NOT OUT OF LEFT FIELD…. If the media reports are accurate, President Obama will present a new strategy for U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan this evening, which will apparently include an additional 34,000 U.S. troops and military trainers. We’re also likely to hear about an “endgame” to the longest military conflict in American history, with the president intending to end the U.S. presence within three years.
Now, it’s obvious that many of the president’s supporters disapprove of the new policy, and would prefer to see a withdrawal of U.S. forces. But it’s worth noting at this point that Obama told us during the campaign that he intended to send additional servicemen and women to Afghanistan,
Ending the war is essential to meeting our broader strategic goals, starting in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the Taliban is resurgent and Al Qaeda has a safe haven. Iraq is not the central front in the war on terrorism, and it never has been. As Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently pointed out, we won’t have sufficient resources to finish the job in Afghanistan until we reduce our commitment to Iraq.
As president, I would pursue a new strategy, and begin by providing at least two additional combat brigades to support our effort in Afghanistan. We need more troops, more helicopters, better intelligence-gathering and more nonmilitary assistance to accomplish the mission there. I would not hold our military, our resources and our foreign policy hostage to a misguided desire to maintain permanent bases in Iraq.
I’d just add that, a month later, Obama spoke to the VFW’s national convention, and reminded the veterans that while John McCain initially opposed sending additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan, Obama took the opposite approach, vowing to “finish the job.”
“For years, I have called for more resources and more troops to finish the fight in Afghanistan. With his overwhelming focus on Iraq, Senator McCain argued that we could just ‘muddle through’ in Afghanistan, and only came around to supporting my call for more troops last month. Now, we need a policy of ‘more for more’ — more from America and our NATO allies, and more from the Afghan government.”
One can certainly make the argument that Obama was talking about a smaller escalation of the U.S. commitment, along the lines of “at least two” additional U.S. combat brigades, and tonight he’ll articulate the case for a larger deployment.
But at no point did Obama ever raise the possibility that he might withdraw U.S. forces altogether. On the contrary, he repeatedly told voters that he intended to slowly remove troops from Iraq and increase the number of troops in Afghanistan.
Reasonable people can be disappointed or pleased with the decision, but Obama isn’t breaking any campaign promises here. His intentions and broader strategy have remained pretty consistent for at least two years here. Obama is doing what he said he’d do.