Analysis Of President Obama's Remarks

Originally published on June 22, 2011 9:40 pm
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F: And John Nagl, I'm going to begin with you. You were at a briefing at the White House today and we heard from Scott about the sort of conflicting pressures that the president faced in making this decision. What did the military want to see and where do they perhaps have to make concessions?

: The one thing they really wanted to see that they didn't see in this speech was to leave the troops in Afghanistan next year through the summer fighting season. In Afghanistan, it's much like baseball season, the weather, the climate only allows the Taliban to fight during certain periods of the year. And leaving the troops in Afghanistan until November, December of next year, rather than requiring that they all be pulled by the end of August would have made a real difference to the commanders on the ground, whose job has frankly gotten more complicated as a result of the decisions that the president made.

: And how did the White House justify that?

: And also argued that after two full years of surge forces - the last of the surge forces arrived on the ground in the summer of 2010 - that it was a fair effort and the Afghans had been given what they needed with a more capable and larger Afghan security force, less capable Taliban, that after two years of the surge it was time to turn responsibility over to the Afghans.

: E.J. and Matt, I want to bring you into this on sort of the strategy that the president outlined and also sort of the political analysis here. Anyone who was paying attention this week knew that the president was finally going to talk about a drawdown of 10,000 troops. That was leaked out throughout the week. But Matt, did you hear any surprises despite that?

: And on the other hand, he had General David Petraeus, the greatest commander of our age, he had Bob Gates at Defense, he had the incoming commander in Afghanistan, Marine General Allen, telling him hold off. Let's wait. Let's have some patience. Let's have a strategic pause, if you will, and let these gains take root. And Obama went the political route. And in my opinion, he failed that test of leadership.

: E.J.?

: He could've given this speech in two tones. He could've taken exactly the same policy and said we are not going to withdraw until our job is done. Or he could have said we are beginning our withdrawal. He said the second because he knows where the country is. And I think, you asked the political part of it, in 2012, he's going to say that he successfully ended the war in Iraq, he got our troops out and left Iraq in reasonably good shape, and he's in the middle of ending a second war, which was actually the first war, in Afghanistan. And I think his emphasis tonight on that decade of war, he wants to be the president who ended the decade of war.

: And did the capture and killing of bin Laden help in laying out this timetable?

: The capture and killing of bin Laden helps Obama, but I think it puts more pressure on him to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. Because I think for a lot of Americans, once we got Osama bin Laden, we got a big part of the job that Americans in their guts wanted done. And that coincides with the fact that there are hardly any al-Qaida left in Afghanistan. So it becomes very difficult to make a case for staying in Afghanistan - I guess 50 is the number, John would probably know the exact number - but there aren't very many al-Qaida left in Afghanistan. So I think the killing of bin Laden actually increased pressure to withdraw from Afghanistan.

: The president talked about Afghanistan's ability to stand on its own. And it's interesting when you hear him talk about this, when you actually follow what's going on on the ground, there are real questions about whether the Afghan security forces can actually support the country, whether - there are still very significant questions about corruption on the ground. Did the president paint a realistic picture of what's going on on the ground in Afghanistan?

: So the possibility of handing over something reasonable to the Afghans and leaving them with a reasonable chance, given, I think, what is going to remain an American commitment of advisors and special forces for many years still to come, passed 2014, I think there's a reasonable chance of all that happening, but it is going to be tougher than it might've been if we'd been able to fight through the next summer fighting season with all of those troops.

: Matt Continetti, when the president says this process of transition will be complete and the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security, says this will happen by 2014, sound realistic to you?

: Well, I mean, that depends, especially at the rate we've been going, I think that might have been realistic if you had been able to hold this territory - with Marines, with Army - that they have made the gains in and give General Caldwell the time to continue that training. I mean, look, the outcome here that Obama would want is an outcome similar to what happened in Iraq after the surge, and that's where you had the training take place over many years.

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