No matter how you slice it, President Barack Obama’s announcement last night that he will order another 30000 US troops to Afghanistan is a historical turning point. The question is: which way will it turn?
Is it the recipe for success, or political and military failure? One thing for sure: it is a political and military obstacle course with myriad paths that can lead to twists and turns with an unsatisfying ending. And you can’t exactly say that the reaction has been typical party line so far: Republicans are offering guarded support and many Democrats are either skeptical or opposed. At most, Obama can expect a (very brief) respite — particularly because the increase will occur as the U.S. heads into mid-term elections, then jockeying begins to acclerate for the 2012 Presidential race.
Here are just a few of the many lingering questions now in play:
How will this play with the country’s ever-shifting political middle — which a political party needs to win and a President needs to maintain his clout?
Here’s a cross section of mainstream media and blog reaction:
—The New York Times’ The Caucus:
Congressional Republicans offered qualified support Tuesday for President Obama’s proposed troop increase in Afghanistan but several senior Democrats took sharp exception to the president’s plan, illustrating the deep divide in the party over the conflict.
“I see no good reason for us to send another 30,000 or more troops to Afghanistan when we have so many pressing issues – like our economy – to deal with in this country,” said Representative Louise Slaughter, Democrat of New York and chairwoman of the Rules Committee.
The resistance by the Democrats demonstrated that Republican backing for the troop build-up plan will be crucial to compensate for Democratic defections, making it likely that Republicans will provide the margin for approval when the added troops are subject to a Congressional vote, probably in the form of a spending bill next year.
While top Republicans welcomed what they portrayed as a belated decision by Mr. Obama to meet Pentagon requests for more troops, they also raised objections to any withdrawal deadlines or Democratic talk of new taxes to pay for the military effort.
President Obama spoke 4,582 words in his primetime Afghanistan war speech at West Point last night.
He said “al Qaeda” 22 times.
He mentioned the “Taliban” 12 times.
And here’s how many times the Democratic chief executive used the word “victory” — 0.
That telling omission says more than anything about Obama’s 322d day in office when he gave his first major address as the United States’ commander-in-chief…..
….That number is 30,000, significantly less than some reported numbers requested by the ground commander. But added to the existing 68,000 there and taken out of context, that would appear….
…to show a strong commitment to persevering in the bloody struggle, now entering its ninth year, that has claimed 936 American lives and another 596 allies, mainly Canadians and Brits.
But reading the speech over and over overnight, another, far stronger impression comes through: Limits.
As former White House communications strategist David Gergen puts it succinctly, “The cavalry is coming. But not for long.”
*** When no one is happy: The hardest thing to do this morning is to find someone who is 100% pleased with both President Obama’s speech last night and his new Afghanistan policy. Many Democrats seemed hesitant to endorse the president’s plan in whole, but found ways to compliment him — either on the speech, or with the process, or by blaming the previous administration. Many Republicans gave cautious support for the policy, but found ways to criticize the president over the lengthy review or for entertaining a start date for withdrawal. Obama had a number of goals for his speech, but the biggest one was with the American public: to buy, er, rent time from them on this war. Most Commanders-in-Chief get at least a temporary boost in the polls after delivering a major primetime address on matters of war and peace. But given the dire economic feelings in the country (something the president mentioned a few times in his speech, which in hindsight is quite striking given the topic), as well as the polarized nature of the electorate right now, will he even get a bump? At best, the president has to hope he simply convinced the public that he had nothing but bad options in front of him, and picked the one that gives the military a final shot at trying to bring the war to some sort of successful or respectable conclusion.
Kabul, Afghanistan – It’s not just Americans who are concerned about the wisdom of escalating the Afghan war. Many Afghans also say it’s a waste to send more troops.
“One American soldier costs about $1 million a year,” says Jabar Wafaie, a security guard from restive Uruzgon Province working in Kabul. “The troops that are already here, they can do well now, if they wanted they could destroy the Taliban.”
Across ethnic lines, Afghans interviewed in Kabul have concluded that foreign troops must not be working hard, or perhaps prefer to have an excuse to occupy.
Critical to the coalition’s success here is convincing Afghans that they can trust its promises of security and handover – and thus need not side with the Taliban.
