The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Will Afghanistan be Obama’s Iraq?

November 28, 2008

Last night, at a couple of gatherings with family and friends, some people were speculating that Afghanistan could become Barack Obama’s Vietnam — or Iraq. A blogger at the socialist Monthly Review made this precise charge last summer.

Should we reasonably fear this possibility?

First, events since election day seem to assure that Obama’s campaign promise about Iraq withdrawal will be fulfilled.

Since I posted about “Obama’s exit strategy?” just 10 days ago, Iraq’s Parliament has approved a Status of Forces Agreement with the US establishing a formal timetable for the withdrawal of US troops. American troops must be out of Iraq by December 2011. To win Sunni support for the SOFA, the Iraq government promised to hold a public referendum on the deal no later than July.

President Bush used to dismiss the idea of a timetable, but has now concluded one! As Spencer Ackerman explains, if Iraq rejects the SOFA in the public referendum, the US would have to withdraw from Iraq even sooner — potentially by May 2010 (roughly 16 months after Barack Obama is inaugurated as US President).

What about Afghanistan?

In the past week, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has called for a timetable for international troop withdrawal from his country.

Failing to achieve that, Karzai dropped another hint that conflict could end via negotiation:

“If there is no deadline, we have the right to find another solution for peace and security, which is negotiations,” Karzai was quoted as saying in a statement from his office.

Additionally, some prominent foreign policy analysts are also calling for negotiated settlement. Moreover, the Obama team is reportedly NOT planning to borrow from the Bush Iraq strategy. Indeed, the new Afghan strategy will include a healthy measure of diplomacy and negotiation:

The incoming Obama administration plans to explore a more regional strategy to the war in Afghanistan — including possible talks with Iran — and looks favorably on the nascent dialogue between the Afghan government and “reconcilable” elements of the Taliban, according to Obama national security advisers.

Incidentally, as for implementation of the new policies, prepare to be pleased this week (and in the near future) when Obama announces key members of his foreign policy team.

I’m planning to keep a running count of former CDI interns placed in prominent positions. Lee Feinstein, Michèle Flournoy and Sarah Sewall would appear to be locks. As a 1985 intern myself, I can tell you that no one at CDI in the mid-1980s ever really thought they’d be running American foreign or defense policy within 25 years.

Even public officials somewhat more hawkish than Obama — like Hillary Rodham Clinton — should be welcomed into top jobs so long as they sign on to his foreign policy approach.

Will Republicans be able to blame Democrats for losing Iraq if one of their own is Secretary of Defense?

+ posts

Rodger A. Payne is a Professor of Political Science at the University of Louisville. He serves on the University’s Sustainability Council and was a co-founder of the Peace, Conflict, and Social Justice program. He is the author of dozens of journal articles and book chapters and coauthor, with Nayef Samhat, of Democratizing Global Politics: Discourse Norms, International Regimes, and Political Community (SUNY, 2004). He is currently working on two major projects, one exploring the role of narratives in international politics and the other examining the implications of America First foreign policy.