This storyline is partly right but also partly wrong. It forgets how presidents tend to view foreign policy, especially in their second terms as they start to look to the history books. It also forgets just how much the Afghanistan campaign is now Obama’s. Robert Gates, Adm. Mike Mullen, David Petraeus, Stanley McChrystal, Gen. John Allen, Hillary Clinton, Ryan Crocker, Richard Holbrooke — all these figures have come and gone, with Leon Panetta likely to do so soon too. Yes, Osama bin Laden is now dead, and the remaining global terrorist threat has migrated somewhat back toward the Middle East and North Africa as well. But Afghanistan remains Al Qaeda’s original preferred sanctuary, and South Asia more generally remains one of the most terrorist-prone and nuclear-armed parts of the planet. The president has been intent on avoiding a quagmire in Afghanistan. But those who would go to the other extreme and argue that it no longer really matters almost surely do not have the president’s ear.
Beginning with the State of the Union address, and then continuing through a major policy review with his new secretaries of state and defense and new field commander, as well as the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan and international partners, Obama needs to lay out a clear strategy for Afghanistan for the months and years ahead. (Politico op-ed, Posted 12 Feb 13)