President Obama plans to announce his long awaited plan to draw down troops in Afghanistan this week, according to an article by the Washington Post. Rumors of the size of the withdrawal are flying, but many are suspecting a larger than expected withdrawal of 30,000 troops by the end of 2012, with 10,000 troops returning this year.
The troop withdrawal has slowly become one of the under the surface issues for the 2012 campaign. It has been simmering for some time now. The leftist wing of the Democrat Party have been angry about the Afghan front from the moment Mr. Obama announced the troop surge early in his presidency. However, as the war drags on without a clear end game, and as the costs both financially and in body count rise, conservatives have also voiced displeasure in our continued unending involvement.
First and foremost will be the size of the withdrawal. With General David Petraeus taking over the CIA in the coming months, it is surprising for Obama to discount his lead general’s opinion on the matter. Petraeus has long argued that this is a fight we must win, and that it will take many years to achieve those goals. Obama bought into that with his current strategy, complicating any future diversions he may consider. It will be interesting if Petraeus will simply be the ‘good soldier’, and accept the rejection of his plan, or will speak up.
Second and almost as interesting is Secretary of Defense Robert Gates strong defense of Obama’s strategies in not only Afghanistan, but Iraq and Libya as well, this weekend on the Sunday talk shows. Gates very likely does not agree with such a quick pullout, but has always been a good soldier and will follow the party line.
Clearly, Obama has gone with his heart, as well as the ever growing voices of dissent on the Left. The voices of discord have been increasing, and have been bolstered by a few voices on the right. Last week’s Republican Presidential debate had many of the participants calling for a rethinking of our Afghan strategy, if not for complete withdrawal. However, Obama likely saw the weakening support among his base, and with the economy tanking, could not risk alienating the heart of his base once again.
The risk is obvious. If, during the next year, the situation in Afghanistan worsens…what then? Excuse the pun, but there are no more bullets left in the chamber. Obama does not have the political capital to call for a second surge next year if the situation with insurgents turns south. And if such worsening occurs, Obama will bear the responsibility. At that point, does he extend the pullout? And if now, what will be his argument for lengthening the process?
In the end, this may be the right decision. Yes, the left of his party likely forced him into the decision. But ultimately, the question is how long do we stay in Afghanistan at this point, with at best murky end objectives? But it is a high risk game he is playing. Without the support of his generals, Obama is now alone on this policy. If the situation falls apart, only President Obama will be left holding the bag.