Okay, I just watched President Obama’s speech on the new Afghan war strategy at West Point, and here is my initial reaction:
– 30,000 additional U.S. troops seems like an insufficient number to bring Afghanistan back from the tipping point it’s currently on.
– $30 billion per year seems like a pretty low estimate for what the war will cost
– Obama’s optimism for meaningful help from NATO allies seems unfounded
Well, not a whole lot, really. It is a concrete plan (mostly), and it involves a timetable. Other than that,
– Adds a “civilian surge” (i.e., humanitarian aid and economic incentives) and a diplomatic angle that involves Pakistan
– Basically grounded in realism
– Consistent with campaign promises
My own feelings on the subject are that if the war in Afghanistan is to be “escalated in order to end it,” then a more appropriate number of troops would have been Gen. McChrystal’s recommendation for something on the order of 70,000-80,000. “Go big or go home,” in other words. But the fact of the matter is that the war will not be won or lost based on the size of the troop surge. The real problem in Afghanistan isn’t necessarily tactical (although, tactical problems certainly exist), it’s geopolitical, and has a lot to do with Pakistan’s willingness (and ability) to cooperate with U.S. goals for their neighbor and the region.
UPDATE: The more I think about this, the more I think that the whole speech makes a lot more sense if there is some kind of credible commitment from Pakistan on the table that we don’t know about just yet. It’s sheer speculation, but think about it — a smaller-than-recommended number of troops for a pretty large cost when budgets are already busted thanks to a tanking economy and a healthcare bill in the works… it seems almost silly unless Obama has some kind of arrangement in the works with Pakistan. And it bears repeating — it’s Pakistan that will ultimately determine the success or failure of this operation.
UPDATE II: Here are my speech-related Tweets, in case you aren’t following me on Twitter.
I wasn’t expecting Adult Contemporary/Smooth jazz as the hold music for #Obama’s #Afghanistan speech…
#Obama begins with 9/11, linking terror attacks to #Taliban in #Afghanistan
#Obama brings up #NATO article 5 early in speech — to prep for call later for more NATO commitment
#Obama avoids explicitly calling #Iraq a mistake — but implies that #Afghanistan effort has been hampered by focus elsewhere
Problems in #Afghanistan: “Corruption, drug trade, under-developed economy.” #Obama
#Obama: Only 32,000 troops in #Afghanistan when he took office
#Obama: “The status quo is not sustainable.”
#Obama: No plan he has reviewed has called for troop increase before 2010 — “There has been no delay.” #afgspeech
#Obama: 30,000 more troops for 18 months. Will that be enough to win an unwinnable war? #afgspeech
#Obama – Length of time for decision was necessary to make the right call. “I do not make this decision lightly.”
#Obama: Afghanistan-Pakistan “epicenter of violent extremism practiced by al Qaeda”
#Obama – Troops to deploy at “fastest possible pace” in Q1 2010 to target #Taliban
Question on #Obama’s #afgspeech: Will #NATO really commit a meaningful amount of additional troops?
#Obama: Civilian aid will be tied to performance. “The days of a blank check are over.” #afgspeech
#Obama: Afghan people must realize #US is a partner, not a patron
Good to know: the #Taliban is not a monolithic organization. Some members are more open to reform than others.
#Obama – 3 core elements of strategy: Military, civilian/economic aid, partnership with Afghan gov’t. Nothing new here. #afgspeech
#Obama: link exists between national security and #economy. Costs of #Afghan #war must be controlled.
#Obama: War in #Afghanistan will cost another $30 billion.
My take on #Obama’s speech — a fairly-predictable, but solid, argument for an #Afghanistan strategy that won’t work. #afgspeech
A minor accomplishment during #Obama’s #afgspeech: The “dithering” argument has been rendered moot
AP fact-check on #Obama’s #afgspeech: http://bit.ly/4OdoXu Nothing too surprising: Overestimating #NATO’s probable commitment is one.
On #afgspeech, I think it’s worth noting that the troop surge will not be what wins or loses the war — it’ll be #Pakistan’s cooperation
How? Bush Doctine = Preemptive war. RT @DanielSchulman: On CNN @MaryMatalin calls #afgspeech a “rehash of the Bush doctrine.”
#afgspeech reactions: Libs: Troop surge = “too much like Bush.” Conservs: Timeline = “not Bushlike enough.”
#Obama was right, #Afghan war isn’t like Vietnam, it’s like Afghanistan. http://bit.ly/82tV1p #afgspeech
Did hell just freeze over? From @sarahpalinusa’s Facebook page: “I support President Obama’s decision.” http://bit.ly/905Dy1 #afgspeech #p2