Kai Ryssdal: President Obama took a middle-of-the-night trip to Afghanistan this Tuesday. Visited with troops, had a meeting with President Hamid Karzai in Kabul, where he signed what’s officially being called an Enduring Strategic Partnership Agreement between the two countries.
The official beginning of the end of the war there might be another way to frame that. And the president gave a long-distance speech to the American people from Bagram Air Base.
Marketplace’s David Gura is following the story for us. Hey David.
David Gura: Hey Kai.
Ryssdal: So what did the president say in his speech?
Gura: Well this was a very security-heavy speech. A lot about military strategy, a lot about Afghanistan’s sovereignty, about how this is an equal partnership and a new chapter. This agreement, this strategic partnership agreement that they inked today, has been in the works for months now — actually years now, all the way back to 2010. And basically, the U.S. and Afghanistan had to talk about the future. They had to figure out what happens in 2014. That’s when NATO forces are scheduled to wrap up their combat role in Afghanistan. And so with that deadline, Kai, there are these two big questions: What kind of role is the U.S. going to play in Afghanistan? And what kind of commitment is the U.S. going to make to Afghanistan?
Ryssdal: Right, which is sort of what this whole deal was about. There are obviously military implications to the agreement the president signed, to the speech he gave tonight. Also, though, explicitly in that agreement — social and economic factors as well.
Gura: That’s right. The U.S. has spent hundreds of billions of dollars on the war in Afghanistan over the last decade, and if you look at polling, taxpayers have really lost their appetite for that kind of spending. This agreement stresses the United States’ commitment to support Afghanistan’s social and economic development, and what that means is the U.S. is going to keep providing aid — non-military aid to Afghanistan; that this war, Kai, wasn’t just about securing Afghanistan.
Ryssdal: What did he say about the costs of Afghanistan from now on and then after 2014 as well though, David?
Gura: The president was very clear in his speech — we can’t and we won’t stay in Afghanistan forever. In his speech, he tried to preempt critics, Americans who will ask why we need a firm timeline.
Barack Obama: Our goal is not to build a country in America’s image, or to eradicate of every vestige of the Taliban. These objectives would require many more years, many more dollars, and most importantly, many more American lives.
And this debate over levels of funding in this country, that’s going to play out here right up until probably through the general election in November. And that debate is also taking place, I should say, in other countries. This war was fought, has been fought, by NATO — and a lot of our NATO partners, a lot of those countries, are having fiscal problems, economic issues at home. And that’s making it harder for them to keep justifying big spending overseas. So we’re going to see that debate play out very publicly — in just a couple of weeks, Kai, there’s going to be a big NATO summit in Chicago.
Ryssdal: Yeah, he actually mentioned that summit twice, this Chicago thing, and how he’s going to be discussing this with our allies, in places where austerity is sort of the budgetary phrase of the day.
Gura: That’s right, so they’re going to be grappling with that there. They’re going to deal with non-military aid in just a few months in Japan, when they’re going to have a summit on that, Kai.
Ryssdal: All right, David Gura in Washington for us tonight. Thank you David.
Gura: Thanks Kai.
Kai Ryssdal: We’re winding down a workday here in the states. Over in Afghanistan, where President Obama landed a couple of hours ago, it’s the middle of the night. He’s there, the White House says, to announce a major new strategic partnership with the government of President Hamid Karzai.
The official beginning of the end of the war might be another way to say that. The president will also be giving a speech to the American people from Kabul later today.
Marketplace’s David Gura is on the story for us from Washington. Hey David.
David Gura: Hey Kai.
Ryssdal: So what do we know about this — as the White House calls it — the Enduring Strategic Partnership Agreement?
Gura: It’s something that’s been in the works for a while now — for months, even years — ahead of what’s a pretty big deadline, that’s 2014. That’s when NATO forces are scheduled to wrap up their combat role in Afghanistan, Kai. President Obama and President Karzai, they have just signed this agreement, as you said, at the presidential palace in Kabul. The White House is calling this a framework for our future relationship with Afghanistan.
Ryssdal: There are explicitly military — obviously — security aspects to this thing, and also social and economic development aspects as well. I mean, that’s laid out right in the text there.
Gura: That’s right. Last year, the U.S. spent $100 billion on operations in Afghanistan. The Pentagon says this war costs U.S. taxpayers about $300 million every day. This agreement, in the words of the White House, enshrines our commitments to one another after 2014. We’re talking about long-term security, social and economic development. And the White House was quick to add: Decisions about troop levels and about levels of funding in the future, Kai — those are going to be left to Congress.
Ryssdal: Yeah, obviously lots to be negotiated. Let me ask you about timing here. The timing of this trip is no accident, if you have a mind toward history.
Gura: That’s right. We all know what happened a year ago today — Osama bin Laden was killed. So there’s a lot of significance to this date in particular; tonight’s speech certainly marks that anniversary. There is another reason why the White House wanted to do this now — we’re just a couple weeks away from a big NATO summit in Chicago, and that’s where President Obama is going to make case to our NATO partners to continue to help in Afghanistan. There’ll be another summit — and the president announced this with the Japanese prime minister, who was visiting Washington earlier this week — there’ll be another summit that’ll deal with aid to Afghanistan, that’s going to take place a little bit later this year.
Ryssdal: The White House not really missing any opportunity for a, one might say, public relations advantage here, right? As I said, the middle of the night over there. The speech that he’s going to give is 4 o’clock in the morning, Kabul time.
Gura: That’s right. It’s hardly primetime, and he got there a little after 11 Kabul time, flew over and met with Karzai, signed this agreement, he’s going back to deliver this speech at Bagram Air Force Base, just outside of Kabul. So it’s early in the morning there for President Obama.
Ryssdal: And then he gets on the plane and comes home, I imagine, right?
Gura: That’s right. Presidents tend not to spend too much time in these places.
Ryssdal: That’s right. David Gura in Washington for us, thank you David.
Gura: Thank you Kai.