While the GOP praises the return of “evil” and “just war,” and Democrats laud his “broadest foreign policy outline yet," the real story is how perturbed Obama still seems over Afghanistan. Considering that he likes neat logic and Afghanistan is nothing but bad options, he might never be satisfied with his decision.
Yesterday at Oslo he sounded like he was trying to convince himself more than anyone else. Though he would never admit so under gunpoint, his alternative route isn’t that safe either. At a news conference, Obama defended his Afghanistan policy as the press centered on his 18 month withdrawal in an usual way.
"I have been unambiguous about this, so there should not be a debate,” he said. “Starting in July 2011 we will begin that transition, that transfer of responsibility.”
First things first, his speech only made two brief references to the 18 month deadline. In the first, Obama couldn’t squeak the line in any tighter.
"As Commander-in-Chief, I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan. After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home. These are the resources that we need to seize the initiative, while building the Afghan capacity that can allow for a responsible transition of our forces out of Afghanistan."The second reference does little to clear up his intentions.
“Taken together, these additional American and international troops will allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces, and allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011. Just as we have done in Iraq, we will execute this transition responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground.”Rather, Obama’s words have created the very questions he’s telling everyone to ignore. Like he said, Afghanistan's troop levels are still well below Iraq's. What if 98,000 aren’t enough to stem the Taliban’s momentum, to secure the country, to train Afghan security forces, before July 2011? Will Obama still withdraw or will he stay? If he does withdraw, will it be a token?
If he stays, for how long?
These questions are being rounded up by Obama officials as they battle for control of his policy. Oslo is the first time Obama has spoken about Afghanistan since his speech, so to say he was unambiguous in his speech when he wasn’t, then allow his officials to take over, is the model of ambiguity.
Will US troops start to come out in significant numbers if Afghanistan dips lower, or is this like the CEO who accepts a 1$ salary along with 30$ million in stock options? In other words, will Obama withdraw a handful of troops after July 2011 if the situation is still volatile purely as a political gimmick?
Or will he bite the bullet and freeze troop levels?
But this matter can still be argued a number of ways. One thing is concrete - Obama’s opposition to the Iraq surge. He opposed the surge before it occurred and after it achieved a relative amount of success. And now he’s going to tell us, “there should not be a debate?”
Granted, he did oppose the war from the start so being skeptical of the surge makes sense beforehand, but not after the results allowed him to ratchet up Afghanistan. Here Obama’s “just war” theory breaks down. He opposed the surge because he considered the Iraq War unjust in the first place.
Now, even if Afghanistan is “just,” he’s going to commit himself to protracted warfare with an homegrown enemy that technically isn’t America’s primary objective. Many wrongs have already been committed and his future strategy offers no certainty of victory.
Yet because Afghanistan is “just,” Obama feels compelled to fight whether Afghanistan is winnable or not.
And since when can't we debate what they don’t agree with, especially war? How close is “no debate” to “no protest?" President Obama, the “transparency president,” is an image that phrases like “no debate” can shatter. He should consider how unbecoming defensiveness is from Commander-in-Chief.
Or, if Obama is still unsatisfied, maybe he should reconsider his strategy. 40,000 troops would have gone along way to silence his critics; pairing 30,000 with an 18 month deadline puts too much stress on the system. He should have picked one or the other, or else deploy 40,000 troops along with an 18 month deadline.
At least that strategy would be more believable. Although it would have been political costly, this is mainly in the short term. Obama got his boost by including a flimsy time-table billed as an exit strategy. He’ll pay a devil's price if July 2011 comes and goes with minimal change to the ground or US troop levels.
Sounds like he knows it too.