Obama had a tough task last night: Selling the escalation of a war to a group of future soldiers who may have to fight it, and to an American public that is weary of escalation and concerned more with a fledgling economy. Obama touted Afghanistan as the base of operations for the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, and neighboring Pakistan as a safe haven for Al Qaeda as well.
He wants to reverse the Taliban’s influence, stop Al Qaeda and aid in creating a responsible and stable Afghan government. As such, Obama proposed sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan and bringing them home within eighteen months.
He believes that this “surge” will aid in training Afghan soldiers to combat and resist the Taliban, which will ultimately allow for a stable Afghan government. He proposes assisting with infrastructure and agriculture that, along with the withdrawal deadline, should let the Afghan people know that we seek a prompt resolution to the war and that we want the Afghan people to take responsibility for their country.
Obama does not believe Afghanistan is another Vietnam because we have the support of 43 countries and face only a limited insurgency in Afghanistan, which is where Al Qaeda plotted and launched its 9/11 attack. Obama rejected the idea of an indefinite war in Afghanistan because we lack the means to engage in perpetual nation-building, nor is it a worthy goal. He stated the nation he is most interested in building is this one.
There was a decent amount of talk about domestic problems, though I do not think Obama did a good enough job of linking domestic struggles to being in a perpetual state of war. He touched briefly on human rights and again asserted his opposition to torture and his plan to shut down Gitmo. He made some interesting statements about the U.S. not being a global occupier or a country seeking to destroy other people based on their faith or ethnicity. He stated that we only seek to give oppressed people the opportunities to be free and prosper. And once again, Obama made a plea to end the bitter partisan rancor that permeates Washington and some parts of the country.
Overall, it was a serious and solid speech. He sent a clear message to the Afghan people and to our military: Eighteen months to get the job done or we are out. This seems like an attempt to take the middle road. He gives the neocons a large number of troops but sets a timeline for their return, which may appease some on the left. But I am sure people on all sides found something to be pissed about. I got the feeling watching the speech that Obama was escalating the war begrudgingly. Do not get me wrong: He believes Afghanistan to be a central front. But he would rather not have to send more troops to finish the job; he is only doing it because the job was not completed by Bush. So I can cut him some slack for that. But his plan is ambitious and likely to be very difficult to pull off. I hope it works out for all parties.