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An effort by President Barack Obama to highlight his efforts to wind down the war in Afghanistan drew criticism from some skeptical conservative Republicans who saw it as an effort to score political points ahead of the November elections.
This skepticism was crystallized by Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), a senior member of the Armed Services Committee, who said the unannounced trip to Afghanistan on the anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden was part of the president’s effort bolster his national security credentials.
He likened it to the president’s recent visit to three colleges to urge Congress to pass legislation to avert a doubling of the interest rate on Stafford loans. Because Republicans also want to head off the rate increases, Inhofe said, it showed that the president was looking to pick fights where there were none in order to demonize the GOP.
“Obama’s last visit was in December 2010, and the last time he addressed the nation about Afghanistan was June 2011,” Inhofe said in a release. “Clearly this trip is campaign-related. We’ve seen recently that President Obama has visited college campuses in an attempt to win back the support of that age group since he has lost it over the last three years.”
“Unfortunately, this president has allowed Washington and campaign politics to dictate his strategy in Afghanistan rather than the conditions on the ground,” Inhofe said.
But in a speech tonight from Afghanistan, Obama indicated his trip was designed to mark transition to the end of the war with the signing of the strategic partnership agreement.
“Today I signed a historic agreement between the United States and Afghanistan that defines a new kind of relationship between our countries; a future in which Afghans are responsible for the security of their nation and we build an equal partnership between two sovereign states. A future in which war ends and a new chapter begins,” Obama said.
Senior administration officials said the timing of the trip was the result of finishing the SPA, which pledges support for 10 years after the 2014 drawdown.
Finished in recent weeks and signed earlier today in the presidential palace in Kabul, the SPA provides a long-term framework for the relationship between the U.S. and Afghanistan after the drawdown of U.S. forces and details how their partnership will be normalized as the war comes to an end.
The SPA was negotiated over 20 months said and was wrapped in recent weeks, administration officials said. Both Obama and President Hamid Karzai wanted to sign it before a NATO conference scheduled for May 21 in Chicago.