One word sums up President Obama’s Afghan speech: ambiguity. No one knows for sure what he meant on a number of points, and that is probably the point. The White House needs all the wiggle room it can get.
“Clarifying” is already in progress.
Press secretary Robert Gibbs said the beginning of any withdrawal after July 2011 would be conditional on the ground, leaving the door wide open for additional deployments at the most, frozen troop levels at the least.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates lowered the White House’s goal from 10,000 NATO troops to 5,000-7,000, still overly optimistic. Though NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen declared on Wednesday, “This is not just America's war,” Obama is unlikely to receive enough allied support to sell the war as anything but.
Al Jazeera reports that Poland is considering 600 soldiers. Albania is sending 85, Macedonia 80, Czechlozokia 100, Spain 200, and Georgia 900 (US trained, we should add.) Britain appears tapped but could give a little more. France and Germany need to put up 5,000 troops at the last moment, 8,000 to reach the full 10,000.
He's lucked out with 1,000 extra Italian troops, leaving Britain, Germany, and France to split the rest. Doable, Obama is still betting against the odds.
NATO is mainly for political purposes anyway. A look at the areas of operations shows that only America, Britain, Canada, and the Netherlands operate in southern Afghanistan, the Taliban heartland, with the latter two states soon to withdraw. And when Canada vacates Kandahar, America assumes control of the Taliban capital.
This war is America vs. Taliban whether NATO contributes more troops or not - 98,000 US troops vs 25,000 Afghans.
Obama has done his best work making people forget General McChrystal wanted 60,000, even 80,000 additional troops, because he knows the Taliban are the main enemy. With 30,000, Obama chose between the medium and high risk options. To expect hasty results is puzzling, to say the least.
But the day’s strangest question mark was punctuated by National Security Adviser James Jones. Earlier on Wednesday, Homeland Security Adviser Janet Napalitono’s confessed that Obama’s strategy for al-Qaeda in Africa is still a work in progress.
Jones then said US intelligence confirmed that al-Qaeda is transferring to Somalia and Yemen. Obama just made the case for war in Afghanistan and now his officials are moving al-Qaeda’s leadership out of Pakistan. This announcement, so soon after his speech, makes no sense politically or militarily.
Secretary Gates was summoned to defend the region rather than the mission, emphasizing the critical nature of Afghanistan and Pakistan. “The epicenter of jihadism," as if he played no part in creating it, must be crushed. Sounds like a larger goal than Obama is trying to set.
Does the White House intentionally want to confuse us? Because it seems like it.
Octopus Mountain will break down President Obama's strategy over the coming weeks, then outline our prediction for the region.