Tonight, President Obama addressed the nation from West Point announcing his intentions to send 30,000 more troops into Afghanistan and to begin phasing out troops by 2011.
He began by invoking memories of 9-11 and why America went to war in the first place — reminding us of terrorism, of the Taliban, of violent extremists who “have distorted and defiled Islam, one of the world’s great religions, to justify the slaughter of innocents.” He defended our reasoning for going to war in Afghanistan as a war of necessity, one that was vital to protecting America’s interests after a devastating attack.
Then he reminded us that in 2003, America shifted courses. Suddenly, it was Iraq we were after, not Afghanistan.
“It is enough to say that for the next six years, the Iraq War drew the dominant share of our troops, our resources, our diplomacy, and our national attention – and that the decision to go into Iraq caused substantial rifts between America and much of the world. Today, after extraordinary costs, we are bringing the Iraq war to a responsible end. We will remove our combat brigades from Iraq by the end of next summer, and all of our troops by the end of 2011.”
Well, at least there’s that good news.
But then he got to the point, which was that we are now sending MORE troops to Afghanistan — another 30,000, bringing the US troop level to about 100,000.
“As Commander-in-Chief, I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan. After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home,” the President announced.
Wary of the resistance he is already facing, he emphasized: “I did not make this decision lightly.” He reminded us that Afghanistan’s infrastructure, even after all these years, is just not stable enough for us to leave yet:
“Huge challenges remain. Afghanistan is not lost, but for several years it has moved backwards. There is no imminent threat of the government being overthrown, but the Taliban has gained momentum. Al Qaeda has not reemerged in Afghanistan in the same numbers as before 9/11, but they retain their safe-havens along the border. And our forces lack the full support they need to effectively train and partner with Afghan Security Forces and better secure the population. Our new Commander in Afghanistan – General McChrystal – has reported that the security situation is more serious than he anticipated. In short: the status quo is not sustainable.“
Obama is a master of words and rhetoric, but rhetoric cannot obscure the ugly truth here: we cannot afford the cost of this war, both in money and in human lives. And despite delivering a powerful speech, as Obama so often does, there are too many questions that still remain unanswered:
Will we really phase out troops by 2011? Will Afghani security forces really be secure enough by then? Or will this withdrawal timeline turn into another empty promise?
Where will we get the projected $30 billion needed for this troop surge when we are already in an economic crisis with no end in sight?
What will happen to Afghani women and girls? Their plight is terrible, but was barely even mentioned in tonight’s speech. Are we going to continue to turn the other cheek to the human rights crisis faced by Afghani women on a daily basis?
Tonight, the President faced what will go down as one of the deciding moments of his administration. There is no longer any question: this has become Obama’s war. He had the misfortune of inheriting two wars when he came into office. But instead of ending them, he has chosen to extend them. He rehashed the same explanations thrown at us by prior administrations over the past eight years.
Candidate Obama rode into office last year promising change from the policies of the past eight years. But tonight, President Obama only continued to invoke Bush Doctrine ideas behind the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Where is the old Obama? The one who promised hope and change and a new way of politics and government, and an end to wars of the past eight years?
Tonight, we did not see that Obama.
What do you think? Is this a good decision? What influenced your judgement?
For another perspective try Obama on Afghanistan: Great Speech, Smart Policies, Near-Impossible Task
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