NATO held a meeting on April 18 in which the uncertainty of Afghanistan's ability to afford necessary security forces was addressed, with Afghan President Karzai maintaining his position that the U.S. should continue to provide military aid else risk a Taliban resurgence. Today, President Obama made a "surprise" visit to Kabul (on the anniversary of Osama Bin Laden's death no less) in order to sign a monumental agreement regarding U.S. troop withdrawal and future involvement. This visit shows that Afghanistan is still very much a political issue, and there are four reasons in particular why Afghanistan, after 11 years, still impacts elections around the world:
Great Britain took an important step and publicly pledged approximately $140 million for regional safety efforts in Afghanistan, the first country to do so. It makes up a small portion of the $4 billionwhich the NATO allies hoped to raise. The list of contributors is supposed to be announced next month at a meeting of NATO members and allies, with no other country publicly committing just yet.
Will the U.S. commit to contributing what will be hundreds of millions of dollars to this effort? Given the astronomical cost of both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars (this report puts the overall cost in the billions per month) and the subsequent strain on the economy, the Obama administration cannot possibly think this type of announcement will be taken well by voters. Of course, regional security is an imminent and growing concern in U.S. foreign policy. However, politicians in every Western country will likely argue for better uses of at least a portion of the funds for U.S. domestic infrastructure projects and EU state-bailouts.
Several key elections are taking place in the EU as well. With France in a delicate economic position with fellow EU leader Germany, both their pledges to this fund will be of note to say the least. While Spanish unemployment runs rampantly high and Greece is bankrupt, do states in the EU have the wherewithal to sustain the security forces in a war that has lasted years longer than anyone expected? We have already seen Prime Minister Mark Rutte resign as a result of budget issues in the Netherlands. Thus, next month’s meeting Chicago will be crucial.
2. "It could be worse"
The Strategic Partnership Agreement signed on Tuesday outlines that Congress will decide every year how much money will be devoted to the Afghanistan commitment, which means the war is not leaving the political spotlight despite pulling troops out by 2014. According to the agreement, U.S. involvement will not end until 2024. However, campaigns in the U.S., France, and other countries will have to provide history lessons about what happened the last time the West’s involvement in Kabul’s affairs was cut short in order to justify the long commitment.
There are no guarantees in a historically volatile country.
I am by no means advocating leaving innocent Afghans with no support economically, militarily, or politically but the harsh fact is, we have been there for 11 years. Women’s' rights are not nearly up to par with most of the developed world, but there is a female presidential candidate, which is more than we can say in the states. Yes, there are still attacks, but these are happening while a huge U.S. military force is present.
The uncertain future in Afghanistan looms large for candidates across the world, especially when the majority of this country’s population does not think American involvement is a good idea. There are also several questions regarding the details of the agreement signed Tuesday and what issues will be set at the Chicago meeting next month.
4. The campaign narrative (specific the American election).
The president’s trip today was not a "surprise." You can’t send the president, his security detail, the press pool, and any associated parties in Afghanistan across the world, unplanned. The agreement about to be signed on Afghan soil, at the request of President Karzai, has been in the making for 20 months. Nearly two years of funding, operational, and logistical negotiations have been taking place with NATO, a body that is nothing without the United States. This is the key element of the upcoming elections.
The campaign narrative is to play up the president’s bona fides, particularly in military and national security matters, as compared to those of Mitt Romney. He is a president whose credentials, down to his very birthplace, are constantly being questioned by the Republican Party.
The campaign is pushing the idea of a bold, yet measured, and strong president and the public relations momentum has been kept up through another news cycle because of timing of this trip. It’s not a coincidence the agreement to make preparations for the end of combat involvement in Afghanistan falls on the anniversary of the killing of Osama Bin Laden. Right or wrong, everything in an election year will be politicized.
Ironically, the Romney campaign made a stop in New York City on Tuesday to visit with former Mayor Giuliani. When asked whether he would have ordered the killing of Bin Laden, he answered that it was a no-brainer, and that of course he would have done it.
Maybe the Obama campaign won this round by illustrating the depth of such an executive decision even a year later. With the timing of this trip, the president and his campaign have reminded people why the Afghanistan war was started in the first place. They now have the responsibility to clearly explain how the Agreement signed today will affect voters.