Monday, for the first time, I heard a clear answer on this subject from a senior administration official. He stated emphatically that the current U.S. troop drawdown from 100,000 to 68,000 troops by September will be the extent of the cuts for a while. They will be completed, according to a plan still being finalized by General Allen, and the situation then assessed further this fall, before any additional reductions are planned. U.S. and other
As Martin Indyk, Ken Lieberthal and I explain in our new book, "Bending History: Barack Obama's Foreign Policy," that approach should come as no surprise for this president. In office, Mr. Obama has become a reluctant realist — less focused on the grand visions and hopes of his campaign, more on the immediate foreign policy chores of keeping America safe. And on Afghanistan specifically, no metamorphosis was needed. From the beginning of his presidential campaign, Barack Obama had made it clear that he viewed the Afghanistan conflict as the correct war to pursue in the aftermath of Sept. 11. He pledged to swing focus from
Many onlookers suspected that this was partly politics at the time — a liberal first-term senator running against
Much of the purpose of the new forces Mr. Obama sent has been to establish substantial NATO troop concentrations in the key centers of the Afghan population, especially the Pashtun plurality in the south and east. Large numbers of added forces were sent to Helmand Province and Kandahar Province, the latter the spiritual home and base of the Taliban, the former a major source of additional support as well as wealth from the opium trade. These areas are now much improved, as reflected in a few key facts and figures. Violence is down by one third to one half in the south and east. In Helmand, 50 percent more children are now in school than in 2009, nearly half the population considers the roads secure in contrast to a third who felt that way a year before, and government officials now travel locally by road rather than NATO helicopter. The campaign plan calls for extending similar efforts to the country's east this year and next, while completing the creation of a 350,000-strong Afghan army and police force. Afghan forces now cooperate with NATO troops on 90 percent of all operations and take the lead themselves on 40 percent.
There have been mistakes along the way, to be sure. President Obama's team has had internal schisms that sometimes went public. That was true even before Wikileaks, as a cable written by U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan
Mr. Obama has also sometimes failed to project resolve, despite his strong decision-making on the war. His policies have been firmer than his words. In announcing his decision to increase troops a second time at
Where does this leave us? A convincing victory seems unlikely. What is still attainable is a mediocre but still acceptable outcome — if Mr. Obama stays patient, as it appears he will. The future of Afghanistan may resemble what has been witnessed in places like