But President Barack Obama’s speech Tuesday night, in which he pledged 30,000 more troops and set a timeline of July 2011 to begin withdrawal, appeared to do little to convince Afghans that the US aims only to stabilize and leave their country.
–Secretary of State Robert Gates Defends the plan:
A U.S. failure in Afghanistan would lead to a “Taliban takeover” that could inspire Islamic extremism elsewhere, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told a Senate panel Wednesday, as the president’s national security team began to make the public case for the decision to send 30,000 more troops to the nation.
Gates, speaking after a three-month deliberative process in which top advisers debated how heavily to target the Taliban, said taking on the Taliban is critical to defeating Al Qaeda.
“Rolling back the Taliban is now necessary even if not sufficient to the ultimate defeat of Al Qaeda,” he said. “Failure in Afghanistan would mean a Taliban takeover of much if not most of the country and likely a renewed civil war.”
Gen. Stanley McChrystal today welcomed President Obama’s announcement that he would send more troops to Afghanistan.
The U.S. commander also told reporters that Afghan President Hamid Karzai supported the decision. “The president was very upbeat, very resolute this morning,” he said.
In a confident but sometimes sobering address to his commanders around the country this morning, McChrystal said he believes that the war in Afghanistan is at a turning point.
Paraphrasing Winston Churchill, he said, “I don’t think we’re at the end, or the beginning of the end. We’re at the end of the beginning.” He asked for a moment of silence for the war’s dead and injured.
He then gave his commanders a rousing pep-talk, saying the president’s speech had given them a “new clarity of mission…providing their Afghan partners with the time, space and capability to defend their country.”
“Success is defined by the people. In counter-insurgency, it’s about what people think at the end of the day…there will be more long nights, more long days, more memorial services…but also more Afghans with a chance.”
A CROSS SECTION OF WEBLOG OPINION:
–Stephen Green aka Vodkapundit wrote this after live blogging the speech:
This thought is left over from tonight’s drunkblogging. I’d have thought of it sooner, but, Jeebus, did it take a lot of very cheap vodka to make it through one not-very-long speech.
If President Obama’s Awfully Lame Little Speech gives him an almost-unprecedented 14-point bump in the polls for his handling of Afghanistan, then 51% of the American people will still think he’s screwed it up.
From tonight onward, the relevance of George W. Bush to the foreign policy of the United States begins to diminish like a lifting winter fog to the vanishing point. This war in Afghanistan is Barack Obama’s war, and he traveled to West Point to boldly claim that ownership before some of the young men and women who may soon face death under the terms of his order.
President Obama’s team, transported nearly whole from its triumphant political campaign, has a sure-handed mastery of the image, the words, the brand. So there was no mistaking any intention whatsoever in tonight’s speech upon the Hudson – and any continued carping about inherited warfare and the failed policies of a predecessor in office conflicts with the image of strength and decisiveness the President projected at the U.S. Military Academy.
To put it bluntly: he was not forced into this decision. The failures of the opposition party are no longer all that relevant to what happens now. The Afghanistan policy – more fully understood, in my view, as the Pakistan-Afghanistan policy – is the Obama Administration’s policy. It is not some moth-eaten hand-me-down hybrid forced on a unwilling President.
Liberals, who have long deluded themselves into believing Obama was a fellow traveler (in John Heileman’s words), have got to find a way to accept this – to understand that President Obama is both the best and the brightest and a practical centrist to the core of his being.
There has already been plenty of commentary about Barack Obama’s announced plans for expanding the number of US troops in Afghanistan as well as the quality of the speech. I missed the delivery last night, but read the transcript instead, thanks to a bout of flu that the First Mate has had since the weekend. In reading the transcript, I was struck by the lack of a sense of mission — with the sole exception of getting out….
….The only sense of real mission I get from this speech is that we’re going to send 30,000 more troops now so we can start evacuating all of them in the summer of 2011. It sounds like a slow-motion Dunkirk, and it recalls what Winston Churchill had to say after being congratulated for rescuing the entire British Army and a good portion of the French Army in 1940 from that massive cross-Channel evacuation: “Wars are not won by evacuations.” And apparently Obama agrees, since he didn’t bother to talk about victory at all, but instead treated it as a massive responsibility that he reluctantly will fulfill.
That’s no way to fight a war. Under these circumstances, it would be better to start the evacuation now, rather than have any more of our ground troops targeted by the Taliban for a country they’ll soon be running again anyway.
