After three months of debate, discussion, and being accused by Dick Cheney of “dithering,” President Obama finally revealed his plan for the war in Afghanistan last night.
In front of an audience of West Point cadets who at times seemed bored, the president announced that he was sending an additional 30,000 American troops to augment the forces that have been in place for the past eight years. Obama also said that those same troops, many of whom won’t arrive on the ground for months, would begin to come home in July 2011, only eighteen months from now.
In the end, it was an underwhelming speech, but that seems rather appropriate given the fact that the president was announcing a very underwhelming policy.
As with much of American policy in Afghanistan over the past several years, the policy Obama announced suffers from the fact that it is attempting to accomplish two very different goals. We went into Afghanistan for a very specific reason: To punish the terrorist group responsible for the deaths of nearly 3,000 Americans and the regime that had given them safe haven for the better part of a decade. Over time, however, the war in Afghanistan took on a different flavor as the Bush administration focused on “stabilizing” the Afghan government and fighting the remnants of the Taliban that persist throughout the country. What had started out as a war against al-Qaeda very quickly became an effort at nation-building in one of the most unstable regions in the world.
In his speech last night, President Obama paid lip service to the idea that it was the fight against al-Qaeda that brought us to Afghanistan, but it’s clear that the strategy he is adopting has more to do with stabilizing the Karazi regime than it does with fighting al-Qaeda.
Or at least appearing to do so.