President Barack Obama is due to announce his plan to start pulling U.S troops out of Afghanistan during a televised speech to his American and international audience, his sixth since assuming office in January 2009.
This rather militarily dicey and politically expedient move is being made right in the midst of wholesale national security changes in Washington D.C and sheer drop troubles in Afghanistan. And at the expense of repeating recent news, those troubles in Afghanistan are plentiful.
Leaving aside the difficult counter-insurgency and combat moves against a resurgent Taliban, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has strongly (demagogically) argued against Special Forces night raids, the crux of the military counterinsurgency effort there. Indeed, Mr. Karzai went so far as to announce that much less his government in Kabul, the U.S government and its military have been engaging in quiet talks with the Taliban to reach a peaceful solution to the nearly decade-long war in Afghanistan.
What’s more the administration is vested in personnel changes at the highest levels in its civilian and military leadership of U.S. national security. While the overwhelmingly popular Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is leaving, his replacement is the well-regarded current CIA chief Leon Panetta. Moreover, Director Panetta’s replacement is the widely respected General David Petraeus. These personnel changes are a promising start to a new turn in Afghanistan; but they are still untested changes. Indeed, General Petraeus’s absence on the field is itself an X-factor that for now has no means of measure or evaluation.
Already there’s strong buzz that within the fall of 2012 President Obama will drawdown the 30,000 surge troops he placed in Afghanistan. The only variable, according to these recent reports, is when and how quickly he would do so. This move would seem to stand against out-going Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’ advice that for now only 5000 or so troops should be taken out of the field-mostly logistic and support personnel-to move forward with the momentum that the military claims it has over the insurgents in Afghanistan. According to this logic, the maximum number of troops should stay in Afghanistan to fight off the Taliban well into the 2012 spring and summer fighting season, drawing down late into teh fall when fighting trickles down-though hardly at glacial pace.
Whatever move President Obama makes, the military will still have nearly 70,000 troops in Afghanistan, though they will be stretched even more thin that they have been recently. (Keep in mind that the military has shuffled its counterinsurgency strategy partly because it has not had enough troops to patrol the country well enough to have eyes and ears in most parts of Afghanistan.)
No doubt there are domestic pressures to push forth with a strong and decisive withdrawal out of Afghanistan (as well as Iraq). The Democratic Party leadership in the U.S Congress has been pushing for a meaningful withdrawal that might offer the U.S the ability to concentrate on investing into the falteringly recovering economy. Moreover, an insurgent bloc of fiscal hawks within the Republican Party have also made moves to push for a steady withdrawal.
Now, the Pew Research Center shows that for the first time a majority of American favor a rapid withdrawal out of Afghanistan, even if they think the war in Afghanistan was fought of the right reasons. Indeed, the majority opinion on withdrawal in Afghanistan was reached only after the killing of Osama bin Laden. This suggests that Americans think that the cause of justice behind the invasion of Afghanistan has reached its end, contrary to the the Obama administrations’ position on the matter.
Indeed whatever the reality of war on the ground, President Obama is surely to loathe going against public opinion when he has only recently successfully delivered the bounty on bin Laden. The stalling economy is under his principal ownership now and he needs all the help he can get, personal, political, to survive in office past the 2012 election.
Nevertheless, political expediency aside, the final decision on remove all U.S. troops from Afghan soil will have to be condition-based. And those conditions will be based on current and immediately future, turn to near-present conditions. Expect President Obama to leave plenty of room to not be tied in place by his own words during his address to the nation and the world tonight. Expect him to try to split the difference in drawing down troops to a level between what the military mandates as necessary to fight on in Afghanistan and what the president’s advisors deem necessary to win the 2012 election, a year and more out.
After all, the man known to be a pragmatist is sure to make a pragmatic decision that balances evenly the scales he’s being weighed on and that weighs on him.