One area where policy makers are hoping bin Laden’s death will alter our fortunes is the ongoing — and so far futile — effort to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table. General Petreaus believes that getting the Afghan government and the Taliban to reach a negotiated settlement is the quickest way out for American troops. But there has yet to be a group of Taliban leaders willing to sit down with President Karzai and negotiate an end to the war.
In the end, the decision on how many men to bring home and when is a political decision. The Pentagon believes that the bulk of troops sent during the surge should stay through the summer, which is the fighting season in Afghanistan. Complicating that notion is the fact that there are many in the administration who want to bring the bulk of our soldiers home before the 2012 election, which would almost certainly mean a much faster withdrawal than the Pentagon would like.
They may want to rethink that political equation after the death of bin Laden. An ABC poll last December found that by a 60-34% margin, the American people thought the war in Afghanistan had not been worth it. But a recent poll taken by the Washington Post and Pew Research after Osama bin Laden’s death shows that 64% of Americans expect success in Afghanistan, up from 49% in December.
This may give the president some political breathing room in the coming debate. If he is so inclined, he can use this boost in support to pretty much stay the course for another 6 months with a minimal number of troops rotated out. With the Taliban beginning it’s “spring offensive,” that may be the wisest course.
But the president must deal with a liberal base that has been agitating for a quick and total withdrawal from Afghanistan. Obama has indicated he wants “significant” withdrawals beginning in July and the liberals would no doubt see a 10% reduction for the rest of the year as a betrayal.
Even if the president low-balls the number of troops we will withdraw this year, it won’t stop a movement in Congress to redefine the War on Terror by altering the original “Authorization for the Use Military Force” or AUMF. Many on the Hill believe that the death of Osama bin Laden has closed a chapter in the war that began with 9/11, and that since AUMF was passed in 2001, the nature and scope of the enemy has changed dramatically. In addition to fighting the remnants of al-Qaeda, other terrorist groups have emerged as a threat to our national security and the AUMF should be amended to reflect that fact.
“It’s been a decade….Bin Laden is gone. We need to update the law,” said Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX). He and other Republicans are trying to amend AUMF to include specific authorization for the president to take prisoners. It also drops any reference to 9/11 and includes the Taliban and “associated forces” as entities with which the US is at war.
There is some agreement that it may be necessary to amend AUMF. A “senior administration official” told Politico that there was some sympathy at the White House for changing the language of the resolution. “As an intellectual policy matter you can make a very good argument for doing that [but] there are divisions,” within the administration, he said.
Some liberals are arguing that the Republicans want to declare war. Others believe that by widening the scope of AUMF, it would transfer war making power to the White House from Congress.
However the effort to amend AUMF turns out, the death of Osama bin Laden will continue to affect our policy in Afghanistan and the way in which we fight al-Qaeda and its imitators for years to come.
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