The speech, I think, was well-delivered and totally stunk on ice. Beyond its defensiveness (did he have to tell cadets at West Point that the previous guy was a disaster as Commander in Chief? All true, but sort of besides the point), it is the sort of half-a-loaf to every interest group that is muddled at its very core.
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.
What does this even mean? If I were one of those 30,000 troops, I'd be pretty distraught right about now. And I'd be looking at every means possible to keep my head low until those magical 18 months are up and I know I'm gonna get demobbed back home. Why 30,000 rather than the 40,000 his guy in Afghanistan asked for?
Then there's this:
I make this decision because I am convinced that our security is at stake in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is the epicenter of the violent extremism practiced by al-Qaida.
It's vital to our security but I can gaze into my (Mc) crystal ball and know that I'm yanking these guys out in 18 months, with the clock starting in 2010 (another strange moment of defensiveness: "Let me be clear: There has never been an option before me that called for troop deployments before 2010"). Later in the speech, he condensed these points even more tightly:
What's at stake is not simply a test of NATO's credibility — what's at stake is the security of our Allies and the common security of the world.
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.
Announcing troop increases designed to protect the world and when they will come home strikes me as bad strategy, regardless of how you feel about the war in Afghanistan.
While I think the 2003 invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq was never warranted, I think the invasion of Afghanistan was a legitimate use of American military power. The country was on the hunt for the people behind the 9/11 attacks and the Taliban government was clearly working hand in glove with them. When the trail went cold, the reason for us being in Afghanistan became far less clear. Are we nation or region building there? And if so, don't the myriad objections that Democrats and Republicans alike used to throw up in opposition to such efforts apply? If it's all about gutting al Qaeda and de-surging the resurgent Taliban, then what's with the timetable for exit?
At least since the end of the Cold War, U.S. foreign policy has been an ad hoc after-thought without a controlling idea or a national consensus. President Obama's speech last night exemplifies the lack of clarity that characterizes the past two decades' worth of fogginess. And offers up at least 30,000 reasons not to be impressed.