There was no way that President Obama could win with his speech last night on Afghanistan.
His compromise drawdown–10,000 U.S. troops by the end of the year, 23,000 more by the end of next summer– was bound to disappoint the McCain School, the military men who want to keep as many boots on the ground as possible, and the Biden School, which wants to sharply reduce the U.S. footprint in favor of targeted, counter-terrorist strikes. The first group wanted a nominal, 3,000-5,000 troop withdrawal over time, the second a major, swift, pullout.
Obama himself may even have been disappointed, since he knows that the 10-year-old Afghanistan war is now inescapably his war.
“Tonight, “ the President said from the East Room, “we take comfort in knowing that the tide of war is receding.” His lack of conviction as he delivered that statement was revealing. He must know that under the long goodbye he articulated last night, it will be a very long war indeed.
The President may also privately believe, as so many do, that our Afghanistan adventure is a fool’s errand. He surely recognizes that the outcome will be a disappointment to all sides, most especially the Afghan people. And yet, after a serious, thoughtful, three-month policy review last year, he concluded that he had no choice but to soldier on. Hence, the surge.
He also realizes that even after the withdrawals announced last night, the U.S. will have 70,000 troops in Afghanistan and nearly 100,000 contractors (soldiers-for-hire) in country and involved in an on-going struggle between Afghan factions with no end in sight. No surprise that the President’s demeanor was subdued and serious.
He also knows that the cost, estimated at $10 billion a month, is ruinous. Gamely, he spoke of increasing investment in America’s crumbling infrastructure and creating green energy projects that could lift the economy. But even as he spoke, it was painfully obvious that the country cannot afford guns and butter, not in this economy, not with this debt. Even the Tea Party School has reached that conclusion.
The irony is that this President is the same person who as Candidate Obama, campaigned against the unnecessary, unjustified war in Iraq and was elected on a promise to bring those troops home. He is fulfilling that promise, but replacing one quagmire with another.