Leading article: Recognition at last that there can be no military solution in Afghanistan

Americans are fed up with foreign wars. Not just Democrats, but large swathes of Republicans

Related Topics

President Barack Obama's announcement that 33,000 US troops will leave Afghanistan by the end of next year, with the goal of handing over entirely to Afghan forces by 2014, is more than just a turning point in America's longest ever war. It surely marks the end of a post-Cold War era of US interventionism that reached its peak with George W Bush's adventure in Iraq.

After almost a decade of involvement, a change of strategy was inevitable. The killing of Osama bin Laden last month fulfilled the primary goal of the original invasion of October 2001, and as the president noted, the al-Q'aida organisation has already been largely crippled. It is moreover universally accepted that a stable Afghanistan will ultimately be secured only by political, not military, means – by a permanent reconciliation between the government in Kabul and the Taliban. Contacts to that end are now under way.

The war has long been unpopular in Mr Obama's Democratic party, and understandably so. The returns on America's outlays of blood and treasure have been modest at best. Afghanistan is still riddled with corruption, and in many respects the writ of central government extends barely beyond Kabul's city limits. The circumstances of Bin Laden's demise have only hardened a general view that the real enemy is to be found no longer in Afghanistan, but in Pakistan.

The Pentagon would have preferred a slower withdrawal and undoubtedly the drawdown, which over the next 18 months will undo the December 2009 Afghan surge in its entirety, carries risks. US and Nato forces will be stretched thinner; parts of the country now under precarious allied control may slide back into anarchy. The Taliban may be emboldened, while local warlords who have cast in their lot with the US may change their minds.

Nevertheless, the elimination of Bin Laden provides ample cover for his assertions that al-Q'aida was now "on a path to defeat", that "the tide of war is receding", and that "the light of a secure peace" was now discernable. More important, in political terms, the president has little choice but to declare victory and move on.

The outcome of the 2012 election will be decided not by a stagnating foreign war but by the domestic economy, and for Mr Obama the omens are not good. Unemployment is rising again, while just hours before his address on Wednesday evening, the Federal Reserve issued new forecasts, significantly downgrading growth both this year and next. Burdened by $14tn of debt, why should America devote precious resources to rebuilding Kabul and Baghdad, rather than its own stagnating economy? On the campaign trail, the question is unanswerable.

But the mood-change over Afghanistan will outlast 2012. Americans are fed up with long foreign wars. Not just Democrats but large swathes of the Republican party too would have preferred a faster pullout than the one announced by the president.

As last week's Republican candidates' debate vividly demonstrated, hardly a contender has a good word to say about the Afghan and Libyan campaigns. That sentiment is not confined to the Tea Party movement, whose fixation on slashing back government and getting rid of the deficit is driving the Republicans to the right.

Today, the neo-conservative fervour that propelled America into Iraq is almost nowhere to be found. Is this a return of American isolationism, as critics claim? Perhaps. What is clear is that the new mood will last far longer than a single election cycle. That is why Mr Obama's speech marked not just a course correction, but a watershed.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Yvette Cooper campaigning in London at the launch of Labour’s women’s manifesto  

I want the Labour Party to lead a revolution in family support

Yvette Cooper
Liz Kendall  

Labour leadership contest: 'Moderniser' is just a vague and overused label

Steve Richards
Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine