Should Obama Pursue the 'Zero Option'?

President Obama is mulling a complete troop exit from Afghanistan.

President Barack Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai
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The Obama administration is reportedly considering a "zero option" for the war in Afghanistan, removing all U.S. troops by the end of 2014. President Barack Obama doesn't get along well with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, and their deteriorating relationship has led him to reconsider leaving some troops on the ground beyond the withdrawal deadline.

Obama announced in his January State of the Union address that he planned to draw the number of troops left in Afghanistan down to 32,000 by next February. These troops would remain to act as a counterterrorism force against the Taliban and to advise Afghan law enforcement as they took over the fight against the terrorist organization.

But last month, after an attempt by the United States to initiate peace talks with the Taliban, the Afghani government ended negotiations about remaining forces with the Obama administration.

[ See a collection of political cartoons on Afghanistan.]

Karzai rejected the peace talks because he said it gave the Taliban too much legitimacy, and he saw it as an attempt to negotiate behind his back. He refused to meet with the United States to further discuss the troop presence that would remain after withdrawal next year until the Taliban spoke directly with the Afghan government. The group has refused to do so. As Hot Air's Ed Morrissey explains:

Karzai doesn’t want American troops in Afghanistan for a long period of time, and would prefer the zero option if he could count on his own security forces to hold the line. Having a foreign army on Afghanistan’s soil complicates his political situation long term, and he knows it.

It’s the US that needs a counter-terrorism force in Afghanistan, more so than Karzai does. The US wants a rapprochement between the Taliban and Karzai so that we can focus on al-Qaeda remnants in Pakistan. We want an end to the civil war to make that job easier. So far, Karzai doesn’t share in that enthusiasm, and neither does the Taliban.

Once thought of as an undesirable option in Afghanistan mostly used to negotiate with Karzai, withdrawing all troops is now a serious possibility. White House spokesman Jay Carney said that while no final decision has been made, leaving no U.S. troops in Afghanistan remains a possibility.

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