Looks like a victory for Afghanistan in its role as the graveyard of empires.
It appears that the US troop commitment will decline from 105,000 to 6,000-9,000 under the current White House plan, about half the number advocated by the Pentagon. American special forces will continue - at a slower rate - to knock down village doors and drag away suspected terrorists, with immunity from Afghan law. Afghans relish getting jurisdiction over US contractors. While there will be US troops for training and "counterterrorism", Afghanistan will be denied a NATO umbrella of protection. The commitment will last until 2024, though the White House says the American troops will be gone far earlier.
If the US and NATO could not come close to defeating the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network after a decade, how on earth can ten percent of the original troop numbers be successful in the future?
They cannot win, but that is not the point. The US and Karzai are trying to preserve the annual four billion dollars in Western funding which, "would simply not flow absent an American military presence to account for it." Good luck with that scenario too. The clique in Kabul, propped by American arms and dollars, is a wide-open sieve for foreign aid, and will continue to be until and unless someone finally blows the whistle.
The point in domestic politics is that Obama and the Pentagon cannot afford the appearance of "losing" in Afghanistan. It's a real fear too, appearances aside. The Taliban and anti-Karzai forces hold significant territory, especially in southern Afghanistan, and Karzai, or his successor, are nothing more than Humpty-Dumpty's. In Iraq, the US could rely on an Unholy Alliance with the Shiite majority to install a ruthless and sectarian elite in Baghdad. In Afghanistan, the largest ethnic bloc is Pashtun, the communal base of the Taliban.
The White House promised to "wind down" this awful war, not to withdraw troops and bases altogether. The anti-war movement, after a slow and divided beginning, and years devoted to troop withdrawals from Iraq, deserves some credit for building public opposition to Afghanistan and turning the tide among Democrats in Congress.
It is very doubtful, however, that the remnants of the anti-war movement have the steam or energy to force Obama into a rapid and total withdrawal, especially because few if any American soldiers are likely to die in the next couple of years. But progressives have an indispensable role in communicating the lessons of this war if only to lessen the chances of another.
The foremost lesson, one difficult for a self-congratulatory empire to digest, is that wars like Afghanistan and unwinnable, unaffordable and unpopular when fought at the expense of other urgent priorities. Those who think terrorists will be planning to attack New York from Afghan caves are trapped in the fatal mindset that every plot that is theoretically possible should be countered with drones and special forces are spending our lives, fortune and sacred honor on their insanity. Dick Cheney, for example, claimed that even a "one percent" chance of a terrorist attack deserved our military intervention.
Just to focus our minds, imagine where we would be if Obama had bombed Syria last month, immediately leading to a wider unwinnable war while the Obamacare computers were shutting down and Republicans were doing their best to wreck the state.
It has become mainstream to attack the neo-conservatives for their "faith-based" follies. But that hasn't purged them of their role in national security debates as defined in the Beltway and mainstream media. We'll see about Wyoming. In addition to forcing the neo-conservatives to leave the stage, the more difficult progressive challenge is to confront the arguments of the liberal interventionists represented by Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, Samantha Power and many others in Democratic inner circles. Many of them helped legitimize Afghanistan from the beginning, are responsible for such fiascos as Libya, tried to push Obama to intervene in Syria, and have failed to stand up against the domestic surveillance state which grows from their hawkish pro-war positions.
Together, conservatives and liberals have failed to support a climate conducive to international peace talks and power-sharing with the Taliban, the only course that might alleviate suffering and stabilize Afghanistan.
Sooner or later, Afghanistan will crumble into its historic condition of tribal, regional and sectarian war. By then most Americans will feel politically comfortable in believing it was Afghanistan's fault, while some will continue to exploit the politics of blame at home to prevent any serious reconsideration of policy as a whole.
We should cry for the first American who died for this mistake.