With the war so unpopular and the U.S. facing such unappealing options, it's little wonder neither candidate has discussed it much. Does that mean we're stuck with the status quo?
This week marks two watershed events in the war in Afghanistan: suspending the police training mission and firing hundreds of Afghan soldiers for having ties to the insurgency. Both speak to the increasingly struggling U.S.-led war effort there. And yet the two presidential campaigns are barely discussing one of the toughest foreign policy issues facing the U.S. today. That's hardly surprising in political terms, but in actual policy terms it seems to have left the U.S. in a state of cautious status quo.
The next 28 months of the war in Afghanistan, between now and the planned drawdown, will be defined in part by the process of handing over security responsibility from ISAF (the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force) troops to Afghan soldiers and police. Without a successful transition to Afghan control, the strategy is likely to fall apart, leaving the country without security.
Obama's Afghanistan campaign, which began with a 2009 "surge" of tens of thousands of troops, has faced a number of setbacks, as cataloged in Washington Post reporter Rajiv Chandrasekaran's recent book. Troops went to some of the most troubled provinces, such as Helmand, with big goals and a hope that they might reproduce the counterinsurgency results in Iraq of a few years earlier. But violence increased, thought it has tapered off this year as troops began to withdraw.