U.S. Redefines Afghan Success Before Conference
Leaders of the NATO nations will meet in Chicago on Sunday to set in motion the massive machinery necessary to wind down the war in Afghanistan.
But even as American officials prepare a list of benchmarks they can cite as achieved in the war effort — expect to hear much about strategic partnership agreements and assurances that the Afghan people have not been abandoned — they acknowledge privately that the bar has been significantly lowered on how success in Afghanistan is defined after 11 years of combat.
“Look, this is Afghanistan,” one administration official said in an interview. “Is it going to be Switzerland? No. But is good enough for Afghanistan? That’s where we need to get to.”
In fact, the phrase “Afghan good enough” has been making the rounds at the White House, State Department, the Pentagon and inside the many research organizations scattered around Washington. Gone is the much greater expectation that NATO will leave behind a cohesive central government with real influence beyond Kabul and a handful of other population centers. Gone is the assumption that Helmand Province, Kandahar, and the heavily contested south — where the bulk of the 2010 influx of troops was sent — will remain entirely in the control of the central government once that area is transferred to Afghanistan’s fledgling national security forces.
In previewing the meeting for reporters Thursday, President Obama’s national security adviser, Thomas E. Donilon, described a hoped-for outcome in Afghanistan that was far less ambitious than what American officials once envisioned.
“The goal is to have an Afghanistan again that has a degree of stability such that forces like Al Qaeda and associated groups cannot have safe haven unimpeded, which could threaten the region and threaten U.S. and other interests in the world,” Mr. Donilon said.