A Contentless Speech and a Highly Questionable Agreement on Afghanistan

President Obama made his speech from Afghanistan this past week with the podium parked in front of two U.S. armored vehicles, sporting U.S. flags. The display of armored might is hardly comforting to those many viewers who don’t associate almost continuous wars with a nation intent on peacekeeping.

The Obama speech on the future conduct of the war in Afghanistan was very short on content and far more optimistic than was the last six-month report by the Pentagon. Whereas Obama saw significant progress in reducing Taliban strength, the Pentagon report revealed a mixed picture of some reduction in violence and some territorial gains over the Taliban; however, the Taliban were described as resilient and capable of making gains in the spring and summer fighting season. The U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General John Allen, has been described as wanting to slow the pace of U.S. troop withdrawals, especially in areas where gains have been made against the Taliban.

There was no mention in the Obama speech of how many U.S. troops will be left in Afghanistan after the end of 2014, the date by which the United States will allegedly no longer have a combat role in Afghanistan. The speech was also devoid of any mention of how much the U.S. involvement with assisting the Afghans in the future will cost.

The rationale for the Obama speech was to announce the completion of a  10-year agreement, which would be the template for U.S. interaction with Afghanistan through 2114. Although in the agreement, there is a provision that the agreement will meet U.S. legal requirements, there has been no announced intent to submit the agreement to the U.S. Congress for consideration as a treaty. Yet the agreement contains many of the elements that would be found in a treaty. When George W. Bush completed an agreement with Iraq, setting forth as a prime component that U.S. troops — at least the great bulk of them — would leave Iraq no later than December 31, 2011, some Democratic legislators in Congress demanded the agreement be submitted for consideration as a treaty. Although it is still early for reaction to the agreement to form, no members of Congress have yet requested submission as a treaty.

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