You be the judge: is this candor or cynicism? I've lost the ability to distinguish.
David Petraeus and Michele Flournoy trudged to the Senate Armed Services Committee to talk Afghanistan. If there was any new information they disclosed, it was the comfort with which they discussed staying in Afghanistan beyond 2014. The longest war in American history is going for an unbreakable record.
Fine, Ackerman, you say, I recall you writing that piece after the Lisbon conference, so what's new here? The fig leaf of stating, as Flournoy did, that the U.S. will only seek such a presence if the Afghan government "requests" it. Carl Levin, dutifully, repeated the same role. Yes, if the Afghan government, an unpredictable frenemy that knows it can't survive except as a ward of the U.S. and its allies, makes up its mind independently to request our presence -- only then shall we reluctantly stay in Afghanistan, to continue harassing and containing al-Qaeda across the Pakistani border and whatever other mission creep emerges.
Except when a senator -- I think it was Mark Udall -- asked Flournoy what would happen if the Afghans didn't ask us to stay. She replied:
She cut off a question about Afghans not asking the United States to stay as an “unlikely set of conditions.” The Afghans “want our continued engagement and support over time.”
Now, surely, Flournoy is right: it is an unlikely set of conditions for the Afghan government not to ask us to stay. Even after Hamid Karzai demands that operations in Afghanistan "stop" -- later clarified to mean stop causing civilian casualties (only 24 percent of which, per the U.N., are caused by ISAF) -- his drug-kingpin and CIA asset brother says that for the good of the country, Afghanistan needs to give the U.S. permanent bases. So it shall be.
But it's only that way because the Obama administration has decided it ought to be that way. If Obama decided the U.S. really is ending its troop presence in Afghanistan, that end will come. Instead, Obama is guaranteeing that he'll be the second president to hand over the Afghanistan war, even in some diminished form, to his successor. (He's certainly already run the risk by setting the transition to "Afghan security responsibility" for two years after his current term ends.)
So is it cynicism to pretend that the U.S. is really expecting the Afghans to "choose" a longer U.S. presence? Or is it candid to give such a half-hearted effort at pretending an essentially domineering, imperial attitude is anything but what it is?