They used to say that politics stops at the water’s edge. That hasn’t really been true since at least Bosnia, but at least we’ve managed to cling to some of its rougher edges. Liberals (rightly) balked when Bush the Younger demanded that we go to war in Iraq on scant evidence, but by and large the country united around a military response to 9/11. It was understood that some things were beyond politics – until now. For months, Repubs have been telling us that they would support President Obama’s leadership on Afghanistan if he sent thousands more troops there. Now that he is indeed sending the troops, are they rallying behind him?
Not so much. The President gives them what they want, and they still manage to make criticism the centerpiece of their response. Oh, they voice support for the increased troop levels, but there must have been some sort of talking points memo because every single leader’s focus is on opposing the fact that it isn’t an open-ended surge.
The Repub Party’s most recent presidential nominee and point Senator on Armed Services, John McCain, twice emphasized his support for the new surge to NBC’s Brian Williams, but the bulk of his words were critical.
All in all, pretty cut and dry.
Sure, there are those who will disagree with this plan, but they think we should just get out altogether. Funny that many of these folks are those who talked about how we should have focused more on Afghanistan back in the day.
–As usual Michelle Malkin has a linkfilled post. Here’s some of her live blogging:
Noxious complaining about the cost of fighting a necessary war? Check.
Disingenuous denial that he dithered? Check.
“Let me be clear”s/”clear”s = 9.
Self-congratulations for sticking to Gitmo closure policy = 1.
Self-referential “As your Commander-in-Chief”s = 2.
References to global jihad = 0.
Charles Krauthammer tonight called the speech “strange,” “defensive,” “hedging,” and full of “uncertainty compounding uncertainty.”
Way to restore America’s standing in the world, eh?
–Dick Polman as usual has a post that MUST be read IN FULL. Here’s the beginning and the end:
There’s something about Barack Obama’s new Afghanistan war plan that brings to mind the old lyric famously sung by Groucho Marx: “Hello, I must be going.”
On the one hand, the president vowed in his West Point address last night “to bring this war to a successful conclusion…to end this war successfully.” On the other hand, he intends “to allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afganistan in July of 2011.” On the one hand, he said that “our security is at stake in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” thus necessitating the dispatch of an additional 30,000 American troops at “the fastest pace possible.” On the other hand, sustaining our military presence for more than a few years would be “beyond what we can achieve at a reasonable cost” to our fragile economy.
Good grief. Obama is trying to walk a tightrope that’s thinner than dental floss.
He made a decent enough case for choosing the least of the miserable available options, as we begin Year Nine of this war, but we really won’t know for awhile whether he chose well. The key time window is a mere year – from the summer of ’10 (when all the additional troops are finally in place) to the summer of ’11 (when he plans to start withdrawals, because, in his words, “the nation I am most interested in building is our own”).
Or, as Groucho sang in Animal Crackers, “I’ll stay a week or two/ I’ll stay the summer through/ But I am telling you / I must be going.”
Given the extent of the mess that Obama has vowed to clean up (a mess caused in large part by the previous administration’s well-documented benign neglect), one year is not a very long time in which to rack up stellar performance metrics. But given the fact that Americans are war weary already, one year may well be sufficient time to exhaust their patience.
Listening to the speech, it was clear that Obama feels hemmed in on all fronts – politically, financially, diplomatically….
….[And the end:]All told, it was a grim night at West Point, with nary a flash of the famous Obama choppers. The burden of being commander-in-chief, and committing troops to an unpopular war with no easy options, seemed almost palpable, and there was little in his text to give Americans a lift. Reality right now is a bummer. Groucho, we sure could use you now.
He’s right, of course, that the strain of the deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan have constrained our ability to deploy forces elsewhere and threatens to undermine the readiness of our military. Still, the exit strategy is decidedly not based on “success” — however it might be defined — in Afghanistan.
Instead, the last twenty-five paragraphs of the speech are essentially a domestic policy address, the theme of which was “That’s why our troop commitment in Afghanistan cannot be open- ended: because the nation that I’m most interested in building is our own.” That’s a welcome message to a domestic audience grown weary of war. But it’s not one likely to inspire much confidence in Afghans being asked to bet their lives on our strategy.
