The U.S. is now in the 10th year of a war for which it seems to have no clear plan and no clear strategic goal. The new strategy that President Obama outlined in 2009 is in tatters. There are no clear prospects for stable relations with Pakistan or for getting more Pakistani support. The Karzai government barely functions. New elections must come in 2014, but the U.S. combat forces needed to support those elections are scheduled to withdraw that same year.
Already, U.S. and allied troop numbers are dropping to critical levels. No one knows what presence if any would remain after 2014. There has been some progress in creating an Afghan army, but far less is being done to build up the Afghan police force and justice system. Massive aid to Afghanistan has produced far too few tangible results, and the Afghan economy may go into a depression in 2014 in the face of the massive aid and spending cuts that would accompany a withdrawal.
It is time the Obama Administration faced these issues credibly and in depth. We need either a transition plan that provides a credible way to stay with a clear accounting of the costs and the prospects for victory or an exit plan that does not merely abandon the nearly 30 million Afghans or forfeit our future role in the region. We need a plan that Congress, the media, area experts and the American people can debate and commit themselves to support. If President Obama cannot provide such a plan within months and win the support necessary to implement it, then he will lose the war and fail as a President.
Cordesman holds the Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies