Political Buzz June 22, 2011: President Obama’s Speech on Afghanistan Military Withdrawal

POLITICAL BUZZ

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Ms. Goodman is the Editor of History Musings. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill University, and has done graduate work in history at Concordia University.

IN FOCUS: OBAMA’S ADDRESS ON AFGHANISTAN EXIT STRATEGY


White House Photo, Photo by Chuck Kennedy, 6/22/11

Obama announces that ‘surge’ troops will be withdrawn from Afghanistan by summer 2012: President Obama on Wednesday announced that 10,000 U.S. troops will come home from Afghanistan by the end of this year, and that 23,000 more will be withdrawn by next summer, a timeline that is more rapid than military commanders had wanted.
“America, it is time to focus on nation building here at home,” Obama said, speaking from the White House East Room.

Obama to withdraw 10,000 troops from Afghanistan this year: President Obama will announce in his address at 8 p.m. Wednesday that he will order home 10,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan this year and another 23,000 by the end of September 2012, according to administration officials speaking on condition of anonymity.
The plan, charting the U.S. military’s exit from America’s longest war, outlines the withdrawal of the 33,000 forces that Obama ordered to Afghanistan at the end of 2009, after a months-long strategy review meant to find ways of salvaging a flagging war.

“America, it is time to focus on nation building here at home.” – President Obama, declaring that the United States had achieved its main goals in Afghanistan.

Text of President Obama’s Speech on Afghanistan: The following is the prepared text of President Obama’s speech regarding the troop pullout in Afghanistan, as provided by the White House…. – NYT, 6-22-11

  • LIVE BLOG: Obama’s Afghanistan speechWaPo, 6-22-11 
  • Obama’s day: Afghanistan speech: President Obama has some meetings today, but will spend most of his time preparing for tonight’s speech on a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan…. – USA Today, 6-22-11
  • Obama’s Afghanistan speech: Admitting the limits of American power: In November of 1986, Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev addressed the Politburo about his country’s futile war in Afghanistan. The conflict had already dragged on for six years, Gorbachev told his comrades, but no end was in sight. “In general, we haven’t found the key to resolving this problem,” the communist leader explained, according to Gregory Feifer’s book, The Great Gamble: The Soviet War in Afghanistan. “We need to finish this process as soon as possible.” That was especially true in a nation whose economy was groaning from the expense of the war. … – AP, 6-23-11
  • Obama Orders Troop Cuts in Afghanistan: President Obama declared Wednesday that the United States had largely achieved its goals in Afghanistan, setting in motion a timetable for the rapid withdrawal of American troops in an acknowledgement of the shifting threat in the region and fast-changing political and economic landscape in a war-weary America.
    Asserting that the country that served as a launching pad for the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks no longer represented a terrorist threat to the United States, Mr. Obama declared that the “tide of war is receding.” And in a blunt acknowledgment of domestic economic strains, he said, “America, it is time to focus on nation-building here at home.”
    Mr. Obama announced plans to withdraw 10,000 troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year. The remaining 20,000 troops from the 2009 “surge” of forces would leave by next summer, amounting to about a third of the 100,000 troops now in the country. He said the troop reductions would continue “at a steady pace,” bringing to an end America’s longest war — a conflict that has cost 1,500 American lives.
    The troop reductions, which came after a short but fierce internal debate, are both deeper and faster than the recommendations made by Mr. Obama’s military commanders, and they come as the president faces relentless budget pressures, an increasingly restive Congress and American public and a re-election campaign next year…. – NYT, 6-22-11
  • Obama speech reflects unease at home after decade of war: President Obama announced his troop withdrawal from Afghanistan Wednesday night, but the real surprise was how much time he spent clothing his decision in domestic concerns with an eye to U.S. politics.
    As expected the president explained how the surge in U.S. troops had worked in hindering Al Qaeda from finding a safe haven in Afghanistan. He mentioned the U.S. raid in which terrorist leader Osama bin Laden was killed in Pakistan as well. He also praised Afghanistan and Pakistan for their efforts while noting they needed to do more.
    All of that had been expected, as had been the pledge to withdraw 10,000 troops this year and the rest of the surge forces in 2012.
    But the president made it clear he was aware of the American weariness with the almost decade-long war and a desire in many quarters to use any peace dividend for domestic needs.
    “America, it is time to focus on nation building here at home,” Obama said…. – LAT, 6-22-11
  • Obama details plan to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan: President Obama announced that the US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan will begin with 10,000 troops this year, plus another 23,000 by the end of next summer. Gains have been made against the Taliban, he said, but the fight against al Qaeda will continue wherever necessary…. – CS Monitor, 6-22-11
  • Obama’s Middle Ground on Afghanistan Is Between a Rock and a Hard Place: By seeking the middle ground in unwinding U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan, President Obama now finds himself on an island.
    In Wednesday night’s 13-minute address from the East Room of the White House, the president declared, “[T]he tide of war is receding,” and announced his decision to remove 10,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year and 23,000 more by next summer. That pace is much faster than his military commanders had recommended, but not fast enough to please his base…. – PBS Newshour, 6-23-11
  • Joint chiefs chairman: Obama Afghanistan plan incurs risk: The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told Congress today that President Obama’s Afghanistan withdrawal plan is more risky than the military proposed, but still workable.
    “The president’s decisions are more aggressive and incur more risk than I was originally prepared to accept,” said Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in testimony to the House Armed Services Committee.
    “More force for more time is, without doubt, the safer course,” Mullen said. “But that does not necessarily make it the best course. Only the president, in the end, can really determine the acceptable level of risk we must take. I believe he has done so.”… – USA Today, 6-23-11

