"A camel is a horse designed by a committee." That's the feeling I had listening to Obama's speech tonight about his military designs for Afghanistan.
The speech followed pre-speech reports of Obama's plan. There were no substantive surprises, but Obama seemed truly moved by the decision ahead of him. As he should be. Obama is learning that sending soldiers to their deaths is not above any President's pay grade. And leadership and confidence are as important as dotting the i's and crossing the t's.
Here are my "live" thoughts on the speech, the italics indicate I'm paraphrasing Obama's words, not quoting the text:
We did not ask for this fight. Obama's best point. This was not a war of choice. Obama's recitation of the events of 9/11 was moving not because of his words, but because of the memories. No gloss put on the nature of the enemy, then or now.
Iraq on border of success. Obama danced around the politics of the Iraq war. No mention that the success was because Bush did not follow the advice of Obama and the Democrats on the surge.
No delay or denial of resources during review period. That's political gloss. The military needs time to ramp up a large troop deployment.
No idle danger or hypothetical threat. This region the source of direct threats to the U.S. Clearly aimed at his left flank.
Defeat, dismantle and disable al-Qaeda. This phrase repeated. No use of the word "victory."
Rush troops to Afghanistan, but begin withdrawal in July 2011. Timelines can be self-defeating, so by setting a timeline Obama may have made it less likely the withdrawal could be achieved as hoped. Yes, Obama left himself the out of "taking into account conditions on the ground," but the timeline still is out there. Towards the end of his speech, he circled back to the timeline, and said that we need a sense of urgency, and can't keep an open-ended commitment.
Commit total of 30,000 troops. This is less than the military requested. While no President should be a rubber stamp for the military on objectives, great deference is deserved as to tactics. Where you have hand-selected your military leaders to give you their military advice as to how best to achieve your objectives, it can be demoralizing to undermine that advice by requiring troops to fight understaffed.
Pressure the Afghan government to clean up its act, or else. But there really isn't an "or else." And everyone knows it. As in Iraq, government reforms may have to follow, not lead, the military campaign.
Strategy on both sides of Pakistani border. A veiled threat to go into Pakistan if Pakistan does not act.
Arguments against the effort not valid. Afghanistan not another Vietnam. Can't do it with present troop levels.
Connection between national security and the economy. This is where Obama fell down completely. Military expenditures did not cause the credit crisis or bank and investment banking failures. Obama's domestic economic plans will make it less likely we can sustain the Afghan effort, not more likely. Until this point in the speech, Obama was on a reasonable track. It's unfortunate that he used the speech for domestic political advocacy.
We've done more for the world than anyone else. We have not sought world domination. This is the speech Obama should have been giving for the past 10 months, not the subservient apologies we have witnessed. I hope he keeps this text for the future.
Partisanship poisoning national discourse. When this war started we were united. Not really true. Many Democrats opposed the Bush war plan in Afghanistan. And the partisanship is generated by Obama's own domestic tactics.
On balance, a very good Obama-esque speech.
Obama deserves praise for finally reaching this decision, even if the past 8 months have been wasted since Obama completed his first Afghanistan strategic review. And Obama deserves further praise for standing up to the left-wing of the Democratic Party, which simply wants out of Afghanistan regardless of the consequences.
I wish Obama and the military well on this. I hope Obama has designed a horse, not a camel.
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