One faction of Obama’s national security team, the same that argued against a troop surge in 2009, is calling for a “steeper pullout” from Afghanistan. According to the NYTimes, two primary reasons are motivating said faction to push for this:
President Obama’s national security team is contemplating troop reductions in Afghanistan that would be steeper than those discussed even a few weeks ago, with some officials arguing that such a change is justified by the rising cost of the war and the death of Osama bin Laden, which they called new “strategic considerations.”
For anyone that believes in the war in Afghanistan, these so-called new strategic considerations are entirely irrelevant. The death of Osama bin Laden might have been relevant back in 2001 before the stated U.S. mission had changed four times over. To them, the war at this point is about trying to rid Afghanistan of the Taliban (nope) and to assist the Afghan government and security forces in being functional and sustainable – and subservient to U.S. demands (nope again). The excessive costs of the war similarly speak nil towards some sort of strategic success in this mission, as defined by any single supporter of the war in the White House or in Congress. So the fact that major elements of the administration, and presumably party leaders in Congress, are pushing for a “steeper pullout” because of these supposed new considerations would tend to lead one to the cynical conclusion that we actually have no strategic or national security interests in Afghanistan: we remain there for symbolic and political reasons, not for any notion of national interest or protecting Americans. This is a heck of a lot of death, suffering, and waste for mere symbolic victories.
Anyways, it seems likely that the faction in Obama’s national security team arguing for an extended stay is the one likely to ultimately win. It includes Robert Gates & Co. which is the group that won last time when arguing for a surge. Not to mention the fact that, on the ground, there are “no signs of the war winding down, or of Americans getting ready to leave following last year’s successful surge.”
But it’s also important to understand what exactly this debate is about. It’s interesting how the word “pullout” is used in the media when considering troop levels in any given war front. Contrary to what reasonable people might assume, it doesn’t mean a military exit from the country. It means a minor drawdown of the occupation to levels comparable to publicly accepted troop levels in Kuwait, or Bahrain, or South Korea, or Germany, or any of the other 130 or so countries on that list. This new argument for steeper pullout is actually “about setting a final date by which all of the 30,000 surge troops will be withdrawn from Afghanistan,” not about an actual departure of all or even most of our military.