I had two thoughts upon reading about the contentious negotiations between Presidents Hamid Karzai and Barack Obama over a possible continued U.S. military presence in Afghanistan past the supposed end date of December 31, 2014.
The first thought, with a bow to Casey Stengel, was “can’t anybody here play this game?,” the game being diplomacy. Yes, it is good news President Obama is considering a “zero option,” not leaving any U.S. troops behind in Afghanistan after the end of 2014, and perhaps even accelerating their withdrawal. However, it appears this is at least as much a threat to force President Karzai back into negotiations as it is a serious policy option.
Both presidents need to come together in an earnest way to help figure out Afghanistan’s post-war future, with the strong involvement of Afghan civil society leaders, particularly women’s organizations, as well as other national and regional forces. The stakes are too high for threats and posturing; we need to see some genuine leadership from the two presidents.
My second thought was how could either president possibly explain to the families of Afghan or U.S. soldiers who will perish in fighting over the next year and a half what in the world they died for? The “zero option” needs to be implemented as soon as possible, not at the end of next year. U.S. support for Afghan-led reconstruction, development and reconciliation is the key issue for the future, not residual U.S. forces or a long-term military aid agreement.
Kevin Martin, Executive Director, Peace Action
Submitted as a letter to the editor of the New York Times, July 8, 2013