The Afghan War and the Evolution of Obama

The Afghan War and the Evolution of Obama by Mark Landler, New York Times

President Obama’s advisers wrestled with an intractable problem in the spring and summer of 2015: How could they stabilize Afghanistan while preserving Mr. Obama’s longtime goal of pulling out the last American troops before he left office?

As it happened, the president solved the problem for them. In early August of that year, when Mr. Obama convened a meeting of the National Security Council, he looked around the table and acknowledged a stark new reality.

“The fever in this room has finally broken,” the president told the group, according to a person in the meeting. “We’re no longer in nation-building mode.”

What Mr. Obama meant was that no one in the Situation Room that day, himself included, thought that the United States - after 14 years of war, billions of dollars spent and more than 2,000 American lives lost - would ever transform Afghanistan into a semblance of a democracy able to defend itself.

At the same time, he added, “the counterterrorism challenges are real.” As bleak as Afghanistan’s prospects were, the United States could not afford to walk away and allow the country to become a seedbed for extremists again.

A few weeks later, the president halted the withdrawal and announced that he would leave thousands of American troops in the country indefinitely.

It was a crucial turning point in the evolution of Barack Obama. The antiwar candidate of 2008 who had pledged to turn around Afghanistan - the “good war” to George W. Bush’s “bad war” in Iraq - had conceded that the longest military operation in American history would not end on his watch. The optimistic president who once thought Afghanistan was winnable had, through bitter experience, become the commander in chief of a forever war…

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