By Harry W.S. Lee
Last night, President Obama laid out his plans for the future of the war in Afghanistan. Announcing the withdrawal of 33,000 American troops, about a third of U.S. forces in Afghanistan by next summer, Mr. Obama declared that "the tide of war is receding." In a speech praising the U.S. war effort which has "put al-Qaeda on a path to defeat," Mr. Obama said, "we won't try to make Afghanistan a perfect place," and emphasized shifting the responsibility of retaining security to the Afghan government "which must step up its ability to protect its people and move from an economy shaped by war to one that can sustain a lasting peace."
In the current issue of World Policy Journal, Michael Daxner–who has consulted for the U.N. mission in Afghanistan for the past decade–evaluates the war on Afghan insurgents so far in the aftermath of Osama bin Laden, the nation-building efforts of U.S. forces, and what a drawdown would mean for the future of Afghanistan.
For the first time in at least five years, I have the sense that there is a genuine movement among Afghans toward taking the initiative and reclaiming a role in determining their country’s future. This is a crucial development, one that leaves me with a grim kind of optimism. At this point, there is really no way to “win” the war in Afghanistan, because it has become impossible to say who is fighting against which enemy and to what end. But it might be possible to achieve a “cold peace” with a minimum of exit costs and a low toll in lives and budgets. Even that best-case scenario would be far from perfect. The NATO alliance, led by the United States, would pull out of the country, leaving the Afghan state responsible for governing at a “good enough” level of competence and transparency. NATO or the United States would maintain a few military bases and increase development aid, but leave almost wholly unsolved most of the problems facing the country and the wider region. In short, it would be a mess—but less than a total disaster.
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Harry W.S. Lee is an editorial assistant at World Policy Journal.
[Photo courtesy of the White House photographer Pete Souza]