresolved. Had Obama stopped there, perhaps no harm would have been done. However, the combination of a timeline and outreach to the Taliban is a noxious mix that destines any American strategy to defeat. Until and unless the commander-in-chief is willing to sign on to a strategy to defeat the Taliban completely rather than co-opt and flee, he is simply spiking the football at halftime, before forfeiting the game.