Why 30,000 troops?
The more I chew over it, the more I think my dissatisfaction with last night's speech was that it was an argument for a strategy in Afghanistan, not this strategy in Afghanistan.
Take the 30,000 troops. "The 30,000 additional troops that I'm announcing tonight will deploy in the first part of 2010 -- the fastest possible pace -- so that they can target the insurgency and secure key population centers," Obama said. "They'll increase our ability to train competent Afghan security forces, and to partner with them so that more Afghans can get into the fight."
Okay, but why 30,000 troops? Why not 50,000? Or 10,000? Or a draft? If Obama is "convinced that our security is at stake in Afghanistan and Pakistan" and that "this is the epicenter of violent extremism practiced by al Qaeda," then those are pretty high stakes. Indeed, Obama has been clear that this is far more important than Iraq. So why are we sending fewer troops than we sent to Iraq, even though Afghanistan is physically larger, with more difficult terrain, a weaker central government, and more strategic importance?
I'm not saying there aren't good answers to these questions. I just didn't hear them in yesterday's speech. Which makes it hard to understand what's on offer here. Is this the president's preferred policy? Is it the foreign policy incarnation of the stimulus, wherein we need 60,000 and can't pass that through Congress? Without a good sense of the underlying thinking, it's hard to identify the compromises being made, and figure out if they're acceptable, or if we're giving up too much to have a reasonable shot at success. Spencer Ackerman makes a good go at answering some of these questions in his analysis, but I'd feel better hearing some of this directly from the, well, decider.
Photo credit: By Musadeq Sadeq/Associated Press
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