    THE SPEECH

  • President Obama on the Way Forward in Afghanistan: By the time I took office, the war in Afghanistan had entered its seventh year. But al Qaeda’s leaders had escaped into Pakistan and were plotting new attacks, while the Taliban had regrouped and gone on the offensive. Without a new strategy and decisive action, our military commanders warned that we could face a resurgent al Qaeda and a Taliban taking over large parts of Afghanistan.
    For this reason, in one of the most difficult decisions that I’ve made as President, I ordered an additional 30,000 American troops into Afghanistan. When I announced this surge at West Point, we set clear objectives: to refocus on al Qaeda, to reverse the Taliban’s momentum, and train Afghan security forces to defend their own country. I also made it clear that our commitment would not be open-ended, and that we would begin to draw down our forces this July.
    Tonight, I can tell you that we are fulfilling that commitment. Thanks to our extraordinary men and women in uniform, our civilian personnel, and our many coalition partners, we are meeting our goals. As a result, starting next month, we will be able to remove 10,000 of our troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year, and we will bring home a total of 33,000 troops by next summer, fully recovering the surge I announced at West Point. After this initial reduction, our troops will continue coming home at a steady pace as Afghan security forces move into the lead. Our mission will change from combat to support. By 2014, this process of transition will be complete, and the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security. We’re starting this drawdown from a position of strength….
    The goal that we seek is achievable, and can be expressed simply: No safe haven from which al Qaeda or its affiliates can launch attacks against our homeland or our allies. We won’t try to make Afghanistan a perfect place. We will not police its streets or patrol its mountains indefinitely. That is the responsibility of the Afghan government, which must step up its ability to protect its people, and move from an economy shaped by war to one that can sustain a lasting peace. What we can do, and will do, is build a partnership with the Afghan people that endures –- one that ensures that we will be able to continue targeting terrorists and supporting a sovereign Afghan government….
    In all that we do, we must remember that what sets America apart is not solely our power -– it is the principles upon which our union was founded. We’re a nation that brings our enemies to justice while adhering to the rule of law, and respecting the rights of all our citizens. We protect our own freedom and prosperity by extending it to others. We stand not for empire, but for self-determination. That is why we have a stake in the democratic aspirations that are now washing across the Arab world. We will support those revolutions with fidelity to our ideals, with the power of our example, and with an unwavering belief that all human beings deserve to live with freedom and dignity.
    Above all, we are a nation whose strength abroad has been anchored in opportunity for our citizens here at home. Over the last decade, we have spent a trillion dollars on war, at a time of rising debt and hard economic times. Now, we must invest in America’s greatest resource –- our people. We must unleash innovation that creates new jobs and industries, while living within our means. We must rebuild our infrastructure and find new and clean sources of energy. And most of all, after a decade of passionate debate, we must recapture the common purpose that we shared at the beginning of this time of war. For our nation draws strength from our differences, and when our union is strong no hill is too steep, no horizon is beyond our reach.
    America, it is time to focus on nation building here at home.
    In this effort, we draw inspiration from our fellow Americans who have sacrificed so much on our behalf. To our troops, our veterans and their families, I speak for all Americans when I say that we will keep our sacred trust with you, and provide you with the care and benefits and opportunity that you deserve. – WH, 6-22-11Transcript: Speech Full-TextMp4Mp3

