Barack Obama last night finally unveiled his strategy, if you can fairly call it that, for Afghanistan. Although I found hearing a Democratic President sending more troops to war a bit surreal, I am inclined to be supportive of a President sending troops into harm's way. Unlike the Left with Bush, I'm inclined to give the commander in chief the benefit of the doubt in matters of war. So even though I have been arguing that we get out of Afghanistan so long as we have a commander in chief who doesn't seem personally committed to victory, I feel more or less obligated to be generally supportive of what Obama was saying last night in as far as his assertion that an increase in troops, an escalation if you will, is now required. I'm proud of Obama for making what for him is a bold decision.
The reaction from the rest of the punditry and the political spectrum is decidedly more mixed, to put it kindly. The main criticism of the speech is as obvious is it is righteous. That we are adding more troops but we are also saying explicitly to our allies and enemies alike that we are leaving at a certain date in the future does seem like an extremely odd way to wage war. It also reveals that the speech last night was entirely political. And I don't mean geo-political. Everything from the West Point setting to the fact that it took this long to essentially restate existing strategy was geared towards an American political audience. Obama is seeking to, as usual, be all things to all voters. Satisfy the hawks with a troop surge, or at least a "surge-lite", but also placate the anti-war crowd by setting a date certain for withdrawal. The speech didn't seem to take into account the message we are sending both our Afghan and Nato allies but also our enemies. Who among the local Afghan population will be on board for a temporary alliance with us only to be thrown to the wolves in 18 months? And if you were making plans as our enemies, why not hunker down for a while and regroup for a massive counter offensive in 18 months?
In doing research for this post I read the basic New York Times column about the speech and was struck by some of the comments penned by the predominantly left leaning readership:
"This is such a bad idea, sending 30,000 more young men and women into harm's way. I have no doubt that 2011 will come and go, the military leadership will still be deeply mired in Afghanistan and will be requesting additional troops. This is Vietnam all over again, sans the tropical jungles. This will not end well. Afghanistan is a failed nation and no amount of foreign intervention can fix it. Just ask the Brits and the Russians."
"Apparently we will say, US to Afghani terrorists: Hide in Somalia for 18 months."
"President Obama is a the ultimate calculating politician. Instead of cutting our losses and making enemies by completely withdrawing, he wants to walk the middle line until a year before his next re-election campaign."
"Obama's leadership is frightfully naive. Although we shouldn't have expected much more from an academic with not even one term of national leadership experience. We get the president we deserve."
"The July 2011 drawdown is just a charade...Obama is throwing a bone to us dogs! He wants to keep his liberal base. Will we fall for this?"
"Hope the surge works. Otherwise President Obama has committed more US troops with an announced timetable for withdrawal. If the surge doesn't work, well President Obama has committed and increased number troops to a futile effort. Hope the surge works."
But the most devastating commentary comes from the left leaning Der Speigel from Germany. You see, these are the left leaning folks who aren't saddled with the fact that they voted for Barack so they must feel free to speak their mind, even though if they had had the chance they would have voted for Obama.
Gabor Steingart writes:
"One didn't have to be a cadet on Tuesday to feel a bit of nausea upon hearing Obama's speech. It was the least truthful address that he has ever held. He spoke of responsibility, but almost every sentence smelled of party tactics. He demanded sacrifice, but he was unable to say what it was for exactly.
An additional 30,000 US soldiers are to march into Afghanistan -- and then they will march right back out again. America is going to war -- and from there it will continue ahead to peace. It was the speech of a Nobel War Prize laureate."
Steingart rightly points out the naked politics at play in the speech:
"For each troop movement, Obama had a number to match. US strength in Afghanistan will be tripled relative to the Bush years, a fact that is sure to impress hawks in America. But just 18 months later, just in time for Obama's re-election campaign, the horror of war is to end and the draw down will begin. The doves of peace will be let free.
The speech continued in that vein. It was as though Obama had taken one of his old campaign speeches and merged it with a text from the library of ex-President George W. Bush. Extremists kill in the name of Islam, he said, before adding that it is one of the 'world's great religions.' He promised that responsibility for the country's security would soon be transferred to the government of President Hamid Karzai -- a government which he said was 'corrupt.' The Taliban is dangerous and growing stronger. But 'America will have to show our strength in the way that we end wars,' he added.
It was a dizzying combination of surge and withdrawal, of marching to and fro. The fast pace was reminiscent of plays about the French revolution: Troops enter from the right to loud cannon fire and then they exit to the left. And at the end, the dead are left on stage."
That Obama was channeling Bush begins to explain why I was inclined to give Obama the benefit of the doubt on this much in the same way I gave Bush the benefit of the doubt on matters of war. Obama used the same kind of rhetoric that Bush used to justify our military endevours. But, as Steingart point out, the speech was as equally Jeckyl as it was Hyde, for every hawkish statement there was an equal dovish statement: The cavalry are coming, but we'll be leaving in 18 months.
As Steingart concludes in his excellent piece:
"In his speech on America's new Afghanistan strategy, Obama tried to speak to both places. It was two speeches in one. That is why it felt so false. Both dreamers and realists were left feeling distraught.
The American president doesn't need any opponents at the moment. He's already got himself."