The long goodbye

President Obama addresses the nation from Afghanistan after signing a historic agreement between the United States and Afghanistan that defined a new kind of relationship between our countries – a future in which Afghans are responsible for the security of their nation, we build an equal partnership between two sovereign states, and a future in which the war ends, and a new chapter begins. That’s how the White House itself described the speech. Video of the speech is at the link; text of the speech is here.

Obama spoke after signing a strategic partnership agreement with President Karzai marking the beginning of the end of the war there. Again, that’s how the White House itself described the agreement. The New York Post reports: “In a sign of the continued security threats in Afghanistan, Obama and Karzai signed the agreement after midnight local time in the presidential palace.” The Telegraph has more along the same lines.

I thought the beginning of the end took place back at the announcement of the surge in December 2009 when Obama thoughtfully provided the date for the commencement of the withdrawal of surged troops. Now we seem to have the Afghanistization of the war against the Taliban, along with the pursuit of a negotiated resolution with an implacable enemy:

[W]e are pursuing a negotiated peace. In coordination with the Afghan government, my Administration has been in direct discussions with the Taliban. We have made it clear that they can be a part of this future if they break with al Qaeda, renounce violence, and abide by Afghan laws. Many members of the Taliban – from foot soldiers to leaders – have indicated an interest in reconciliation. A path to peace is now set before them. Those who refuse to walk it will face strong Afghan Security Forces, backed by the United States and our allies.

Chicago makes a cameo appearance:

[W]e are building a global consensus to support peace and stability in South Asia. In Chicago, the international community will express support for this plan, and for Afghanistan’s future. I have made it clear to Afghanistan’s neighbor – Pakistan – that it can and should be an equal partner in this process in a way that respects Pakistan’s sovereignty, interests, and democratic institutions. In pursuit of a durable peace, America has no designs beyond an end to al Qaeda safe-havens, and respect for Afghan sovereignty.

Perhaps Chicago can present itself as a sister city to Kabul, offering counsel on the reconciliation of one-party rule with tribal politics.

The long goodbye is to take place under “a firm timeline.” Obama explained:

As we move forward, some people will ask why we need a firm timeline. The answer is clear: our goal is not to build a country in America’s image, or to eradicate every vestige of the Taliban. These objectives would require many more years, many more dollars, and many more American lives. Our goal is to destroy al Qaeda, and we are on a path to do exactly that. Afghans want to fully assert their sovereignty and build a lasting peace. That requires a clear timeline to wind down the war.

I don’t think the agreement signed by Obama and Karzai is public. It would be helpful to know what’s in it in order to understand what Obama was saying yesterday.

The message that I get is that the Taliban will be waiting us out and having the last word. I thought Obama was uncomfortable giving the speech and that the speech perfunctory. Max Boot thinks otherwise, while suggesting that the speech doesn’t quite cohere. Whatever the case, the speech warrants our close attention.

ONE MORE POINT: I should add that the details of the agreement may well belie the tenor of Obama’s speech as I read it. The New York Times article on the speech is short of details as well. I would like to emphasize that my comments are based on the text of the speech itself and that we also need to consider the terms of the agreement to understand the speech.


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