Obama's two Afghan narratives: US is staying, but going
By ANNE GEARAN and ROBERT BURNS, AP National Security Writers
WASHINGTON (AP) -- In President Barack Obama's twin narratives, the United States is both leaving Afghanistan and staying there.
The different messages are meant for different audiences, one at home and one away. As Obama's brief, symbolic visit to Afghanistan on Wednesday made clear, the more important audience is American voters fed up with a war that will be in its 12th year on Election Day in November.
The president flew in secret to sign a long-awaited security compact with Afghanistan. It was after midnight in Kabul when the signing took place, and 4 a.m. there when Obama addressed Americans in a specially arranged speech at 7:30 p.m. Washington time on network television. By the time most Afghans woke up, Obama was gone.
"My fellow Americans," Obama said from Bagram Air Field, "we have traveled through more than a decade under the dark cloud of war. Yet here, in the predawn darkness of Afghanistan, we can see the light of a new day on the horizon."
The backdrop of armored troop carriers matched Obama's message of praise for U.S. forces who fought and died in Afghanistan, but it was an odd fit for what followed -- a direct appeal to American optimism and self-interest in an election year.
"As we emerge from a decade of conflict abroad and economic crisis at home, it is time to renew America," Obama said.
The agreement pledges ongoing U.S. support for Afghanistan after 88,000 U.S. combat forces leave. The pact enhofe, 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