Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Reluctant support for Obama's Afghanistan war strategy

Last night, President Barack Obama announced his official plan for the war in Afghanistan. In his remarks, Obama told the nation (before a live audience of West Point cadets) that 30,000 more troops were needed to stabilize the region, with the goal being a complete withdrawal of forces beginning July of 2011.

"I do not make this decision lightly," the president told the cadets. "I make this decision because I am convinced that our security is at stake."

His plan is likely to draw complaints from both the left and the right, though it may appeal to centrists. It contains elements that both sides would want -- and that both sides will undoubtedly hate.

Many liberal Democratic lawmakers are sure to be displeased with the troop buildup. Most of those on the left opposed the buildup of forces during the Iraq war (commonly known as the "surge"); many felt that policy prolonged our presence in the beleaguered nation. A buildup in Afghanistan, then, is only guaranteeing delay in the removal of U.S. troops from that country. Other liberal Democrats, like Wisconsin's Dave Obey, are worried that the costs of Afghanistan will deviate from other important domestic programs during a critical time in America's economic crisis.

Conservative Republicans, on the other hand, are voicing their opposition to the proposed end-date to the war. John McCain has already voiced his concern that allowing the enemy to know when we plan to leave will embolden al Qaeda and/or the Taliban, who will (supposedly) sit on the sidelines waiting for that date to come, reclaiming the country upon our exodus.

But Obama is also gaining support. While members from both sides disagree with the plan in part, moderate liberals and moderate conservatives are finding some aspects of the plan appealing.

The moderates on both sides are pleased to see Obama listening to military leaders on the ground, like Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who have asked for additional forces to the region. Moderates are happy that Obama is taking the war on terrorism seriously (even if he doesn't call it by that name), understanding the threat that al Qaeda poses to us, and that the threat will increase if we don't stabilize the country before we leave. And moderates on both sides are happy about the plan to gradually remove troops from the region, with moderate liberals and moderate conservatives both concerned with the human and economic costs the war has burdened us with.


Even with his reservations, John McCain has said he will support Obama's plan. Though for different reasons, my feelings on the matter are similar: I have some reservations, but I do believe that the overall plan is one I can cautiously support.

This plan has an exit strategy. That in itself is reason enough to support the president. There is a timetable for withdrawal, and a plan to gradually let the Afghans take control of their own security.

I'd rather have the goal for withdrawal begin now, and not in 19-month's time. A troop escalation, in my mind, simply delays the inevitable while placing more troops in harm's way. But Obama and proponents of escalation make a good point: Afghanistan forces are not yet ready to defend themselves. U.S. troops can assist in that endeavor, ensuring that al Qaeda and the Taliban won't retake the country once the U.S. and NATO forces leave.

Democrats aren't wrong to encourage the president to take a different direction, to begin withdrawing troops sooner; and lawmakers like Sen. Russ Feingold have every right to try to stop the escalation. But the plan set forth by President Obama is one that has my support because it does have a date in mind for a responsible withdrawal from Afghanistan. It's not perfect by any means, and I'm reluctant in my support of it, but it's a lot better than staying in the region indefinitely.

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