Belmont Club

Afghanistan plain

James Taranto makes fun of an NYT preview of Obama’s Afghanistan speech, saying that a close reading shows that “after months of indecision, the president has finally resolved to be irresolute.” Taranto’s spoof runs thus:

With confidence in our armed forces, with the unbounding determination of our people, we will give a clear sense of both the time frame for action and how the war will eventually wind down! Let every nation know that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, to ratchet back our presence after the buildup! Either you are with us or you are with those who would fail to make clear that a significant American presence will remain, not just for a while but for a long while!

It’s cruel send-up, but not as savage as the treatment afforded by the LA Times, which has an article called “5 things to listen for in Obama’s Afghanistan speech”. The most important thing to listen for, the LA Times suggests, is the sound of an American ultimatum on itself.

The troubled reality, of course, is the enemy can see the same calendar light and knows it must only wear down and out-wait the notoriously impatient Americans, as the Vietcong did in Vietnam, where American support for its domestic ally withered. And so did the local government’s ability to withstand guerrilla war.

Press Secretary Robert Gibbs claims this “doesn’t make any logical sense.”

Also — and Obama may try to skate by this harsh fact — the 44th U.S. president has already issued this Windex ultimatum: Clean up your act or else. It worked so well that the autumn Afghan presidential elections were rigged anyway. …

  • Are there real demands of Karzai? Specific ones? Obama aides promise “new wrinkles” to the ultimatum, meaning — what? That this time we really, really mean it?
  • Any additional troop commitments by NATO allies?
  • How does Obama fudge the exit timeline in public? Or does he?

Jake Tapper says “the president will explain how he intends to, as he said last week, ‘finish the job’ … the president will also explain to the American people his exit strategy. Part of the president’s challenge is explaining that while he’s sending more than 30,000 new U.S. troops to Afghanistan — bringing the total to around 100,000 — he is just as keenly focused on bringing them home … the president will convey to the Afghan government that it needs to get its act together and improve governance and combat corruption, a push he will make by saying the U.S. will insist on very strict benchmarks.”

He will lay down the law to Karzai, but Reuters says that for the surge to work the US needs to deal with the very same person. And not just with Karzai: according to Tapper, Democratic Congressmen say that any chance of “getting” Bin Laden depends on the cooperation of Pakistan.  House Appropriations Committee chairman Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “And I don’t think we have the tools in the Pakistani government and I don’t think we have the tools in the Afghan government. And until we do, I think much of what we do is a fool’s errand.” The President will have go get the cooperation of the very same people he wants to whip into line.

So Obama’s strategic dilemma is that he wants to “finish the job” and get out and he wants to get tough on his allies but needs them to accomplish his job. He is caught between Scylla and Charybdis. Under these circumstances, what odds would you give the job?

Never mind.  Obama’s speech is likely to be soaring. Why he might say, “never in the field of human conflict have so many owed so much to so few.” Oops. That was the speech about the stimulus.


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