- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 24, 2012

America and Afghanistan are in the middle of a lengthy break-up, but they say they want to stay friends. After 18 months of contentious negotiations, the two countries announced Sunday that a deal was close on establishing an “enduring strategic partnership.” Details on the draft agreement were not forthcoming, however, in part because there are no details.

The agreement purportedly extends the U.S. training and support mission in Afghanistan for 10 years, prevents Washington from launching attacks on neighboring countries from Afghan soil, and gives Kabul veto power over U.S. attacks on terror cells inside Afghanistan. Key factors such as the amount or degree of funding for Afghanistan and the size and type of U.S. forces that may remain in the country have been kicked off to future negotiations. The Defense Department said this was “a clear statement of our desire to form and maintain a strategic relationship.” It’s sad when an unsigned draft of a hoped-for future framework is what passes for a diplomatic breakthrough.

The deal won’t be signed until it has passed a U.S. interagency review, congressional consultation and a final appraisal by the White House. It will go through a similar review and revision process in Afghanistan. Once the slicing and dicing is over, the respective parties hope to have something left to sign at the NATO summit in May. Implementing the framework is contingent on a number of future agreements, which will be even more difficult to conduct than the framework. Most important is the status of forces agreement (SOFA) necessary for any U.S. troops to remain in-country. This isn’t a given; the Obama administration’s failure to renew the SOFA in Iraq led to the precipitous withdrawal of American forces last year.

The mere fact that the United States sought to commit itself to play a role in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of combat troops in 2014 was touted as a confidence builder and a warning to the Taliban. The Obama administration says that the draft agreement is “a clear indication that the United States will not abandon Afghanistan.” It is nothing of the kind. It is not a treaty and will have no force of law.

This draft partnership agreement is a weaker version of the 1973 Paris Peace Accords that gave the U.S. diplomatic cover for withdrawing from South Vietnam and was hailed in the same glowing terms. That document was so transparently worthless that the North Vietnamese immediately began to violate the peace terms, and the United States lacked the political will to enforce it. Two years later, communist tanks rolled into Saigon while Washington stood by and did nothing.

The White House no doubt envisions a made-for-TV signing ceremony at the NATO summit that will firm up Mr. Obama’s weak foreign-policy credentials and take the Afghanistan issue off the table for the election. He can then claim to have brought peace with honor to Afghanistan as he executes a hurry-up troop withdrawal schedule. The real message to the Taliban is simply to wait for Americans to lose interest in Afghanistan, which for the most part they already have.

The Washington Times