And 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.
Obama is giving the military most of what it asked for and in the same breath he is telling our enemies that it is temporary, lay low and wait us out.
This was a pure political speech, sending in the troops because the military commanders made it clear they are needed and the American people were made aware of it, but holding up an olive branch to the far left wing of Obama's party by saying no worries we have a "time line" now.
Power Line explains the dishonesty of Obama's time line:
More importantly, Obama set July 2011 as the target date for beginning our withdrawal. Although he did add that conditions on the ground will be taken into account, it is difficult to understand how the U.S. will secure the support and commitment it needs from a critical mass of Afghans when they know, or have strong reason to believe, we will be starting to pull out only about a year after we have ramped up.
Indeed, Obama's timetable threatens to undermine not just the first prong of his strategy (military) but also second and third prongs (civilian and Pakistan). With only a short-term commitment, we're not likely to exert much influence on civilian behavior. Nor are the Pakistanis likely to be impressed by an America that's more interested in a prompt exit, so it can save money and focus on domestic issues (points Obama emphasized near the end of his speech), than in defeating its enemies.
Obama attempted to sell his timetable through his usual dishonest rhetorical tricks. He compared his approach favorably to a decade-long commitment. But no one has proposed that he make, much less publicly declare, a commitment of that length. Obama was positing a "false choice." The real choice is between announcing a "fight and run" strategy and making no statement about when we intend to start leaving. The former approach is a new wrinkle in warfare.
Obama claimed that the Afghans need to know they will have to take responsibility for their affairs before long. The Afghans presumably understand that, as a matter of American politics, we won't fight a losing batter indefinitely (nor should we). But this doesn't mean we need to set a date for the beginning of our withdrawal. And setting one may well make it too problematic to side strongly with the U.S. during the brief period in which we'll be a rising force.
John McCain takes Obama to task for "emboldening" the enemy:
But Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the leading Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said while he agrees with the president's decision to up the number of troops, setting a timeline for withdrawal will only allow the Taliban to regroup and emerge stronger when U.S. forces leave Afghanistan.
"I support the president's decision to have a properly resourced counter insurgency strategy," McCain told "Good Morning America's" Robin Roberts today. "My only difference... is setting a date for return. ... Dates should be determined by success on the ground not by the calendar."
This was the same issue we dealt with when Bush sent a troop increase into Iraq, with Bush refusing to set an arbitrary time line and instead insisting only conditions on the ground would determine when we left.
It worked. Now Obama speaks of bringing a responsible end to Iraq, but without the "surge", without Bush, at that time, refusing to give the enemy the specific date of exit, Obama would not be able to speak of an end now.
Gallup has found that Barack Obama's Afghanistan policies are the least popular and garner him the the worst of his approval ratings.
The decline in Obama's approval rating on Afghanistan is evident among all party groups, with double-digit decreases since September among Republicans (17 points), independents (16 points), and Democrats (10 points)
While a slim majority of Obama's fellow Democrats approve of his handling of the issue, his new policy may not be well-received by Democrats, who have indicated opposition to troop-level increases in Afghanistan. The details of the policy will likely be more appealing to Republicans, who are supportive of putting more U.S. troops in Afghanistan..
[Update] Kristol reiterates the point:
There were unfortunate aspects of Obama’s speech: the foolish eagerness to tell us he’s as eager as can be to get us out of Afghanistan as soon as he can; the laying down of a pseudo-deadline for beginning a process of transitioning our forces out in July 2011, combined with the claim that the pace and duration of the withdrawal is to be conditions-based – a typical example of Obama trying to be too cute by half; the silly harrumphing that “it will be clear to the Afghan government – and, more importantly, to the Afghan people – that they will ultimately be responsible for their own country,” as if we were there to help the Afghans become “responsible for their own country” again, as opposed to fighting for reasons of vital national interest.
Still: By mid-2010, Obama will have more than doubled the number of American troops in Afghanistan since he became president; he will have empowered his general, Stanley McChrystal, to fight the war pretty much as he thinks necessary to in order to win; and he will have retroactively, as it were, acknowledged that he and his party were wrong about the Iraq surge in 2007 -- after all, the rationale for this surge is identical to Bush’s, and the hope is for a similar success. He will also have embraced the use of military force as a key instrument of national power.
Barack Obama needs to stop campaigning and start doing what is in the interest of our country. Many disagree on what that is, but he was voted in as President and he needs to stop trying to sit in the middle, make a decision, stand behind it and quit making excuses or offering olive branches to those that disagree.
He especially needs to remember the world is watching and judging accordingly.