Ultimately, the president tries to have it both ways, insisting that beating al Qaeda and the Taliban are vital, providing the troops his commanding general says is necessary to that objective, and yet not giving him the time to get the job done. While not the “middle ground” solution his critics were predicting weeks ago, it’s in many ways a worse split.
My own sense is that we’re unlikely to achieve much more in Afghanistan than we have already. So a plan to wind down our operation makes perfect sense — but sending 30,000 more troops into harm’s way does not. Alternatively, Obama could have offered a full-throated support for the mission, which he has now defined more narrowly. Instead, we have gotten the worst of both worlds.
–His coblogger Dave Schuler adds his own thoughts, which include this:
While the president did not take the steps I would have preferred, namely, announcing a significantly narrower objective in Afghanistan, I didn’t react quite as negatively as James did. I thought that the character of the speech stemmed from the president’s desire to appease as many domestic political factions as possible while continuing to pursue the course he’d already set out on.
There was one thing that did strike me as odd and the president’s political opponents were quick to pick up on it as well and that was the curious implied definition of “national interest”. I’m unclear as to how one can reconcile the president’s statement that what we were doing in Afghanistan was a vital national interest with his pledge to withdraw from Afghanistan beginning in 18 months. It’s either a vital national interest or it is not.
Obama has always embraced the bipartisan fettish of Pax Americana. He will not be the one to dismantle the industrial military complex
I’ve heard a few people already talking about President Obama’s address tonight, and one thing one liberal asshat said struck me as profoundly stupid:
“One thing he has to make clear is that Afghanistan is Bush’s mess.”
Oh, HELL, no.
Now, if Obama were giving his address from the White House, or before Congress, then it’d probably all right.
But Mr. “you troops make great photo ops” chose to speak at West Point, before the senior class of cadets.
And the last thing they need from their Commander In Chief is a demonstration of contempt for the top end of the chain of command…
….And if they see their president stuck on stupid campaign mode, trashing his predecessor, then the message being delivered to these future military leaders is that it’s acceptable to trash-talk the Commander In Chief, then Obama will be doing them a grave disservice.
One of the more troubling reactions from the left that I saw during President Obama’s speech about our Afghanistan policy was this utter and absolute nonsense that Obama was somehow invoking the spirit of George W. Bush by discussing our Afghan strategy and 9/11.
I dunno, maybe its due to years and years of Rudy Giuliani’s noun-verb construction or the simplistic, numb language of George W. Bush beating the common sense out of our ears, but it is as clear as can be that the reason we are in Afghanistan is because of 9/11. The connection of Afghanistan to 9/11 is legions away from the made-up Iraq to 9/11 connection. Afghanistan and 9/11 are as linked for all time as closely as Tokyo is connected to December 7, 1941.
We were attacked on 9/11 by the Al Qaeda network, who had safe haven under the Taliban in Afghanistan. Unlike so much of what swirls around in our world is not in dispute. At that time we demanded that Afghanistan turn over Al Qaeda. They refused. We invaded.
Again, these things are clear. Not a single characterization of them by President Obama deviated from what we all saw….
……If you don’t support increasing the amount of troops, that is a fine and patriotic position to have — though I vehemently disagree with it — but folks on the left have got to quit rewriting history by pretending Obama is somehow suddenly a hawk on the Afghanistan situation. Similarly, the connection between 9/11 and Afghanistan isn’t simply the rhetorical flourish of a leader, but stuff that actually exists. Those making honest arguments in opposition to the President’s policy should adhere to the reality-based school of argument.
Handed a top-to-bottom review of, and a revised strategy for, this long-ignored front in the Global War on Terror by the outgoing Bush administration, President Barack Obama stepped to the microphone in February and gave a platitudinous speech that echoed precisely what his predecessor had said in the last months of his own presidency. When that speech alone failed to miraculously make the war in Afghanistan simply go away, Obama spent months dithering over whether or not he should give another Afghan strategy speech (as American troops and Afghan civilians were dying at a rate higher than they had been at any point in the conflict).
Finally, when the problem again refused to just go away on its own, Obama succumbed to public demand that he actually say something about the troops, and the war, he has responsibility for in Afghanistan as America’s commander in chief. Fortunately, he had amazing resources (besides brilliant military brass like David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal) to rely on in his decision-making process in the form of a host of lessons learned over the last six years in Iraq. With so recent an example of so much not to do in a war, Obama couldn’t help but learn from previous mistakes and make a sound decision on Afghanistan….right?
