Obama Sticks

Barack Obama's aides can pat themselves on the back today; they have succeeded in spinning the president's new troop surge as a simultaneous plan for leaving Afghanistan. And I can see honest logic there: By delivering a hard punch to the Taliban, you hope to create conditions that allow even flawed Afghan security forces to get on their feet, which may then allow for a quicker U.S. exit.

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I want to add a few things to Richard Just’s excellent comment on Obama’s speech. I think there are two reasons why Obama soft-pedaled nation-building and human rights (not even mentioning the fundamental rights of women that the Taliban deny). The first, which Richard notes implicitly, is a desire to appease Americans who think the administration is neglecting the U.S. in favor of Afghanistan.

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Obama's Inconsistencies

I basically liked Obama's speech. I'm skeptical about the timeline for withdrawal, but on the question that matters most--whether to send more troops--Obama has, I think, made the right decision, and done so over considerable opposition from within his own party and his own administration. That said, as much as I agreed with Obama's essential argument, something bothered me about the speech. It had less to do with Afghanistan than with the larger principles involved. The speech may have been, as Mike pointed out, remarkably consistent with an earlier Obama address.

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No matter what you think of it, the kind of troop increase that President Obama announced tonight is going to be expensive. With an estimated $1 billion dollar price tag for each additional thousand troops deployed, the new strategy will drive costs well above the $130 billion originally budgeted by the administration for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in fiscal year 2010, likely requiring a supplemental spending bill to pass sometime early next year.

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I don’t oppose what Barack Obama plans to do in Afghanistan. I don’t know enough, and from what I know, I don’t have an alternative to propose. I would have preferred he find a way to achieve American objectives without escalating the war, but I agree with his objective of denying al Qaeda a home in Afghanistan through a Taliban victory, and I hope that his strategy will achieve it.

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Steven Metz is the author of Iraq and the Evolution of American Strategy. President Obama's revised strategy for Afghanistan has already been pinned with the "surge" moniker, inevitably leading to comparisons with the 2007 "surge" in Iraq. Certainly there are similarities. Both were part of America's global conflict with al Qaeda. Both revisions were compelled by a deteriorating security situation.

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