Afghanistan massacre: How rising tensions could cost Obama politically
The tragic killing of the villagers is likely to complicate US efforts to negotiate future bilateral relations with Afghanistan. It's also a potential stain on Obama's foreign policy record.
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“We said to [Afghan President Hamid] Karzai, ‘If you sign that document you are betraying your country,’ ” Shikiba Ashimi, a member of parliament from Kandahar Province where the killings occurred, told the Associated Press. “The US should be very careful. It is sabotaging the atmosphere of this strategic partnership.”Skip to next paragraph
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Both Obama and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta called President Karzai Sunday to convey their condolences, but the president refrained from offering Karzai an outright apology, as he did over the Quran burnings. Some Republican leaders had criticized Obama for too quickly apologizing.
Republican presidential aspirant Newt Gingrich lost no time in ramping up the heat on Obama over Afghanistan, saying on Fox News Sunday that the US mission there “may not be doable” and suggesting the country should speed up its troop drawdown. That position stands in stark contrast to Republican hawks and other presidential hopefuls such as Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, who on the contrary have criticized Obama for adopting the end-of-2014 handover date.
But renewed calls for ending the war were also coming Monday from outside the Republican Party.
“We need dramatic action to bring this war to an end,” says David Cortright, director of policy studies at Notre Dame University’s Institute for International Peace Studies. “Suspend combat operations. Intensify negotiations for a political solution. Announce a timetable for withdrawal.”
Professor Cortright, author of “Obama’s War: Responsible Military Withdrawal from Afghanistan,” questions whether the “winning of hearts and minds” that is key to winning a counterinsurgency war is “even remotely possible now” in light of recent events. “Why,” he adds, “do we continue to put our troops in this impossible situation?”
Other Afghanistan experts, without taking such a firm position, say the weekend’s events provide the opportunity for a much-needed reevaluation of a strategy that is clearly in trouble.
The US “needs to look beyond the latest incident” and “to realize that its current strategy is becoming a façade that can only make things worse,” says Anthony Cordesman, a national security expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
Concluding that the time, money, and training manpower simply aren’t available for the US and its NATO allies to stick to a strategy of turning over responsibilities to trained and equipped Afghan security forces by 2014, Mr. Cordesman says the US can either deny reality and follow the current course, or shift to something different.
Two options he gives: an “honest exit” under which the US is up-front about the resources available and is realistic – particularly with the Afghans – about what can reasonably be accomplished; or what he calls the “most challenging” alternative, a “real transition” that he says would mean significant spending and involvement until at least 2020.
But neither the current environment, nor the intensifying campaign season, seem conducive to consideration of an even deeper commitment to Afghanistan.
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