The pretext for Mr. Obama’s visit to Afghanistanwas signing the strategic-partnership agreement that was rushed to completion 10 days ago. The document purports to be a “legally binding executive agreement” between the two countries, which it is not since it was never approved or apparently even viewed by the U.S. Congress. It pledges the United States to a series of vague guarantees intended to inspire confidence inAfghanistan even as the Obama administration seeks the quickest possible exit. It’s also the only major international agreement ever signed in the middle of the night so a U.S. president could make a speech during American waking hours. Afghanistan was simply the backdrop for the performance, and Afghan President Hamid Karzai was an extra, forced to stay up to the wee hours to sign an agreement that could potentially spell the end of his regime, if not his life.
Mr. Obama later spoke from an empty hangar at Bagram air base. He tried to make the case that conditions in Afghanistan have improved to the point where it was time for the coalition to leave. But instead of peaceful streets of Kabul, viewers saw a backdrop of military vehicles, with an American flag draped incongruously over the netting used to deflect enemy hand grenades. “Why doesn’t he have any heart in this?” a soldier said, watching the speech on television. “He’s like a robot. And how ridiculous that backdrop looks. If you are trying to say Afghanistan is on the path of peace and security, why have huge armored vehicles that clearly are still needed there? It belies what he says.”
Mr. Obama claimed the effort in Afghanistan was failing before he took office, “but over the last three years, the tide has turned.” If so, he has turned it in the wrong direction. Things were going so well during the George W. Bush years that in June 2005, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, San Francisco Democrat, declared, “The war in Afghanistan is over.” Now the war is more deadly than ever. During 87 months of the Bush administration, the American death toll in Afghanistan was 630, an average of seven troops killed per month. Over 40 months of Mr. Obama’s leadership, 1,327 Americans have died, more than four times the previous death rate.
The O Force’s “secret trip” to Afghanistan was supposed to cap a week of celebratory events centered around the one-year anniversary of the Osama bin Laden takedown. The exaltation of the commander in chief did not work out as planned. Blowback from active-duty and retired military, political commentators and the general public forced Mr. Obama publicly to deny that the display of self-adulation was excessive. Yet the more the White House tried to draw attention to the president, the less significant he seemed. He loped away from the lectern at Bagram on Tuesday dwarfed by the tools of war that loomed before him.
The Washington Times