President Obama will likely announce that 10,000 American soldiers will be withdrawn from Afghanistan by the end of this year, a number that many top military officials think is too high and many American voters think is too low. The decision is "fraught with political peril" for Obama, The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza writes, because Pew Research Center just found that 56 percent of Americans want all troops out of the decade-long war as soon as possible. That's up from 40 percent a year ago, and it's likely to continue to rise. Obama will portray the pullout as "promises made, promises kept," Cillizza writes, but will that be enough to satisfy voters?
Obama is hours away from delivering his speech, but many have already offered their analysis of what he'll say and what it means.
- Not Quite a Return of the Surge, Time's Joe Klein notes. Most of the troops coming home will be support personnel, not the combat units that shoot and clear houses. "The slow pace of withdrawal... has everything to do with recent events in Pakistan. There has been a sharp turn toward anti-American Islamist militancy since the Osama Bin Laden raid. General Ashfaq Kayani--the last of the Pakistani Army's American-trained and American-sympathizing leaders--is on the ropes and is likely to replace in a top-down military coup in the coming months by a more Islamist successor... This means that Pakistan will not only continue to support the Afghan Taliban, but will probably increase that support."
- Obama Will Please No One, Politico's Josh Gerstein and Scott Wong predict. "Even by the time Obama faces reelection next fall, U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan will stand at about 70,000--double the 34,000 there when the president took office. ... [White House press secretary] Carney signaled that the White House believes it can weather public impatience with the war... Many analysts say that despite dissatisfaction with Obama’s position from both the left and the right, there is little impediment to him pursuing the withdrawal at whatever pace he chooses."
- Declaring Success NBC News' First Read writes that Obama will say he's accomplished the goals he set when announcing the surge in 2009, and "might even say publicly what officials have been privately touting: that al Qaeda has been operationally defeated and essentially destroyed in the Af-Pak region, with the bin Laden kill being the symbolic exclamation point." He has the political cover to do so, they say, given the GOP presidential field's emerging dovishness.
- An Ally at the Pentagon The Hill's John T. Bennett says that with Leon Panetta's unanimous confirmation as Secretary of Defense, the Pentagon will be led by a Democrat for the first time in 14 years, giving Obama "a more natural ally." But "just where Panetta stands on both troop withdrawal numbers, as well as the proper strategy and tactics for the Afghan mission, remains 'the great unknown,'" a former Pentagon official told Bennett. Panetta "probably shares Vice President Biden's misgivings about strategy in Afghanistan, and he doesn’t have a deep affinity for joint force priorities," another defense official said.
- We Shouldn't Prop Up Karzai, Les Gelb writes at The Daily Beast. The Afghan president routinely assails American forces for making things worse in his country, but his government can't survive without us. "The United States has no vital interest in Karzai’s survival or, indeed, in whoever rules Afghanistan. There was a time, 10 or even five years ago, when international terrorism and al Qaeda were still centered in Afghan territory or Northern Pakistan. But it is an indisputable fact that the terrorist threat now finds homes in dozens of places throughout the world. ... Thus, the next year should be devoted solely to buttressing America’s interests, not Karzai’s."
We Can't Let al Qaeda Take Back Afghanistan, Frederick W. Kagan and Kimberly Kagan write for The Weekly Standard. Obama administration officials are arguing that the drone-reliant counterterror campaign there has been more successful than the troop-heavy counterinsurgency one, so troops should be brought home. "This rationale--or rationalization?--is specious. It demonstrates a profound misunderstanding of the relationship between our efforts in Afghanistan and our successes in Pakistan, as well as of the inseparability of effective 'counter-terrorism' operations from the counter-insurgency strategy... If the U.S. withdraws prematurely from Afghanistan and the country collapses again into ethnic civil war, then al-Qaida will have regained its original and most dangerous sanctuary."
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