Foreign Policy Blogs

Gates, Pelosi and Obama on the July Troop Drawndown.

As was expected, during his farewell tour of bases in Afghanistan Secretary of Defense Robert Gates argued for maintaining the maximum number of combat troops feasible in Afghanistan well past the July drawdown.

Just today, in Kandahar Province, Secretary Gates said that  he’d advise the Obama administration to keep as many battle ready boots on the ground.  The New York Times quote him as follows: “I would try and maximize my combat capability as long as this process goes on — I think that’s a no-brainer…I’d opt to keep the shooters, and take the support out first.”

As Thom Shanker, writing for the Times, reports holding combat troops steady while drawing down logistical support teams for those troops would be consistent with President Obama’s hard July deadline to begin a formal drawdown that would conclude by 2014.  It’s likely that, as happened in Iraq, the president will delegate out to his generals the manner in which those troops are sent back home over the course of the three year draw-down.  Reports bouncing around Washington DC suggests generals and commanders on the field feel they have the winds on their backs from the 30,000 surge troops put into play- to break the momentum of that tail wind would be fool-hardy.  Consequently even at the high end of projected troop withdrawal, less than 5000 troops will likely be scheduled to return home.

This sounds all well and good for the military and security aims in Afghanistan. There’s strong evidence that President Obama supports just such a plan–even though there’s a growing debate within his new defense team about the pace of the drawdown. Still what Secretary Gates has to say coincides with what commanders in the field think. Unfortunately what Secretary Gates argued runs up against Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s rather more ambitious views on the withdrawal in Afghanistan. ABC News recently reported that Pelosi wants a much more substantial drawdown than is currently being entertained by the administration.  Given that Pelosi is a strong voice in the liberal wing of the party which has for long decried the nearly decade long investment in money, time and lives in Afghanistan and given that through his moves in Afghanistan the president is sure to disenchant a sizable bloc of the liberals, these pronouncements aren’t likely push liberals into the president’s voting bloc. Indeed, the president can ill-afford to rebellion within his own party over the war.

In a move sure to worry Secretary Gates, Minority Leader Pelosi is linking the substance and numbers behind  the drawdown to runaway spending. According to this argument drawing down would not only secure the safety of American troops, it would also save the deficit hawk Congress the money that might be better spent at home.  As the country as trudged through more than three years of an anemic post-recession economic recovery, Pelosi’s argument has some chance of carrying the day, in public opinion if not in outright legislative votes.

However it cuts, linking this decades long war to out of control public spending is a winning argument. Indeed, a number of Republican Congressmen have broken with the GOP “strong on defense” mantra and have sidled up to the liberal Democratic opinion that there the war on poverty is a war that the country needs to fight at home and win.

As June runs down, the clock with it, and as General Petraeus offers the president his opinion on how the drawdown out of Afghanistan should proceed, domestic politics is sure to intervene.  What will the President do? Seek a long-term solution to Afghanistan’s security or choose that policy option which helps his chances at the ballot box come November 2012?  How will the presidents new national security team help him reach his end point in Afghanistan? For, President Obama’s pragmatism and his commitment to American troops not withstanding, his options are not limitless.  And whatever those options might be, they are fully circumscribed by the feasible set of policy choices available to him in a party-split Washington D.C.

 

Author

Faheem Haider

Faheem Haider is a political analyst, writer and artist. He holds advanced research degrees in political economy, political theory and the political economy of development from the London School of Economics and Political Science and New York University. He also studied political psychology at Columbia University. During long stints away from his beloved Washington Square Park, he studied peace and conflict resolution and French history and European politics at the American University in Washington DC and the University of Paris, respectively.

Faheem has research expertise in democratic theory and the political economy of democracy in South Asia. In whatever time he has to spare, Faheem paints, writes, and edits his own blog on the photographic image and its relationship to the political narrative of fascist, liberal and progressivist art.

That work and associated writing can be found at the following link: http://blackandwhiteandthings.wordpress.com

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