George Osborne is a keen observer of American politics, so perhaps it is little surprise to read in the Telegraph that the chancellor is arguing for faster withdrawal from Afghanistan. The American presidential race has confronted national war-weariness. The Obama camp has long held that the 2014 drawdown date is firm; that is when the troops will come hom. It is even thought that US training and logistical support to Kabul will be curtailed together with combat operations. The Romney camp’s view has been less clear, which suggests that it has not wanted to leave itself exposed during the campaign by committing to anything from a position of comparative ignorance next to Obama. In fact, there seems to be next to nothing between the two camps on this question: Paul Ryan said during Thursday’s debate that he and Romney ‘agree’ with the ‘timeline and transition’, which leaves very little room for manoeuvre on the specifics and pace of withdrawal.
Osborne, then, appears to think that 2014 is an immovable mark in the ground. He will appreciate the politics of this: once ISAF has made such a mark, its commitment to the cause (such as it is) is necessarily diluted and Kabul’s is increased; therefore, ISAF members will not lose face by downscaling their operations earlier than might have been the case had there been flexibility of over where and when the mark would be made. I expect that Osborne’s political instincts are such he thinks there is capital to be won by this approach, to say nothing of the savings in blood and treasure.