In his address at West Point last Tuesday, President Obama announced the deployment of 30,000 troops in Afghanistan. He also outlined his administration’s war strategy, announcing troop withdrawal beginning July 2011. Through the course of the evening, Obama also addressed liberal and conservative concerns regarding the course of the war.
Explaining the necessity of a 30,000 troop increase, he answered questions from the left regarding the legitimacy of America’s presence there, specifically noting distinctions between this war and Vietnam. Referencing al Qaeda safe havens along the Afghani-Pakistani border, Obama declared that the war in Afghanistan is an issue of national security, and that he did not want Afghanistan to become a hot bed of terrorist activity. President Obama also addressed conservative hesitancy in establishing an exit strategy and timetable for the war, arguing that a timetable will push Afghanistan to step up and assume responsibility.
Yet a major concern remained unanswered: If conditions in Afghanistan remain static or degrade further over the next 18 months, will the armed forces proceed with his strategy and begin withdrawing troops in July 2011? The answer offers insight into the real purpose of the surge and the actual effectiveness of a timetable. If yes, and the plan is to cut and run in 2011, regardless of success, we should withdraw now—suffering fewer losses and achieving the same results. If no, the timetable becomes obsolete. Either national security is the real objective, in which case a retreat would be ineffective and the answer should be no, or national security is not the true objective, and we should not send additional troops.
If the answer is no, however, then Obama’s timetable, becomes an incredible threat—politically opportune now, but irrelevant come 2011. The purpose of the timetable, as stated by Obama, is to provide a sense of urgency, encouraging Afghanistan to begin to take control. Yet Afghanis have no need to rush if the government recognizes that, if it is not prepared in 18 months, American troops will likely remain to safeguard national security. They will not feel the pressure, and the status quo endures.
Obama did reference this briefly. He stated that the number of troops withdrawn will depend on ground conditions, implying that the answer to my question is no, and underscoring his empty promise to withdraw. Let us hope, then, for the security of our nation, that this question need not be answered, and that troops can be safely withdrawn after 18 months of success.