I got swept up Tuesday in the drama of President Obama’s unannounced whirlwind tour of Afghanistan and his three speeches to the troops, to the Afghans and to us here in the homeland, but it left me feeling discombobulated.
Were we declaring victory or announcing a new plan or confirming that the old plan was still on track and, if so, how big a deal was that? The war in Afghanistan is ending where it began (in Afghanistan), and that is why we will be staying at least 12 more years with a still-to-be-determined number of troops who will not be engaging in combat, although they will be engaging in counterterrorism, which, to my addled brain, probably involves killing and getting killed, but at least it isn’t called “combat.”
But I felt a bit more bobulated (or do I mean combobulated?) after reading this smart explanation from the team at NBC’s “First Read,” headlined “Obama’s Delicate Dance on Afghanistan:”
President Obama was doing a delicate dance on Afghanistan yesterday. It’s why people came away with two impressions — either the U.S. is committing to stay in Afghanistan (until 2024) or the war is ending. Both are true to an extent, though this is a marked shift in strategy to a narrower counter-terrorism focus. Think Biden plan. This is ONLY the end of the Afghanistan war – as we know it. It is NOT the end of the war itself. The reasons Obama’s walking this fine line — he’s trying to manage a fragile relationship with Afghanistan, which is concerned that the U.S. will leave, and a war-weary American populace, which increasingly views the war as unpopular. It’s between Karzai and Afghanis not believing the U.S. would stay and Americans wanting the U.S. to go. Look at the polling, and you see just how unpopular the war’s become over the past year in particular.
By the way, in case you didn’t get the reference in the headline, it’s a song that Groucho Marx sang to Margaret Dumont in “Animal Crackers” as he settles in as a guest in her home. The key point (from the lyrics of the song):
“Hello, I must be going,
I cannot stay, I came to say, I must be going.
I’m glad I came, but just the same I must be going …
I’ll stay a week or two,
I’ll stay the summer thru,
But I am telling you,
I must be going …
I’ll do anything you say. In fact I’ll even stay. But I must be going.”