A Fractured World Tested the Hope of a Young President
A strategy that went from a “good war” to the shorthand “Afghan good enough” reflects the president’s coming to terms with what was possible in Afghanistan.
President Obama’s advisers wrestled with an intractable problem in the spring and summer of 2015: How could they stabilize Afghanistan while preserving Mr. Obama’s longtime goal of pulling out the last American troops before he left office? As it happened, the president solved the problem for them. In early August of that year, when Mr. Obama convened a meeting of the National Security Council, he looked around the table and acknowledged a stark new reality. “The fever in this room has finally broken,” the president told the group, according to a person in the meeting. “We’re no longer in nation-building mode.” What Mr. Obama meant was that no one in the Situation Room that day, himself included, thought that the United States — after 14 years of war, billions of dollars spent and more than 2,000 American lives lost — would ever transform Afghanistan into a semblance of a democracy able to defend itself.
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