Foreign Policy Blogs

The Night Before the Speech

“Twas the night before Obama’s Afghanistan Strategy speech and all through the internet, not a pundit was resting, all arguing that they knew what was right.  The allies were briefed in hopes that more troops would soon be there.  Then down came Obama to West Point with sweet words of strategy.”

I offer an immediate apology for that pathetic attempt at parodying ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas’.  Tomorrow may not be Christmas, but it will sure have a major impact on the future of the United States, Afghanistan, Pakistan, NATO, and thousands of lives. So, what do we know about the Obama administration’s plan that will be laid out tomorrow? And what do I want to hear?

First off, it appears that the US will send around 30,000-34,000 more American troops and ask its NATO partners to send in another 10,000. This is obviously the most important aspect of the new strategy. It has also been leaked that the administration will not back McChrystal’s suggestion of doubling the Afghan army. Benchmarks for the Karzai led Afghan government will also be stressed. Lastly, according to the New York Times, the President will ‘lay out a time frame for winding down the American involvement in the war’. This last item leads to what I personally want to hear from President Obama tomorrow.

Basically, if Obama truly believes that this is a necessary war, as I do, and is willing to maintain more than 100,000 American soldiers and civilians and spend billions of dollars in the conflict, then fight to win. Or to use his words, ‘finish the job’. In other words, I will be disappointed if the speech, and therefore the strategy’s goal, is too focused on getting out of Afghanistan. Not finishing the job, but just ending the job. I do understand the difficult position that Obama and US are in, as David Corn of Politics Daily correctly labels the diverging characteristics of the current situation:  ‘This must be done; this won’t last forever.’ Basically, Obama must at the same time explain to the American public that the war in Afghanistan is necessary to fight, but that it will be a fight with a conclusion not that far away.

This challenge will be one of this young president’s greatest yet. For not only does he need to get the country, both politicians and everyday citizens alike, to believe that this is a fight worth sacrificing for, but also that he is putting in place a winning strategy. In tomorrow’s speech, Obama cannot just layout a well-written and delivered address, he must also show that he is a leader worthy of being called Commander in Chief and to do this he needs to communicate in a more visceral way. As John Harris of Politico stated, ‘No soldier wants to take a bullet in the name of nuance’. Obama will be in a room full of young men and women who will all most likely play a tangible part in this conflict for years to come and he needs to inspire them with more than a well-thought out strategy.

Though there are signs that there will be aspects I will be uneasy hearing from the President tomorrow, I am optimistic we are going to get a good plan and a strong public statement of the conflict’s importance to country. I just hope it is the first of many such efforts to communicate our stake in this crucial war. I’ll of course be back to discuss the speech and the strategy it details over the next few days.