Let's get one thing straight: the 'zero option' is a bluff.
The American news media collapsed into a tizzy when Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said all 'options were on the table.' His response was to a question about a possible 100 percent withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014, a so-called 'zero option.'
Here's his quote, from WSJ:
"That would be an option that we would consider ... The president does not view these negotiations as having a goal of keeping U.S. troops in Afghanistan."
As usual, what's been said and actual reality are two different things. The talks between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and President Barack Obama are about more than troop levels, they're about what legal jurisdiction those troops will fall under if they commit war crimes.
Flashback to the Status Of Forces Agreement (SOFA) debacle in Iraq, October 2011: Barack Obama fails to nail down an agreement which would give troops immunity from prosecution of war crimes in Iraqi courts. Two months later, all active duty troops (except for those conducting noncombat roles in the "Green Zone" Embassy) have left the country (and, because of the rush, a whole bunch of American property).
Obama then touted the withdrawal as a promise fulfilled.
Brilliant pivot, but not quite the truth.
The same thing is going on now, except one of the players has changed — President Hamid Karzai at first took a hard line on American immunity, but now he seems to be withering.
Karzai's softening is due in part to another brilliant pivot: the 'zero option.'
Within hours of the administration floating the option, and the media putting it on blast, Afghan lawmakers buckled, stating that a complete withdrawal would result in a "civil war" — not unlike the Taliban's rise following the Russian exodus in the 80s.
Rest assured, Obama wants to avert repeating either history, and now because of this 'zero option' bluff, he's gained the upper hand, and it looks likely that troops will remain diplomatically immune in Afghanistan.
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