Barack Obama can't break the war habit
So is this the beginning of the end for US presence in Afghanistan? That’s certainly the message that Barack Obama wants to get across with his broadcast about troop withdrawal.
His projected announcement of up to 5,000 troops now and another 5,000 by the end of this year is designed to satisfy majority public opinion in the US, which wants the troops out, and also to signal that the war is winding down.
There are political and military reasons why Obama is making the announcement. He has promised the beginning of a phased withdrawal by July 2011 and next year is an election year when he wants to be able to claim that he is winding down this unpopular war.
Both right and left wing opinion in the US now opposes the war. Few claim anymore that the war is protecting democracy or bringing liberation to the Afghan people. Indeed, few people in the US or Britain (where public opinion is equally opposed to the war) really know what the soldiers are fighting or dying for, or why they are presiding over an increasing level of casualties for Afghans themselves.
The war is now costing the US an estimated $2billion a week. This is politically unpopular when governments are demanding cuts in welfare and public services, and where increasing numbers of people are asking why there is money for wars but not for these things.
It is clearly not succeeding from the military point of view. The surge has not defeated the Taliban or even seriously weakened it. Acknowledgement of this has come recently with the US confirming that it is to engage in talks with Taliban representatives -- a sign that the US is looking for a political deal.
All logic should point to a military withdrawal. There is no military solution on the cards in Afghanistan. The Afghan people do not want the troops there. The people of the US and Britain do not want them there. But full withdrawal is still supposedly not an option.
The military are defending keeping troops there for as long as it takes. Both in the US and Britain they are worried that the politicians will abandon this wretched war. There is no sign that it is winding down. Moreover, war has spread to Pakistan and to the Middle East.
The US is in talks with president Karzai about maintaining permanent bases in Afghanistan -- against strong opposition from its neighbours such as China. Even if 10,000 troops leave by the end of the year there will still be 90,000 US troops, an estimated 100,000 American mercenaries, 10,000 British troops and ISAF forces from other countries.
By 2013, there will be 30,000 troops withdrawn which would reverse the numbers deployed by Obama's "surge" in 2009. That would be an admission of military failure but would still leave at least 70,000 US combat troops.
So this is still war as we know it -- a war which is dragging on to no possible satisfactory conclusion. Still occupying Iraq, engaged in the bombing of Libya, and continuing with the war in Afghanistan, the US and its allies look increasingly bogged down, unable to break the war habit -- and not knowing what to do about it.