The Afghanistan Drawdown: The Limits of American Power

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US soldiers of the Viper Company (Bravo), 1-26 Infantry, take their positions as they search a house for weapons during a raid in the Khost province of eastern Afghanistan, on June 19, 2011. (Photo: Ted Aljibe / AFP / Getty Images)

Swampland’s Michael Crowley examines the politics and regional implications of President Obama’s announcement last night that the U.S. will withdraw 33,000 troops from Afghanistan by next summer. While the decision might have been inevitable, many Republicans have already begun to call the president a ‘declinist.’ Crowley contends, however, that Obama is simply a pragmatist who recognized America’s increasing inability to wage multiple wars in a hurting economy. But, Crowley says, the president is not taking the easy way out; instead of waging a complex military campaign, Obama has instead begun a course that requires a careful diplomatic balancing act with New Delhi, Kabul, the Taliban themselves, and the U.S. frenemies in Islamabad. Crowley writes:

Gorbachev’s retreat from Central Asia was an admission of defeat and a sign that the Soviet era was coming to a close. For Barack Obama and the United States, the picture is not so dire. Not quite. But the president’s announcement last night that he will withdraw 33,000 American troops from Afghanistan by next summer, and that the U.S. combat mission there will end by 2014, was also an admission about waning power. Obama understands that, after 10 years of war and an economic catastrophe, America has neither the will nor the resources to continue an all-out fight in Afghanistan. When George W. Bush fought on stubbornly to rescue Iraq, he had the luxury of a relatively healthy economy and a national debt that Obama would envy. But America can no longer win at all costs. The bills are stacking up, the patience is running out. Obama sent a message when he promised steady draw down without any reference to “conditions on the ground”: Maybe this time failure is an option.

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