    REACTIONS

  • HOUSE SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER, REPUBLICAN: I am pleased the president recognizes that success in Afghanistan is paramount. Continuing to degrade al Qaeda’s capabilities in Afghanistan and the surrounding region must take priority over any calendar dates. It’s important that we retain the flexibility necessary to reconsider troop levels and respond to changes in the security environment should circumstances on the ground warrant.
  • SENATOR JOHN KERRY, DEMOCRAT, CHAIRMAN SENATE FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: The president correctly laid out the next phase of our strategy in Afghanistan — a transition to Afghan control that begins by redeploying the 33,000 surge troops starting next month and ending next summer, and puts the Afghans in complete control by 2014. In doing so, he kept the commitment he made to the American people 18 months ago at West Point. As a result of the gains made since the course correction outlined at West Point, we’re now operating from a position of strength.
  • SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN, ARIZONA REPUBLICAN: I am concerned that the withdrawal plan that President Obama announced tonight poses an unnecessary risk to the hard-won gains that our troops have made thus far in Afghanistan and to the decisive progress that must still be made. This is not the ‘modest’ withdrawal that I and others had hoped for and advocated.
  • SENATOR JOSEPH LIEBERMAN, CONNECTICUT INDEPENDENT: I am disappointed by the pace and timing of the withdrawal of those troops the President announced tonight. I had hoped the president would draw down our forces more cautiously and am therefore concerned that the accelerated withdrawal which the president has ordered will put at risk the substantial gains we have made in Afghanistan.
  • SENATOR RICHARD LUGAR, SENIOR REPUBLICAN ON SENATE FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: No rational review would commit nearly 100,000 troops and $100 billion a year to Afghanistan.
    The country does not hold that level of strategic value for us, especially at a time when our nation is confronting a debt crisis and our armed forces are being strained by repeated combat deployments.
  • JEFF DRESSLER, A MILITARY ANALYST AT THE INSTITUTE FOR THE STUDY OF WAR: My sense is that the military in general was in favor of a much smaller withdrawal. Something they could have lived with was a couple thousand troops. But the fact is the conditions on the ground don’t merit any sort of withdrawal — it’s not time to be pulling out a substantive amount of troops. There’s a lot that has to be done in the east and you’re not out of the woods in the south yet.
  • LAWRENCE KORB, SENIOR FELLOW, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS AND FORMER ASSISTANT DEFENSE SECRETARY: I think it’s also important that you send a signal to the government of Afghanistan that they are going to have to step up and take over. … You’re also balancing this against other U.S. interests. If the United States doesn’t have any money, we’re not going to be able to protect our interest in others areas. It’s obviously going to save some money.
  • CHRISTOPHER PREBLE, DIRECTOR OF FOREIGN POLICY STUDIES, CATO INSTITUTE: Despite reports that the president’s decision signals a move toward a narrowly focused counter-terrorism mission, the fact is nearly 70,000 troops will remain in Afghanistan after this drawdown.
    Such a force is unnecessary, and a far less costly alternative is available to us. We could keep pressure on the Taliban, and deny al Qaeda a sanctuary, with perhaps as few as 10,000 troops in Afghanistan. We should be moving rapidly in that direction. President Obama hasn’t been, and this announcement suggests that he won’t.
  • TODD HARRISON, SENIOR FELLOW, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND BUDGETARY ASSESSMENTS: With the faster drawdown that is being proposed, they (the administration) will actually save about $17 billion in ‘FY12 compared to what they had requested. That will bring the war budget down by about 15 percent, so that’s a significant reduction in war funding. Relative to the overall DOD (Department of Defense), it’s not that much of a reduction and relative to the overall federal budget and the deficit, this does not make much of a difference.
