In what proved to be a very busy day for the White House, President Barack Obama made a surprise visit to Afghanistan on Tuesday. After being met and greeted by Ryan Crocker, the American ambassador to the country, upon landing, the president quickly made his way to the presidential palace in Kabul to attend a joint signing ceremony with Hamid Karzai, thereby extending the American-Afghan relationship into 2024.
For President Obama, who is preparing for a tough reelection fight over the summer against the presumptive Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, ceremony was an opportunity to not only convince Afghans that the United States would stand by them in the future but to assure the war weary American electorate that the fighting is close to ending.
Addressing the American people by television, Obama said, “we’ve traveled through more than a decade under the dark cloud of war. Yet here, in the predawn darkness of Afghanistan, we can see the light of new day on the horizon.”
Afghanistan, like the war in Iraq five years ago, has become a battle that is increasingly unpopular at home. A Washington Post/ABC News poll released last month reported that two-thirds of Americans surveyed no longer thought the war was worth fighting.
Republicans, usually more hawkish in national-security policy, are split over how much longer the United States should stay in. Swing voters, the constituency that will determine the entire presidential election in November, are more determined than ever to pull all American troops out as soon as possible. The American people will thus hold the president to his 2014 withdrawal promise, a date that he himself imposed.
Obama’s speech was also aimed at the Afghan people. Though tired of the foreign presence in their country, they are just as concerned about what the future holds once NATO troops have left.
The signing of the US-Afghan strategic partnership agreement was designed to mitigate much of that worry, committing the United States and its NATO allies to a continuation of support for the Afghan government after 2014.
Afghans may not take much solace in the alliance, however, since the document is short on details and questions regarding any future troop presence in Afghanistan still needs to be negotiated.
The Taliban insurgency, in the meantime, will be sure to test the strength of the civilian government in Kabul any case. The Afghan people will expect their security forces, hampered with logistical and command problems, to respond to any such attacks quickly and efficiently.
President Obama and the American people are ready to get out. The Afghan government and people will have to live with the outcome.