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

Share
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
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office / Sales Manager

£22000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established and expanding South...

Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Syria's Kurds have little choice but to flee amid the desolution, ruins and danger they face

Patrick Cockburn
A bartender serves two Mojito cocktails  

For the twenty-somethings of today, growing up is hard to do

Simon Kelner
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones