A new government, a security treaty and an extended stay for U.S. troops in Afghanistan don't change President Barack Obama's fundamental desire to get America out of that country as soon as possible at any cost, Middle East expert Walid Phares told Newsmax TV
"This has always been plan A," Phares told "MidPoint" host Ed Berliner — it's just that the plan will have to wait, according to Phares, because the violent rise of the Islamic State in nearby Syria and Iraq has made a more rapid exit from Afghanistan politically awkward.
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So while "the philosophy, the doctrine, of this administration has always been, 'We want to pull them out completely,' " said Phares, Obama also "wants to avoid a potential catastrophe — meaning a full fall of the [Afghan] regime in[to] the hands of the Taliban."
The U.S. signed a security deal
on Tuesday with Afghanistan's democratically elected new leader, Ashraf Ghani, to keep 9,800 troops in the country past the end of 2014 — Obama's original pull-out date for U.S. forces.
Obama would have exited on schedule, but saw that "it would be awkward that we're going to send forces or strikes to Iraq and Syria [against the Islamic State], and we are completely withdrawn from Afghanistan," said Phares.
Phares called the deal a "smart" move, politically. He said it allows Secretary of State John Kerry, for one, to boast of achieving a treaty.
But Phares likened the deal to life-prolonging treatment of a terminally ill patient:
"They're injected some morphine and vitamins — six months, nine months, one more year of maintaining the situation."
And by the time of the 2016 presidential elections, said Phares, "I can see the administration saying, 'Okay, now we're going to draw down completely because now Afghanistan is an issue for Afghans to solve.' "
Phares wondered whether Afghans are up to the challenge, even with the motivation provided by a continued influx of U.S. dollars.
He said the country's fortunes depend not just on political leadership, but on working civil institutions and a lawful bureaucracy — all three of which have been lacking despite more than a decade of U.S. military occupation, infrastructure spending and nation-building.
"So I'm very skeptical," he said, "but I will give it a chance — providing that the US policy here will change with regard to the Taliban and how to fight the jihadists. That's what counts."
Phares said that 10,000 troops will keep the new government in Kabul "breathing" for a time, but if troop numbers are reduced in 2015 and 2016, it's less clear that Afghanistan's fragile democracy will survive a Taliban resurgence.
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