"The Afghan people will understand that the United States will stand by them," Obama said, with Karzai seated beside him at the signing table. "They will know that the United States can achieve our goals of destroying al-Qaida and denying it a safe haven, but at the same time we have the capacity to wind down this war and usher in a new era of peace here in Afghanistan."
With that, it was back to the sprawling U.S. air base outside the capital to underscore that last point, that he will close down the war and bring U.S. forces home.
By alighting in Afghanistan on the anniversary of the raid that killed Sept. 11 mastermind Osama bin Laden, Obama was also making an unsubtle show of the power of the presidency. Not only is he the commander in chief who can finally end what many Americans see as an unwinnable war — Obama was telling Americans that he is the commander in chief who bagged the biggest bad guy in America's recent history.
"This time of war began in Afghanistan, and this is where it will end," Obama said in the speech.
Republicans warily saluted Obama's war-zone trip but accused him of craven politics nonetheless.
"Clearly this trip is campaign-related," said Sen. Jim Inhofe, a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. "This trip to Afghanistan is an attempt to shore up his national security credentials, because he has spent the past three years gutting our military," a reference to tightening defense budgets.
Obama's presumed Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, was in New York accusing the president of politicizing the fleeting unity that came with bin Laden's death.
Stephen Biddle, a defense analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations, said Obama will be hard pressed to convince Afghans or Pakistanis that the United States will remain an effective security partner once most U.S. troops have gone home.
"The trouble is, he is talking to audiences that have a very strong belief that the United States is going to abandon them," Biddle said in a phone interview.
Anne Gearan and Robert Burns cover national security issues for The Associated Press.
An AP News Analysis
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