Last night President Obama updated the American public of the progress of the war in Afghanistan, though nothing said was particularly spectacular or surprising. This address had been highly anticipated due to the May 1 killing of Osama bin Laden, and his promise to begin troop withdrawal this July, for which he was highly criticized last year and for which he will receive much criticism this year…. though for the opposite reasoning.
When President Obama entered office, troops in Afghanistan numbered 34,000; they now number 100,000. He campaigned on re-focusing on the war in Afghanistan and doing whatever necessary to capture bin Laden, even if that meant disregarding sovereign borders– both promises kept. Obama announced a withdrawal of 10,000 troops by the end of this year, and a total of 33,000 by next summer, which will recover the amount of troops he added for the surge in 2010. The President declined to specify the further reductions, but said they would occur at a steady pace until the “end” of the war in 2014. Polls show that 56% of Americans now support immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Many of the Republican Presidential contenders are calling for speedy troop withdrawal, mostly due to the slow pace of economic recovery at home, pressures from the Tea Party, and let’s be realistic– to play the contrarian role to a Democratic Commander-in-Chief. Many Democrats, rather than themselves uniting as a party behind their leader, are renouncing Obama as well. With friends like that, who needs enemies?
There are, however, still those in both parties that believe a large military presence is still needed to maintain American security, not to merely fight what remains of Al Qaeda, but to stabilize tensions in a fractured Pakistan and in a Middle-East still roiling from the Arab Spring. Despite the new Republican stance, old establishment Senators John McCain (R-Arizona) and Lindsey Graham (R-S. Carolina) support a large continued role, and question a hasty departure. The Pentagon has called for no significant reduction until the fall of 2012.
No matter what numbers Obama cited, they would have been wrong. Noted. However, the number of troops still in Afghanistan next summer would be double what they were when Obama took office… The difference now? Osama is dead. Our economy is enduring protracted pain, a pain that could largely be remedied with funds spent in Afghanistan. Funds to the tune of $120 billion a year. Democrats are salivating for these funds for infrastructure projects. Republicans want to pay down the deficit. Even if Obama wanted to end the war to accomplish those ends, he would not be able to do so with any political cover… So what does he do to accomplish it without doing it himself? Piss everyone off.
Obama is the Jedi of compromise, of taking the middle road, of patience under pressure, often to his own detriment. What’s an effective compromise? One in which everyone leaves the table unhappy. So here’s my thinking: Obama’s damned regardless, so he forces everyone else’s hand. Rather than acquiesce to those demanding troop withdrawal– he can’t be militarily irresponsible, or to the war hawks who would wait for withdrawal until the fall of an election year– a politically untenable position, Obama announces the fewest troops possible that would still qualify as a troop reduction in most people’s minds, and thus still delivers on another promise.
Yet this troop reduction will not be enough for many lawmakers, who will rally to support new anti-war legislation on the behalf of angry constituents in the lead up to next year’s election. The McGovern-Jones bill for an Afghan exit would likely be re-introduced. If Congress passed anti-war legislation, Obama would have adequate political cover to end the war at a much faster and much more economic pace… and still have the political clout to win re-election… So this is my Obama/Afghan fantasy: that he is pissing everyone off in an elaborate Jedi-mindfuck. Let’s hope the force is with him.