NEXT year, Barack Obama will face the task of trying to get re-elected. In normal times, the elimination of Osama bin Laden would have sufficed to see him through. But these are not normal times; try what he does, the US economy does not seem to be responding.
Hence, he has decided to pull out some troops from Afghanistan. The timing is very good – 10,000 leave this year and another 23,000 by September 2012, a couple of months before the Americans go to the polls. The Afghanistan war is not popular with the American public and for good reason. Obama’s move makes political sense.
The whole Afghanistan adventure has been marked by a lack of purpose. The initial rush of troops to the country was purportedly to exact revenge for the attacks on the US in 2001; the stated aim at the time was to hunt out and either capture or kill Bin Laden. The US took until May this year to kill the man. But long before that the nature of the mission had changed.
One of the main reasons for the American presence in Afghanistan is to build a pipeline to carry natural gas from Central Asia to Pakistan and on to India; work began on this pipeline in 2002. It remains to be seen exactly how the pipeline will be guarded after the US ends its presence in Afghanistan.
All American adventures overseas in recent years have been tied to the country’s energy future; Iraq was invaded because Saudi Arabia is becoming an increasingly unreliable ally. Religious fundamentalism is growing by leaps and bounds and the al-Saud regime often has to cater to domestic political concerns which run directly against American interests.
The US departure from Afghanistan is not as dramatic a move as its hurried exit from Vietnam; nevertheless, there are some things which are similar. The Taliban will come back to power in Afghanistan once the US leaves and there will be internecine warfare between the various ethnic warlords as there was after the Soviets left in 1989.