July 2011

I wish I could say I share Dreyfuss and Jamelle’s confidence that July 2011 is going to see the beginning of our disentanglement from war in Afghanistan. And I certainly don’t doubt Obama at his word that he wants that to be the definite withdrawal date. But I’m afraid that he may have put himself in a position–albeit a position I’m not sure how he would have avoided–that could make that profoundly difficult, or, at the very least, seriously endanger his domestic agenda.

For one thing, the administration has made it clear that they see victory as “a stable, secure, and peaceful … Afghanistan — able to defend itself and provide a democratic, positive future for their people,” and to be frank, given how things are going right now with the Karzai administration, I still don’t see that in the cards anytime within the next decade, let alone the next 18 months. So what happens if, come July, we’re still nowhere close to that goal? Maybe a meaningful drawdown will happen … or maybe we’ll see a halfway measure as the administration stalls for time. Now that this war is, in the eyes of the public, Obama’s war, he might see a full withdrawal as the effective end of his presidency.

Which isn’t to say that I don’t think he should withdraw in that case anyway; playing politics with the war like Nixon did during the ’72 election would be reprehensible. It’s just that I can see a scenario in which there’s massive political and institutional pressure on Obama to renege on his promise, and I’m not entirely convinced that he won’t.

Besides, it looks like the administration is already trying to give itself some wiggle room for such a scenario. Or at the very least, there’s some profound confusion/disagreement in the administration over it. I’m not sure which I find more unsettling.

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