In the metaphorical staring contest between President Obama and outgoing Afghan President Hamid Karzai, it was President Obama who blinked. President Obama told Karzai in a phone call that he had instructed the Pentagon to plan for a total pull-out of troops, since it seems unlikely that any bilateral security agreements would be signed before elections in April.
According to The New York Times, “in a message aimed less at Mr. Karzai than at whoever will replace him, Mr. Obama said that the United States was still open to leaving a limited military force behind in Afghanistan to conduct training and counterterrorism operations.”
The “blink factor” came into play by the Obama Administration’s reversal of their position that the B.S.A. be signed before April elections or the U.S. would leave. The message that the White House would be open to negotiating with Karzai’s successor marks a change in their approach. According to The Times, Obama feels that it is important to maintain a U.S. presence in Afghanistan in order to ensure that it does not again become “a haven” for terrorists.
As with most of the positions that the President takes, this one is also controversial. However, it may have less to do with the state of D.C. politics and more to do with a general “weariness” Americans have with the Afghan war. Last week Opposing Views reported on a new Gallup poll that shows that Afghanistan is the most unpopular war since World War II, second only to Iraq. Thus, one could assume that most Americans would prefer the U.S. abandon the country entirely rather than leaving any forces behind.
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President Obama claimed to want to end the war on terror a number of times, so it may seem a little strange to his supporters that he’s so insistent on leaving forces in the country. Yet given the recent problems in Iraq, one can assume that along with their counterterrorism and training the forces left in Afghanistan will also keep a close eye on Kabul.