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Everything You Wanted to Know About The Afghanistan Surge - Our Response and 20 Others

Michael C here. Eric and I don't normally like to respond to news events as they happen. Other bloggers with more time and resources cover breaking news better than us. That said, President Obama's speech on Tuesday night defined the direction of American foreign policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This strategy will effect our global standing, our military readiness, and the elections in 2010 and 2012.

With a speech this important, we must comment.

What did I think? I got the feeling that I was listening to a Presidential Operations Order (the Army term for the document commanders give to their subordinates to tell them what to do). This is both a good and bad thing. Like an OP Order, he covered all the necessary bases. But, like most OP Orders, his goals, methods and plan were vague. Saying we will repel the Taliban and Al Qaeda with more troops sounds good, but it doesn't say how we will accomplish the mission. Even worse, his solution to Afghanistan's corrupt government was almost non-existent. Fortunately, McChrystal has given clear guidance to the troops. Hopefully, the Afghanistan surge will execute this policy.

In the end, we must do something about Afghanistan. The president laid out a plan that seems like the only available option. We need to try to win, which we haven't for nearly eight years, and we need to stabilize the region. For now, this seems like the best plan available.

A few more things struck me about the speech:

First, I don't think Obama used the word "Bush" once, but it was the hole in the floor above the Rancor pit [this is a Star Wars reference]. Obama mentioned the events of 9/11, the start of the Afghanistan war, America's Iraq distraction, and finally the success of the surge--all without mentioning his predecessor. I understand why; it looks un-presidential to bash the man who came before you. However, the decisions of the Bush administration continue to haunt our foreign policy decisions more than many give him credit.

Second, he addressed the decision making process and the time it took. He said, correctly, that the earliest option to deploy troops was in 2010. I believe this because the fighting season starts in Afghanistan in March to April. He had time to ponder options and he took it. Rightfully so. It doesn't matter how soon troops get there between now and March so long as they get there by the fighting season.

Third, his rebuttals to the Vietnam criticisms, the counter-terrorist option, and setting a date for withdrawal were timely and persuasive. He won't convince everyone, but he gave himself enough room to act.

And finally, I saw several cadets nodding off during the speech. The corps of cadets at West Point almost never receives criticism, so here is some from me. When the President addresses your student body in a historic speech, don't fall asleep.

Eric C now. My main comment is that Afghanistan has become "Obama's War" even though he took it over eight years into it. Has this ever happened? Vietnam was always Johnson's war. President Obama is committing an additional 32,000 troops to Afghanistan to bring the total number to around 100,000, still smaller than Iraq before the surge.

That was Michael C, then Eric C, now here is the whole interweb (at least the global affairs portion) on Obama's Speech:

The Economist provides the best summary of the speech.

The NewsHour, of course, has some of the best analysis of the speech, particularly from Shields and Brooks.

Dexter Filkins asks whether Afghanistan will stand up as we stand down.

Thomas Friedman disagrees with President Obama's decision.

Foreign Policy wonders can Obama get more NATO troops?

Daniel Drezner makes the case that analogies can lead us astray.

Thomas Ricks probably delivers the most money line of the post-speech debate, "It was addressed to those who, like him, really didn't want to send more troops to Afghanistan. It was for those who care more about rebuilding New Orleans than Kandahar or Mosul."

David Rothkopf puts Afghanistan in perspective. Hard to argue against, but then again, Al Qaeda.

Steve Coll of the New Yorker agrees with Eric C about inevitability.

George Packer describes the approach as muted.

Juan Cole thinks the comparison of Afghanistan to the Iraqi surge is faulty.

Andrew Exum (though retired from daily blogging) writes about Obama channeling Ike.

Ink Blots wants specifics.

Kings of War compares Obama to Rumsfeld.

Wings over Iraq describes the tricky spot the war has placed America.

Foreign Policy Watch laments the inertia inherent in our political system.

The Danger Room quotes John Nagl as he makes a trenchant observation about the new surge.

Marc Cooper thinks Obama had no good options, and thus choose a bad one.

Finally, America's Newsman compares Obama to Bush.

Update: Andrew Sullivan feels a similar sense of hopelessness. (Thanks to Steve for the find.)

three comments

I am also quite partial to this man and his take: http://andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/th..

Seems to be mostly in line with what you fine gentleman are saying here. Really enjoying the blog. Keep it up guys.
Hope all is well,

Hey Steve,

Good call, I probably should have checked out what Sullivan thought. I’ll add it to the post. Same sort of despair/hope I’m feeling after the speech.

Appreciate the quick links to multiple analysts. I agree with the desire for specifics.