If only we were so lucky as to have a President who actually recognized that history existed before January 20, 2009 — something that he and his administration simply refuse to do (with the sole exception to that rule being the amazingly unprofessional and unpresidential non-stop banging of the “blame-everything-on-my-predecessor” drum).
I think this strategy is doomed. But then I think any strategy that does not pledge to colonize Afghanistan, pour trillions of dollars into it and stay for a century is doomed. So why do I end up this morning feeling rather similar to my colleague, Jim Fallows, who simply sighs: ‘Well, I hope he’s right”?
Here’s why. The sanest option – leave now – would leave allies high and dry, prompt domestic cries of surrender, demoralize the military, break a clear campaign pledge, and signal to Pakistan that the Taliban is their problem now. Everything but the latter are worth avoiding.
The neocon answer – stay until there are no Qaeda elements, no Taliban and a functioning democracy not OBAMAWESTPOINT2JimWatson:AFP:Getty financed by opium – is simply unhinged. It means an empire in the Muslim world for the rest of our lives. And the idea that permanent Western occupation of Muslim lands will decrease Jihadist terror is so insane only Dick Cheney could still believe it.
This war is already eight years’ old and will soon have lasted longer than Vietnam. Its rationale today is very different than what it was in 2001 – 2002. Al Qaeda is based in Pakistan, not Afghanistan. The US, thanks to Bush and the recession, is bankrupt and facing a long and brutal period of high unemployment and soon huge cuts in entitlements or big tax hikes….
…As always with Obama, look a little deeper. He has made the very best of a very bad situation. And he is paying a long game for a win or a necessary withdrawal or both. I retain all my doubts; but I give him and the troops all my support for the two years ahead. This much he and they deserve.
One more try, guys.
The reaction from Democratic members of Congress — those with actual power — seems to be just favorable enough. That is, there doesn’t seem to be anything in the words of David Obey, the top appropriator, or Ike Skelton, the top armed services cmte Democrat, to indicate that, with the right argument (especially for Jane Harman) and cost schedule, the president won’t get what he wants.
That said, as Chuck Todd points out in a Tweet to me, the White House wants to capitalize on this reception and push the money through quickly, lest the debate bleed over into 2010. But most Democrats seem to want to wait; as Dick Durbin suggested, since it took Obama so long to decide, it might Congress a while to figure out where they stand. The White House will find an ally in congressional Republicans like Dick Lugar and John McCain, who’ve indicated that they support the troop escalation and the lightning speed at which it will take place. That means that the Pentagon needs its money soon.
–As usual, political scientist Steven Taylor has a post that must be read IN FULL. Here is the beginning and end:
With the exception of the paragraphs that criticize (albeit weakly) the Iraq war, most of this speech could have been given by George W. Bush. Granted, the portion about a drawdown would have been less likely to come from Bush, but even that is hardly as radical as some critics are making it out to be.
Of course, it is that last point that is the most controversial aspect of the policy. On the one hand, many who supported the President in the last election wanted a withdrawal, so escalation is problematic to them and they are not placated by potential timelines for future withdrawals. On the other, those who believe that escalation is the appropriate route to take, think that the President is already getting ready to leave.
Quite frankly, of the two broad streams of criticism, the first group has more to complain about. Specifically, if one support withdrawal the bottom line is that even with talk of a timeline for bringing some troops home in 18 months the immediate policy is escalation, pure and simple. Beyond that, even with talk of drawing down in 2011, the fact of the matter is that much can change in a year and half and, moreover, if one pays close attention to what the President said, he did not promise a full withdrawal at all….
….[And the end:]One line of criticism that is typically along the lines that Obama is not seeking victory. The problem, however, is that it is utterly unclear to me what “victory” means at this point (at least in any realistic sense). Sure, it would be fantastic if the US military could 1) create liberal democracy for a drug-free, institutionalized Afghan state while 2) utterly removing all threats from al Qaeda and the Taliban. However, I don’t think that either of those goals is realistic (he said, deploying a heapin’ helpin’ of understatement). As such, I think critics need to determine a) what they think “victory” means and, b) admit that, at some point, the US is going to have to leave (if for any other reason that we can only afford this for so much longer, and the strain on the men and women of our armed forces is quite real).
