The Politics of Leaving Afghanistan

Edited by Gillian Palmer


Mitt Romney, whose party is responsible for invading Afghanistan, understands that in this issue he should remain silent. The credit for the successful ending is taken by Obama.

Mitt Romney has enough subjects about which he can attack U.S. President Obama and highlight his weaknesses toward November’s election. The (almost official) Republican nominee can blame Obama for failing to manage the American economy, for failing to work together with the Republicans on any subject and thus dividing the nation and for not doing enough to stop the Iranian nuclear program. But on at least one subject Romney remains tacit: ending the war in Afghanistan.

It’s interesting that the credit for ending the longest war in the history of the U.S. with (relative) success is given to a Democratic leader with no military experience. This is contrary to the common belief that Republican presidents are more stubborn and more successful when it comes to protecting the American homeland.

The main reason is that Obama apparently manages to make good on his promise to end the “good war” in Afghanistan (as opposed to the “bad war” in Iraq) reasonably and respectfully, and with NATO’s support. This is how it appeared to be this week in the (NATO) conference, which ended in Chicago, all with the background of the American trauma of entering two military campaigns during the reign of the previous president, George W. Bush.

Americans Only Want the Nightmare in Afghanistan to End

A new book by David E. Sanger, which will be published next month, reveals how it was political calculations that brought Obama to accept the military’s recommendation and send an additional 30,000 soldiers to the war in Afghanistan, only to bring them back after 18 months. Sanger’s book is not the only one to raise such issues.

Obama is known as a pragmatic politician, but could it be that he risked the lives of tens of thousands of soldiers only to not let his rivals claim that he withdrew twice (Iraq and Afghanistan) in a short period, causing an American loss and thus damaging his image as the commander-in-chief of the armed forces? The archives (which will be revealed in the future) hold the answers.

However, the strategy of leaving Afghanistan raises two additional, more relevant considerations. First, why does Obama receive so much credit from Americans for his foreign policy when Afghanistan is considered an American failure (a recent Politico/George Washington University Battleground Poll shows that the president is ahead of Romney by 13 percent when it comes to foreign policy)? Second, why does Romney keep silent about this issue instead of suggesting an alternative to Obama’s withdrawal plan?

The answers to these questions are much simpler than they first seem: Americans simply don’t care anymore what is going on in Afghanistan. They only want this never-ending nightmare to end at last. Additionally, Obama receives credit for keeping his promises about Iraq and the killing of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

He Made a Promise and Kept It

Obama owes his election to presidency four years ago to the two wars declared by his predecessor as well. He beat Hillary Clinton in the primaries because he had mentioned her support of the unpopular Iraq war over and over again. He overcame John McCain after the latter had promised “100 years in Afghanistan.”*

Obama made a promise and kept it. He got out of Iraq and had bin Laden killed, and now every American (who follows the news) knows that the war should end by the end of 2014. In the forthcoming election, Obama will face the cameras and remind the American public that it was a Republican president who got the nation messed up in two foreign countries, while a Democratic president got it out of them.

What will Romney say? That the U.S. should remain (there) and try to win the war? Romney has no interest in being identified with Bush’s failing legacy; he also reads the polls, which show that almost 70 percent of Americans (according to a New York Times and CBS poll taken a few weeks ago) believe that the U.S. Armed Forces have nothing to do in Afghanistan, and a similar rate thinks that the war is not winnable.

And so, Romney keeps his mouth shut about this issue and prefers to focus on economic subjects, which will be the ones to determine the election’s result anyway.

* Translator’s note: the author is mistaken here. McCain’s original statement “100 years in Iraq.”

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