A number of officials at NATO’s Lisbon Summit seemed determined, if only for the sake of placating the increasingly war-weary populations of their nations, to trumpet the current strategy as meaning something akin to an exit strategy. Nowhere was this more true than Britain, where the Cameron government, faced with spiraling budget deficits, has made it clear they want out by 2014.
But if wishful thinking were a legitimate foreign policy, the Afghan War wouldn’t be about the enter its second decade, and a number of the more hawkish NATO officials are making clear that the 2014 drawdown isn’t a “deadline” or indeed even about ending the war.
Following up on Pentagon dismissals of 2014 as an “aspirational goal,” NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen today declared the war would continue “as long as it takes,” which seems to be about as open-ended as the war could possibly get.
Even President Obama, while trying to play to the idea of trivial drawdowns in the leadup to 2014, vowed that the US and NATO would encourage Afghans to “stand up and take the lead” but that the troops would remain, again, in an open-ended fashion.
Faced with popular war-weariness and official war-enthusiasm, Britain’s governemnt seems to be folding, with Defense Secretary Liam Fox refusing to rule out keeping British troops there in 2015 and beyond, insisting only that “we certainly don’t want to be in a combat role.”