That’s basically what Hamid Karzai just told the U.S., for real. To call this unexpected is really quite an understatement. From the Associated Press:
President Hamid Karzai told a visiting U.N. Security Council delegation Tuesday that the international community should set a timeline to end the war in Afghanistan.
It’s hard to know what’s totally at work here. My first instinct is that this is a measure to shore up Karzai’s waning support among war-weary Pashtuns. But could he really mean there ought to be a set date on ending the Afghanistan war? One thing that’s been entirely missing from the policy debate on Afghanistan — in the U.S., in NATO, in Afghanistan — is that no one even pretends to think about how the war is supposed to end. No one knows the endgame, and no one even proposes endgames. Obama wants to catch and kill bin Laden. Cool. Does that mean the U.S. goes home afterward? This is a lacunae that’s difficult to explain — except when considering if we’ve gotten too used to the idea that the war on terrorism will be a "generational" war. How will Obama react to Karzai’s statement?
Another thing to consider. Karzai gave this intriguing quote:
"If there is no deadline, we have the right to find another solution for peace and security, which is negotiations," Karzai was quoted as saying in a statement from his office.
Is it too much of a stretch to wonder if Karzai is floating the timetable idea as a bankshot way of promoting his negotiations with the Taliban? In other words, is he trying to box people — namely, Americans — in to thinking that the only thing less desirable than negotiating with the insurgency is to set a date for leaving Afghanistan, so they better support the first option?
And another thing, in the context of those negotiations: If it’s true that the Taliban feels stronger than the government right now, would it feel such an incentive to negotiate if it believed Karzai was going to kick the U.S. out no matter what?
Update: Marcy points out that Karzai and Obama spoke on Saturday, in what was billed a call by Obama to thank the Afghan president for his post-election well-wishes. Did Karzai give Obama any heads up about this? Hmmm.