Afghanistan and Obama's surge

President Barack Obama gave a fantastic, marvelous, thoughtful, middle-of-the-road speech last night on Afghanistan. Barack Obama, in spite of his critics, looks for common ground in almost every debate. This is why he became president. He was able to appeal to a wide variety of people. So on the Afghanistan debate, there are clearly two camps. On the progressive side of this debate, bring all the troops home, now. On the conservative side of this debate, we cannot leave until the job is done.

Barack Obama had to try to avoid some of President Clinton’s pitfalls. Remember, President Clinton lost support from members of the military extremely early in his presidency by pushing gays in the military. President Obama does not want to make that mistake. Therefore, he doesn’t want to be seen as upsetting the military by an early withdrawal or by taxing the military so much that it breaks (more than it is already broken).

Markos Moulitsas on Countdown.

Barack Obama chose the middle ground. He increased troop strength by 30,000 troops. (Conservatives cheered.) He set a timetable for when to get out of Afghanistan. (Progressive sort of cheered.) He set out specific goals. (The military cheered.) The president’s speech had something that everybody could hate and that everybody could. (Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld took issue with part of the speech. Oh, that’s a surprise.)

Personally, I don’t know. I liked the speech. I’m not sure if he convinced me that sending in more troops would attain our objective. (Glenn didn’t like the speech at all.) It seems to me that a small reactionary force of approximately 5000 to 10,000 men could respond to any threat that the Taliban or Al Qaeda posed in the region. This force… will it be big enough to deter random attacks and small enough not to leave a large footprint in Afghanistan?

If we think that it is important to have a viable Afghan government which supports the Pakistani government in fighting the Taliban then there were a few things that I thought President Obama needed to say:

  • needed to establish a flexible timeline for withdrawal of US troops
  • the mission needed to be shared with international colleagues
  • Pakistan needs to be encouraged to continue its battle against extremists
  • need to create and fix the Afghan government
  • need to figure out how to pay for all this

For the most part, President Obama did these things. I’ll have more to say in the coming days and weeks. This weekend, on the radio show, I will be interviewing Brian Katulis from the Center for American Progress, talking about the situation in Afghanistan and the troop increase.