  • GOP hopefuls stake out Afghanistan positions: As President Obama called Wednesday night for scaling down troop numbers in Afghanistan over the next year, differences over how to approach the conflict emerged among GOP presidential hopefuls, with some calling for a faster withdrawal and others arguing for a more conditions-based drawdown.
    The contrast among 2012 Republican candidates reflects a change in the party’s hawkish orthodoxy, unease over spending and crumbling support for the war. The most recent poll shows that nearly three quarters of Americans believe a substantial number of troops should come home this summer. USA Today, 6-22-11
  • Jon M. Huntsman Jr.: Said the nation faces “a generational opportunity to reset our position in the world in a way that makes sense for our security as well as our budget.” “Now it is time we move to a focused counter-terror effort which requires significantly fewer boots on the ground than the President discussed tonight. We need a safe but rapid withdrawal which encourages Afghans to assume responsibility, while leaving in place a strong counter intelligence and special forces effort proportionate to the threat.”
  • Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, in a Fox News interview: “When America goes to war, America needs to win. We need to close out the war successfully, and what that means now is not nation-building. What it means is to follow General Petraeus’s advice and to get those security forces built up where they can pick up the slack as we draw down.”
  • Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney: “We all want our troops to come home as soon as possible, but we shouldn’t adhere to an arbitrary timetable on the withdrawal of our troops from Afghanistan. This decision should not be based on politics or economics.”
  • Newt Gingrich: “Given the reality of the larger war that President Obama refuses to name, it’s not responsible to make a decision on Afghanistan in isolation just in order to meet a domestic political agenda.”
  • Military Experts Scrutinize Obama’s Drawdown Plan: Military analysts weigh in on President Obama’s new plan to reduce the number of American troops in Afghanistan…. – PBS Newshour, 6-23-11
  • Analysis: U.S. forces face new challenges after drawdown: The United States and its allies have made dramatic progress in Afghanistan over the past year, seizing the initiative from the Taliban and driving insurgents from key strongholds in the south.
    The challenge for military commanders now will be to consolidate those gains and shift the military main effort to tackle insurgent strongholds in the east — all with fewer troops. The plan is a “compromise that will be problematic to many of the players,” warned David Barno, a retired three-star general who commanded coalition forces in Afghanistan and is now a senior adviser at the Center for a New American Security.
    Several commanders in Afghanistan had said reductions should be made so as to not jeopardize gains.
    “Ultimately the commanders on the ground will be able to reshape the plan” to achieve objectives, Barno said…. – USA Today, 6-22-11
  • Analysts rate Obama’s Afghanistan address: President Barack Obama announced Wednesday night that all the 33,000 additional U.S. forces he ordered to Afghanistan in December 2009 will be home within 15 months.
    In a nationally televised address from the East Room of the White House, Obama said 10,000 of the “surge” forces would withdraw by the end of this year, and the other 23,000 would leave Afghanistan by September 2012.
    At the same time, Obama said the drawdown would help the United States begin to refocus attention and resources on efforts to resolve economic and other problems and to unify a politically divided nation.
    Here’s how CNN analysts reacted to the address…

    Bergen: President for first time acknowledged talks with Taliban
    Borger: Difficult to separate the military decision from political decision
    Gergen: Obama winding down Iraq, Afghanistan wars like he said he would
    Zakaria: Kept with his basic strategic rationale from the start

    CNN, 6-22-11

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