by Patty Culhane
I've just returned home from the NATO summit and I can't stop focusing on all that we don't know after dozens of world leaders met for two days.
I have to wonder if the Obama Administration is disappointed in the results. At the end of all of those hours of talking, the leaders recommitted themselves to the overall timeline for Afghanistan. They said again, by the summer of next year Afghan Security Forces will take the lead and the entire international fighting force will be out by the end of 2014.
In diplomatic terms the leaders used pretty strong language in the final statement, calling the timeline for withdrawal "irreversible". Translation - "we are done".
The minute I heard that I realized that is what the majority of domestic media would focus on much to the glee of the Obama Campaign.
The President wants to tell voters he's ending the war. Promise kept. There are a few problems with that overly simplistic slogan though.
No one here seems to remember that he tripled the number of US troops in Afghanistan. He said it was the right war that needed to be won. "Winning" is no longer talked about or even envisioned.
The president's staff only wants to talk to reporters about how many troops he's pulling out, not how many he sent in and very few talk about how many have died.
I often think journalists should focus more on what isn't being said, than what is. It's harder to do, especially with the rush of information, deluge of official statements, background briefings and the plethora of press conferences that suck up most of your time at these summits.
That and walking – really why do they always pick such large spaces?
So here are the questions that aren't being answered or even asked.
Will the Afghan Security Forces be ready to protect their citizens on that first day of 2015?
Withdrawal based on "conditions on the ground" isn't talked about anymore. This is all about the calendar. The top military commander expects international forces will have to fight up until the last day.
What does that say about the capability of the forces that will be left behind, is not a topic of conversation. All the politicians say is they have made "great progress".
Who is going to pay the $4.1bn dollar yearly bill for the Afghan force?
Despite the Obama Administration's expectations that many countries would pledge cash during NATO.
I could only find one that did. The White House is steadfastly refusing to say what it has committed to give. It makes it harder to tell voters "it's time rebuild America" when at the same time you're spending billions in Afghanistan for another decade.
Can a war end without peace talks and negotiations?
US officials say peace talks with the Taliban are a critical part of getting out, but those talks have broken down and no one is sounding optimistic that they'll resume anytime soon.
The most important question: What will life be like for the people of Afghanistan?
During the entire two day discussion about ending the war, the leaders never - not once that I heard - publicly addressed the issue.
I can't help but remember Colin Powell's advice to President Bush about Iraq - he called it the Pottery Barn rule: "You break it, you bought it."
It seems to me the leaders are saying, in their opinion, they now think Afghanistan was broken before, so now they're done paying for it. What happens after 2014, no one knows and few here are even asking the question.
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|William A. Cook|