Sadly, Obama is arranging for U.S. policy to be held hostage not merely by the Taliban and Pakistan, but by Russia and even Iran as well. The NDN depends absolutely on Russia’s quiescence. Meanwhile, the Iranian border with Afghanistan can be a vulnerability for Iran, or it can be one for U.S. forces: the difference lies in our force posture. Transitioning to hunkered down, defensive operations will change the dynamic in the whole region. The current uncertainty about what the U.S. troop presence will actually look like by the end of 2014 only amplifies the negative dynamic trend.
In these circumstances, it will probably be best if U.S. forces are entirely withdrawn, rather than lingering in a strategic twilight, with enemies proliferating around them but no executable guidance for their mission. What “might have been” in Afghanistan – as in Iraq – is not on the table now, with our current commander-in-chief. It was never inevitable that the United States be chased from Afghanistan in a cloud of terror, and it still isn’t. But conditions are ripening for a Taliban attempt to hand us a spectacular tactical defeat, perhaps some time in early 2015 – if not before – and thus to make us turn tail. An American president who actually seeks negotiations with them, while holding a weak hand that is largely of his own making, is just the president the Taliban will be prepared to try that on.