Now read it in its entirety.
One of the first decisions President Obama made upon taking office was to remove a bust of Sir Winston Churchill from the Oval Office and send it packing to the British Embassy. The gift, a present from the British people in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States, was pride of place in the White House under George W. Bush, but was seen as surplus to requirements by his successor. Hardly a good omen for an increasingly unpopular president, whose nation is actively engaged in a global war against a brutal enemy that seeks the destruction of the free world.
Speaking at West Point last night, Barack Obama badly needed to display some Churchillian grit, but there was none on offer. As Commander in Chief President Obama has to project leadership, strength and determination before his country and his foes, as well as offer reassurance to Washington’s international allies. All were in short supply in front of the assembled cadets .The speech was less a rallying cry for victory over barbarism, than a dull professorial-style lecture that sought to justify his confused approach to the US mission in a cold and clinical fashion that simply failed to convince or inspire.
The war that President Barack Obama addressed at West Point Tuesday evening is a war for Pakistan just as much, or more, as it is for Afghanistan. Just as the World War II battles in North Africa were ultimately not about Africa, but about defeating Nazi Germany, saving Pakistan is now our most important goal in the new Great Game against Islamic extremism. Compared to that, Afghanistan is a sideshow.
Even though Obama mentioned Pakistan only about half as many times as he mentioned Afghanistan, and came to it late in his address, he showed a realization of this truth when he said that the “stakes are even higher in nuclear-armed Pakistan” because terrorists, should they acquire nuclear weapons, would not hesitate to use them.
Obama also made it clear that there can be no hope of success in Afghanistan as long as there are safe sanctuaries for the Taliban within Pakistan, for that is where both Al Qaeda and the Taliban leadership remain.
Obama needed to address two different audiences with two basically irreconcilable goals in his speech. He needed to tell his increasingly doubtful public that his escalation in Afghanistan is not open-ended and that it will lead to a quick exit. At the same time he needed to tell Afghans, and above all Pakistan, that he is in it for the long haul, and will not abandon the region as the U.S. did after the Soviets withdrew in 1989.
Overall, I think the President is doing what needs to be done in Afghanistan. I applaud his finally following General McChrystal’s recommendatin for a surge. I like that he enunciated once again that the United States has been a force for good in the world’s history.
It’s nice to hear President Obama make that statement. He might consider making it again next time he travels abroad.
There are a couple of questions I’d like him to have to answer. Given that he opposed the surge in Iraq and pronounced it a failure during the campaign, why does he support a surge now in Afghanistan? Was he perhaps, gasp, wrong before?
And secondly, what has changed in the plan he’s endorsing now from the plan that General McChrystal gave him back in August? He was sure to defend himself against criticisms that he was dithering. Fine. I’m just wondering what was lacking in the proposal before that he is satisfied to have now. Is the only difference that he added a deadline for leaving?
He still seems to use the first person pronoun quite a lot.
I’m not the audience for this speech, because I already support the policy. I don’t know that someone who was undecided or even opposed to the speech would find this convincing. As I heard Stephen Hayes point out, in one sentence he tells us that the security of the world depends on our success and in the next he tells us that we’ll be pulling out in 18 months…
When I saw President Obama give his speech last night on why he is sending more to die in this Godforsaken Bush/Cheney war in Afghanistan. I felt like I was Yogi Berrer uttering, “This is like deja vu all over again.”… But this time is wasn’t War Monger Dubya speaking, it was the “Change You Can Believe In” and the, “Every time I speak about my hope for America, the cynics in Washington roll their eyes.”, Barack Obama. The man who once asked before his election, “I ask you to believe-not just in my ability to bring about real change in Washington. I’m asking you to believe in yours.” …
–-Big Tent Democrat’s post needs to be read from start to finish. Here is only a SMALL part of it (since it needs to really be read completely in its full context):
Does anyone quarrel with these goals? I do not. Indeed, I think this is at the heart of our reasons for being in Afghanistan. But something is missing – the explanation of the Pakistan problem. It comes only in drips and drabs – “Al Qaeda has not reemerged in Afghanistan in the same numbers as before 9/11, but they retain their safe havens along the border.”
