Reality is that 70 percent of the American people polled say they want out of Afghanistan now, not at the end of 2014, even less at the end of 2024. Reality is also a dysfunctional U.S. Congress that has made a superpower ungovernable and where the presumptive Republican candidate for the White House says Russia is still our No. 1 enemy. That was two decades ago and aides then presumably explained to him how to fast-forward.
A presidential commitment to protect Afghanistan for another 12 years has all the solidity and firmness of marshmallow. We made a similar commitment to South Vietnam that was upended by Congress two years later. That was when Congress, in its infinite wisdom, cut off all military aid previously guaranteed.
Feeling understandably betrayed, the South Vietnamese army downed arms and the North Vietnamese army -- according to the memoirs of their generals -- improvised an offensive to take Saigon, which they thought was still at least two years from victory.
These same generals were astonished to conclude that while they took a military drubbing -- e.g., the 1968 Tet offensive -- they kept scoring big in Washington and with U.S. opinion.
In the final analysis, none of this mattered as the Soviet Union and its satellites and client states bit the historical dust.
But history -- both Afghan through the ages and Vietnam (58,000 U.S. killed) -- should teach us that 2024 is a bridge too far.
Two top lawmakers, chairmen of both the Senate and House intelligence committees, returned from Afghanistan to tell their colleagues the Taliban are getting stronger while the Pentagon, following orders from the commander in chief in the White House, still plans to fly home another 10,000 U.S. troops over the next six months.
There is no solution in Afghanistan without Pakistan. And Pakistan doesn't want the United States to prevail in Afghanistan. Thousands of NATO supply trucks for the allied effort in Afghanistan were turned back by Pakistan since last November when 24 Pakistani soldiers on the Pak-Afghan border were accidentally killed by a NATO airstrike.
The U.S. investigation concluded both sides were at fault with the wrong coordinates and the United States apologized. But that wasn't good enough for Pakistan. Now supposedly intelligent Pakistani generals are asking the United States to kneel and grovel. And the Obama administration wants to guarantee an Afghan protectorate for 12 more years!
Pakistan's army commander Gen. Khalid Rabbani even accused the United States of seeking to make Pakistan the scapegoat for the U.S. failure to defeat the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan.
No sooner the ink dry on the 2+10-year protectorate than President Hamid Karzai summoned NATO's top commander and the U.S. ambassador to warn them that civilian deaths in military operations threatened the strategic pact he had just signed with U.S. President Barack Obama during a lightning 7-hour visit.
Under the 10-year agreement, U.S. forces would have access to Afghan bases beyond 2014 for training Afghans and hunting al-Qaida, a terrorist organization that left Afghanistan 11 years ago and sought refuge with, and the protection of, its original sponsor, Pakistan's all-powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency.
The United States commits to request Congress each year to help pay for Afghanistan's security forces, whose costs far outstrip the country's budget. After 2014 and through 2024, the Afghan army expenditures to be underwritten by the United States are just shy of $50 billion.
"As you stand up," said Obama, "you will not stand alone. And within this framework, we will work with the Afghans to determine what support they need to accomplish two narrow security missions beyond 2014: counter-terrorism and continued training."
At the much-heralded NATO summit May 20 in Chicago the United States will ask its allies to commit to covering some of the Afghan security costs for another 10 years after 2014. The Dutch Parliament ended the participation of its troops in "kinetic operations" in 2010 and Canada pulled out its fighters the following year.
France's President-elect Francois Hollande, the first socialist elected head of state since Francois Mitterrand in 1981 (who served two seven-year terms), says that following France's parliamentary elections next month he will most probably order the withdrawal of France's 3,500-strong Afghan contingent before year's end.
Outgoing French President Nicolas Sarkozy, the most pro-American French president since World War II and who took France back into NATO, had already decided French troops would go home in 2013. Hollande is just moving up departure by a few months.
But friction and disagreement with Washington is bound to return. It is a safe and time-tested lubricant in French politics.
France's Afghan exit will leave about 80,000 U.S. soldiers and 9,500 Brits. They, too, will be gone in 2014.
The 10-year, U.S.-Afghan strategic partnership can only work if it is geopolitical camouflage for national reconciliation.
The 2001 invasion of Afghanistan got short-changed by the 2003 "liberation" of Iraq (where Iran holds more sway than the United States).
The May 2011 NATO bombing of Libya left much of the country in turmoil to this day as long-suppressed tribes demand their slice of the spoils -- and thousands of Soviet-made shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles vanish, presumably into al-Qaida and its associated movements' hands.
And now the latest voices heard at the prestigious Council of Foreign Relations this week said it is incumbent on the United States to put an end to the 14-month-long Syrian civil war.
"Assad has to go," said former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, "because the longer he stays, the more opportunities for al-Qaida (and its associated movements)."
Hold the phone! Time to take a deep breath before the European Union falls apart (Financial Times' Martin Wolf says odds no better than 50/50), and Israel, with its new broad coalition, decides to bomb Iran's nuclear installations (when Obama will find it impossible to criticize Israel as Mitt Romney cheers them on).
Meanwhile, the United States is running on empty. The federal deficit is increasing at the rate $1 trillion a year.
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