Nearly a decade after 9/11, reasonable minds can disagree about how long the United States still needs to stay in Afghanistan, and how extensive our commitment there should be. What is clear, however, is that America's leverage over Afghan politics and security begins to shrink dramatically once we do begin to withdraw.
That's what makes the Obama administration's anticipated announcement of plans to start scaling down forces there so potentially self-defeating. The White House has flirted at length with the idea of engaging the Taliban, and informal talks now finally seem to be getting underway. Such a strategy might make sense if the Taliban were on the ropes, without any hope of besting the U.S. and its Coalition allies.
But with withdrawal now a reality, the Taliban can envision the day when the U.S. and its allies are no longer invested in Afghanistan in a real, tangible sense. And because they can, there's little incentive for them to make any serious compromises over their vision for the country – or, if they do, to honor those commitments once the Coalition departs.
Simply put, our credibility with allies and adversaries alike depends in large part on our staying power – and on our outlining a long-term strategy in the struggle against militant Islam. An America that's eyeing the exits in the War on Terror's first front simply can't do that.