…Why dance around the word PAKISTAN? Indeed there is an abrupt transition in the speech at this time – a switch to — The TACTICS (NOT the STRATEGY)The Obama Administration Will Pursue. …
… Some believe that an effective strategy can be carried out without the military commitment. I do not share that view. Like the President, I believe the military component is critical. But it is important that the Obama Administration understand that it is not enough. And it is imperative that the PAKISTAN situation be addressed adequately. Indeed, the Afghanistan situation can never be successfully addressed without the adequate implementation of a Pakistan strategy that can work.
The end of the President’s speech struck me as much political blather but not important for consideration OTHER THAN his foolish decision to set an exit date that he can not possibly comply with. That is a political mistake. I trust it will not effect policy.
Obama even created what appeared to be a deadline: that transfer will begin by July 2011. Yet it’s not really a deadline. As administration officials explained during a conference call a few hours before the speech, Obama is not setting a hard target date for withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan. They said there is no timetable for completing this transfer process and that this transition will take as long as it takes, depending on what’s happening on the ground. Consequently, Obama’s Afghanistan message continues to be mixed. He declared that “a sense of urgency” is propelling this new deployment. He stated that “our cause is just, our resolve unwavering.” He said that this expansion of the war “is in our vital national interest.” But apparently only for 18 months. Yet it may actually be for longer, if the conditions don’t permit a handover at that point….
….But what’s been said a few thousand times in the past few days is definitely true: Obama has now made the Afghanistan war his own. This speech was just the opening shot in what will be a never-ending campaign to explain and justify a war that itself may be never-ending.
SOUNDING LIKE BUSH OR BLAMING HIM?…. One of the more common complaints I heard last night about President Obama’s speech on U.S. policy in Afghanistan is that it sounded a bit too much like his immediate predecessor.
The NYT noted today, for example, that the Obama “at times sounded like Mr. Bush in justifying this war. He celebrated the United States as a nation ‘founded in resistance to oppression’ and talked about its long record of sacrifice in ‘advancing frontiers of human liberty.'”
That’s certainly fair, and any similarities to George W. Bush are necessarily discouraging. But, while it was hardly the most important part of the West Point speech, one of the elements of the address that stood out for me was the way in which Obama called out Bush for pursuing a failed policy for so long….
…..Afghanistan was headed in the right direction … then Bush turned to Iraq … then Afghanistan began to deteriorate … then al Qaeda reorganized … then the Afghan government faltered … then the Taliban started reclaiming much of the country. U.S. commanders requested more U.S. troops and didn’t get them.
In context, this hardly constituted Bush-bashing — it makes perfect sense for Obama to explain how we got to where we are — but it left no doubt who bears responsibility for a U.S. policy that stopped being effective years ago.
—Jules Crittenden has a long post that needs to be read completely and an excellent roundup on this speech. Here’s a small taste of his post (but be sure to check out his roundup as well):
About that speech, I heard it refered to by one Obama fan as “steadfast.” Once you get past the stealth Bush-bash, the excuse-making, the subtle apologies, and the overall half-heartedness, I guess. There was the steadfast decision to nickel and dime the commander in the field, and the steadfast timetable. I’d hate to be a grunt in some remote outpost, wondering where the other 10,000 guys are when I need them, or a commander in Bagram checking my watch.
To paraphrase another go-lite advocate, you don’t go to war with the army you want, you go to war with the army your president and his political advisors send you with. You don’t, contrary to widespread public opinion, get to choose your wars. They choose you. You just get to choose what you’re going to do with them. With this surge, Afghanistan is in disputably Obama’s war now, to win or lose.
This is the date history probably will mark as the day he took it over. But he’s owned it for a while, put his political stamp on it a long time ago, spent the last 10 months mulling it … because strategy considerations did not begin in September, a month after McChrystal dropped his report in Obama’ lap. They started in a matter of weeks if not days after he took office, settled on counterinsurgency and an escalation in March, it’s all been a matter of details since then.
I know many progressives are disenchanted with this decision, but I’m struck again by how Obama is crafting a new progressive narrative for foreign policy and national security. Not just reality-based, though it is that. But an affirmative, positive rationale. Not a reaction to the conservative foreign policy orthodoxy, though it certainly acknowledges it.
The cartoon by Manny Francisco, Manila, The Phillippines, is copyrighted and licensed to appear on TMV. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited. All rights reserved.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.